Meet Michael Marnewick, a Type 1 diabetic and active member of the Diabetic South Africans community. Michael has an inspiring take on living with diabetes, and shares some of his advice here. He’s also the author of a new book: “Coach: The life and soccer times of Clive Barker.”
“Although diabetes has the potential to be life threatening if not managed well, it also has the potential to create better awareness about our bodies and our health. I accept that I have a condition but I do (almost) everything I can to live a life free from fear. But ultimately a combination of diet (first and foremost), regular physical activity, a wonderful endocrinologist and my awesome diabetic nurse (Fiona Prins), the fear of the consequences of not managing it properly and the willpower to follow a lifestyle that works for me is what keeps me positive.”
What was your diabetes diagnosis like?
I was quite unaware of my so-called ill-health when I went for a routine test and my blood sugar was in the mid-teens. I put it down to the coke and chocolate I had enjoyed earlier. The frequent night visits to the loo were explained away with advancing age (early 40s). In short, I was in complete denial.
Do you know many other people with diabetes?
I don’t know many, but my brother was diagnosed Type 1 diabetic some years ago following a massive trauma (shrapnel through the brain while on active service duty for the SADF in 1986). So, while there might be a genetic link, both of us had trauma that may have had a hand in this. For me, it was a sedentary lifestyle, bad eating habits and the stress of divorce that led to the diagnosis in 2012 – six years ago.
When (and why) did you change your diet?
When I posted something on Facebook about it, my GP called me up and suggested I look into the low carb, high fat lifestyle. I don’t call it a diet, because it isn’t a short-term intervention. So I’ve been living the low carb lifestyle for about six years. Initially I lost about 8kgs and dropped to a low of 55kgs (I am 1.7m tall). A year ago I went for a health check and with persistently high and uncontrolled BG ranging from 6 – 18 (and a high of 27), was hospitalised. My initial diagnosis in 2012 proved to be incorrect, I was not Type II but Type 1 (Actually, Type 1.5 – LADA which is Latent autoimmune diabetes of adults). My endocrinologist gave me the diagnosis and since working with her and my diabetic nurse, my HBA1C has improved every four months since then.
Could you tell us a typical day’s food?
Typically I wake up at 5am for work and eat breakfast at 9am. Generally I’ll eat some bacon, two eggs, half an avo, cream cheese or other cheese, and some leftover cheesy roasted veg. Lunch is a smoothie at about 2pm. Double cream Greek yoghurt with added cream, chia seeds (soaked in water first), frozen strawberries, almond nut butter, cinnaon and ice. Dinner at about 6.30pm will be roast / pork rashers / chicken dish / curry / zoodles (zuccini noodles or konjac root noodles) with a creamy sauce and bacon or salami / generally with veg. If I eat out, it will be mostly chicken with veg or salad.
What exercise do you do?
I do a lot of physical exercise – when time affords. Some parkrun or else a jog, mountain biking action cricket in season, swimming, badminton, tennis, gym. I am also outside and on my feet most days, often 12-18 000 steps worth.
How is your health?
My health, despite the diabetes, is probably the best since I was an active teenager. I eat zero sugar, I exercise 3-5 times a week, and I am rarely sick with colds, etc. My TomTom sports watch gives my physical age as 25 (I am currently 49).
What advice do you have for diabetics who are struggling?
My advice is to find a reason to stay healthy. I live an active lifetsyle that I want to continue. I want to walk my daughters down the aisle one day, not from a wheel-chair. My brother has no control because he is in denial and has ended up in comas and in hospital numerous times. My inspiration is not to be like him.
What makes your life sweet?
I try to avoid sweet things as much as possible – as far as substitutes go. Sugar addiction (and it was), is what I believe made me diabetic. But I feel like diabetes has given me a new lease on life. I want to be setting sporting world records in my 80s and I feel strongly that I am in the kind of good health now that will realise that.
Any final advice?
We are all led to believe that the food pyramid is the bible on nutrition when vast numbers of studies are proving the opposite. We’re told to eat carbs for energy, when fat is a much denser fuel but isn’t stored as fat in the cells like glucose is. We’re told to “Eat “healthy” things like fruits, but when fruit juice contains more sugar than coke, something is very wrong. I’ve read the testemonies of sick people who no longer suffer from PCOS, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and they’re winning the war on obesity.
Hippocrates wrote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – how true!
The HbA1c blood test is something that all diabetics should have every few months. But do you know what it is? Here are all the basics so you can be informed.
- HbA1c stands for haemoglobin A1c, also known as glycated haemoglobin.
- What does this mean? HbA1c is formed when glucose sticks to the haemoglobin found in red blood cells.
- The longer the glucose in the blood is elevated (i.e. the longer you have high blood sugar), the higher the HbA1c will be, as more glucose is available to attach to haemoglobin.
- Red blood cells live for 100 to 120 days (3 to 4 months) before they are replaced: therefore, the HbA1c can give a rough estimate of your average blood glucose for the past 3 months.
- The HbA1c can be done without fasting overnight: the test results do not change even if you’ve just eaten.
- The HbA1c is measured as a percentage: 7% or below is the magic number to aim for.
- 7% HbA1c = an average blood sugar of 8.6mmol/l.
- Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics should check their HbA1c every 3 to 6 months depending on the level – every 3 months if your last test was above 7%, every 6 months if you are at 7% or below.
- The higher the HbA1c, the greater the risk of developing diabetes complications.
- All those with diabetes should know their latest HbA1c result and have an HbA1c every few months at their local clinic or hospital. It is a simple blood sample test.