78. Taken by Surprise

78. Taken by Surprise

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Taken by Surprise

Don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork.
 ~English Proverb

Have you ever been socked in the stomach with a doubled-up fist? You reel with shock, then catch your breath and make an effort to deal with whatever caused the wallop. It’s the same when a completely unexpected health issue comes up.

On returning from vacation, I found a letter with results from a blood test. Everything was good with one exception. My doctor had ordered a fasting glucose test to be included after I’d discussed my concern over weight I’d gained. On checking my records, he expressed surprise that I’d gained 20 pounds in a two-year period. My eating habits had not changed, but I had not been as physically active, and I wondered if that could be the problem.

“Let’s check your glucose and thyroid,” he said, adding two more items to the list of routine things checked in a blood test.

I left the lab that day with the only reminder being the Band-Aid on my arm where the technician had drawn a sample. Then I promptly forgot about it.

Now, I looked at the number by the fasting glucose test. Just under 115 and next to it, the doctor had written “I want this number below 100!!!! You can do this by losing weight, increasing exercise, and watching foods like potatoes, bread, and pasta. We’ll repeat the test in six months.”

Those four exclamation marks gave me that hard sock in the stomach. Had he ended his sentence with a period, I might not have taken the news quite as seriously. Much later, I felt most grateful that he had written his note in a way that made me sit up and pay attention.

I read health-related articles frequently, so I knew that the number indicated pre-diabetes. No one in my immediate family had been diabetic. What else might have brought it on? What part of my lifestyle had caused it? Why me?

I realized I needed to do some research and learn more about this condition, and I began that day. I learned about the risk factors, about the myths of pre-diabetes and diabetes, about the kind of diet and activity that might help me keep from progressing to Type 2 diabetes.

My two biggest risk factors were most likely having hypertension and being physically inactive for two years because of a foot problem. And, I had to admit that my favorite foods are all high in carbohydrates. At this point, I knew what I had and perhaps what brought it on.

What to do about it became the starred item on my mental list. I read about diabetic diets, bought a diabetic cookbook and studied the recipes, worrying at how deprived I might feel if I had to give up many foods I liked. I told my husband that I wasn’t going to start eating a new way quite yet. First, I had to come to terms with the idea of this new condition, and I spent a full week doing just that. This condition had sneaked up and taken me by surprise. There were moments when anger washed over me, while at other times I told myself how fortunate I was that it was only pre-diabetes. I had time to do something about it. How could I feel anything other than glad that I’d had this warning sign?

I knew that making a big lifestyle change doesn’t happen overnight. I began taking a daily walk, 20 minutes to begin with. It was not an enjoyable 20 minutes as I huffed and puffed with every slight incline. “Out of shape” were the three words that rolled through my mind as I walked the lovely trail that runs near our home. Day by day, I watched as spring wildflowers bloomed, and buds on trees opened into full leaves. I increased the amount of time each week, and after a full month, I was up to 40 minutes and breathed more easily. Best of all, I enjoyed the exercise, and the words that ran through my mind had changed to “This can help.”

My husband had had a serious heart attack several years earlier, and I’d done a lot of reading about cardiac diets at that time. I also took advantage of a wonderful service offered at our local hospital. The Diet and Nutrition Specialist conducted classes for recent cardiac patients and their spouses. In one day with her, I learned a lot, but one of the most important things was that you don’t just diet, you make a lifestyle change that must last forever. I learned to cook with less fat, cut our portion sizes, and switched to more wholegrain foods. We both lost weight with the diet and exercise program we followed, but little by little I’d slipped back into old habits. Plus I had to give up walking for exercise when my foot problem became too painful.

Now, the time had come to adhere to those rules I’d learned but forgotten, or ignored. My diet changes felt a little drastic at first. I reduced both sugar and carbohydrates, not completely, but by a great deal. I also cut the portion sizes of everything, trying to basically eat half of what I had been eating. Instead of an eight-ounce steak, I had four ounces. Instead of a bowl of cereal and a muffin or piece of coffeecake, I had cereal with fresh fruit in it. Instead of bread, I ate a couple of whole grain crackers. Instead of two cookies with afternoon tea, I had a piece of fruit. Every few days, I did have a cookie, but only one. And when I went out for lunch or dinner, I tried to order healthy food and ate half of what was brought to me, taking half home for another meal. Even when going to a friend’s home for a bridge luncheon, I ate only a small portion of what was served and either skipped dessert or ate half the portion. It paid off, as I lost 14 pounds in six months.

The weight loss has been gratifying and the exercise is now enjoyable, but the best part came when I had a repeat fasting glucose test recently. The number had fallen to 100, not the “below 100” my doctor wanted to see but so close that I felt just plain giddy when I got the report.

I must remember to thank my doctor for using those four exclamation marks in his note to me. They made me realize this might become a serious situation if I didn’t work at changing it. There are so many resources available to help me achieve my goal. I’m determined to keep working at it!!!! Don’t think it can’t happen to you. It’s a sneaky little disease that crept up and took me by surprise.

~Nancy Julien Kopp

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