Sweet Life diabetes community blog.
Now that the New Year is well and truly underway, what resolutions are you going to stick to when it comes to healthy eating? Pick n Pay’s dietician Leanne Kiezer suggests three simple resolutions – and gives examples on how to make them work.
1. Eat a healthy breakfast
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day! Start your day with a satisfying breakfast that doesn’t spike your blood sugar, and you’re more likely to stay in range the whole day.
The perfect breakfast for a person with diabetes is made up of:
- 1/4 plate high-fibre carbohydrates (unless you’re low carb)
- 1/4 plate lean proteins
- 1/2 plate vegetables and fruit
- Small amount of healthy fats
2. Pack lunch for work
We all know how tempting it can be to grab something unhealthy when we’re at work and hunger pangs strike… If you pack a lunch for work, you’re much less likely to snack on junk food, and more likely to stick to your healthy eating resolutions. Here are some tips on how to make the right food choices at work.
And here are some ideas for delicious lunchboxes!
- A sandwich made with low GI bread filled with lean protein (cottage cheese / low-fat meat / tinned fish). Stuff with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and other salad.
- Vegetable soup with 1 to 2 slices of low GI bread or a small wholewheat roll.
- A picnic lunch with wholewheat crackers, hummus for a dip and cucumber chunks, carrots sticks, baby tomatoes or snap peas instead of a salad.
- A salad made with lean protein (chicken or tuna) with very little dressing and no high fat toppings (croutons, bacon bits, cheese etc).
3. Fill half a plate with vegetables at dinner
Need a reminder on how to build balanced meals for healthy eating (don’t we all?!) The goal is to always fill half your dinner plate with vegetables or salad. That way, there’s less space for carbs! Also remember to have some healthy protein at every meal.
Here are some delicious diabetes-friendly dinner recipes to inspire you.
Pick n Pay Health Hotline
Did you know that Pick n Pay employs a registered dietitian to provide free food and nutrition-related advice to the public? Contact Leanne via the Health Hotline on 0800 11 22 88 or email her directly on
firstname.lastname@example.org to start your nutrition conversation.
As we all know, diabetes and high cholesterol often go hand in hand.
Synexus currently has a clinical trial for cholesterol in diabetic patients – are you interested in taking part? They are offering free blood pressure, blood glucose and blood cholesterol tests and will then find out if you are interested in participating in their clinical trials should you meet the criteria.
They have various clinical trials at the moment:
- Asthma study
- Cholesterol study for patients who have had a cardiovascular event
- Osteo-Arthritis study
If you are interested or would like more information, check out the Synexus website to see what studies they are currently running.
The studies take place at various sites all over South Africa, so once an individual is interested, they refer them to the nearest site to their location.
Eating over the festive season is part of the fun, but all your hard work to get in shape for summer shouldn’t be compensated by endless indulgent meals! This year, when you host family and friends, why not consider serving healthier versions of classic holiday dishes? Here are some ideas from Pick n Pay’s dietician Leanne Kiezer for how you can adapt your recipes so that they are more balanced, lower in fat and include plenty of vegetables and fruit.
- Offer healthier snack options like lean biltong or chopped vegetable crudités with a reduced-fat hummus dip, or smoked salmon, cottage cheese and capers on cubes of low GI seed bread.
- Choose a lean beef, pork or lamb roast, and bake or grill the meat on a rack so that the excess fat can drip off the meat.
- Use a pastry brush to brush oil onto the meat, as pouring the oil causes you to use much more than you need.
- Rather than a whole chicken with the skin intact, choose individual portions of skinless chicken breasts and thighs for roasting. Check out our Mediterranean-style Chicken Bake recipe – delicious.
- Instead of bread crumbs, use rolled oats or crushed bran cereal for stuffing. Also add extra sautéed vegetables to your stuffing, like carrot, mushrooms, onion and celery.
- If your holiday recipe calls for bacon, choose back bacon with its excess fat removed.
- Choose one starch side dish like rice or sweet potatoes. If opting for rice, choose wild rice, brown rice or pearl barley which offers a source of fibre. If potatoes are your festive favourites, try our Grape, Goats Cheese and Red Onion Stuffed Sweet Potatoes rather than deep fried potatoes.
- Make plenty of vegetable side dishes available (remember these should fill half your plate!), like this Ricotta, Walnut and Butternut Salad or Buttery Shredded Brussel Sprouts.
- Use fat-free or low oil dressing and flavoured vinegars for salads, or make your own low-oil dressings at home.
- For dips and sauces made from mayonnaise, rather use a mixture of low oil salad cream and plain low fat yoghurt.
- If your recipe calls for plain or cake flour, halve the amount and replace with wholewheat flour in baked goods.
- Instead of cream, use low fat evaporated milk in recipes (although not suitable for whipping).
- Substitute apple sauce for half of the shortening or oil in your recipe.
- Use variations of plain yoghurt with fresh fruit slices for your desserts – the fruit adds natural sweetness to the recipe, so there is no need for added sugar.
- Serve fruit canned in its own juices (with the juice drained), or fresh fruit with jelly and lite custard.
Pick n Pay Health Hotline
Did you know that Pick n Pay employs a registered dietitian to provide free food and nutrition-related advice to the public? Contact Leanne via the Health Hotline on 0800 11 22 88 or email her directly on
email@example.com to start your nutrition conversation.
It’s mid-December, which means we’re all ready to kick back, relax and feast with our friends and family… But does December have to be decadent? Not with the right recipes! Leanne Kiezer, Pick n Pay’s dietician, has shared some delicious – and healthy – festive recipes with us. Here’s to happy holidays (and happy blood sugar!)
Mediterranean-style Chicken Bake
- Non-stick cooking spray
- 8 skinless chicken thighs, on the bone
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- Pinch of salt
- 2 red onions, peeled and cut into crescents
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2.5 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup wild rice
- 250 g cocktail tomatoes
- 10 Kalamata olives
- 3 tbsp. oregano, chopped
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees
- Grease a casserole dish with non-stick spray
- Place chicken, lemon, salt, onion and garlic into the dish, and toss to combine
- Roast for about 15 minutes
- Add the remaining ingredients, and continue to roast for 25 minutes, or until cooked through
- Scatter with oregano before serving
Grape, Goats Cheese and Red Onion Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- 4 large sweet potatoes
- 20 ml olive oil
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- 2 cups seedless red grapes
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 red onion, cut into wedges
- 200g goats cheese
- Place sweet potatoes on a baking tray. Rub with oil, salt and pepper
- Bake for 20 – 30 minutes until almost cooked through
- Toss grapes, rosemary and onion on baking tray with sweet potatoes
- Bake for 10 more minutes
- Slit sweet potatoes down the middle and scoop out some flesh
- Mash with half the goats cheese. Season, and spoon back into cavity
- Top sweet potatoes with remaining goats cheese, grapes, onion and rosemary bits
Buttery Shredded Brussel Sprouts
- 20ml canola oil
- 300g Brussel sprouts, finely shredded
- 5ml lemon zest
- 50g pecan nuts, toasted
- 100g Pecorino cheese, grated
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry Brussel sprouts until wilted
- Toss through remaining ingredients and serve
Ricotta, Walnut and Butternut Salad
- 150 g butternut cubes, roasted
- 125 ml ricotta, crumbled
- 30 g walnuts, toasted
- 2 gem lettuce, shredded
- 1 bulb fennel, finely sliced
- 5ml olive oil
- 15ml balsamic vinegar
- Toss salad ingredients together
- Whisk oil and vinegar together
- Dress and season salad just before serving
Take a pic if you make any of these for your festive feast, and share it with us on Facebook! We’d love to see…
As a Type 1 diabetic, one of the things that makes me anxious in the sweaty days of mid-summer is keeping my insulin cool. I’m out and about a lot, and climbing into a baking hot car with my insulin pen in my bag is always worrying, because I know that insulin denatures over 30◦C. The trickiest part, of course, is that there’s no way of knowing if your insulin has overheated and denatured, except by injecting as usual and getting higher than usual blood sugar readings. The worst!
For years I’ve tried to find a solution to this problem. I’ve put my insulin in cooling packs, tried to leave my insulin at home (which means not eating if I’m not at home – not a sustainable solution) and even wrapped my insulin in wet paper towels in the hope that it would keep cool! I hate wasting insulin, but I hate high blood sugar more – and if your insulin has denatured it just doesn’t work any more, so it has to be thrown out.
And then I found the ViViCap1, and I can’t tell you what a relief it is! It replaces the cap on your insulin pen and keeps the insulin inside at a steady temperature – no matter how hot it is outside. (I’ve been in 38◦C heat and it’s been totally fine.) It’s quite a revolutionary product, so I asked Matthew Wray from ViViCap1 to tell us more about it…
What is the ViViCap1?
ViviCap1 is a revolutionary temperature shielding device for insulin pens. It simply replaces the cap of the insulin pen and can travel with you, bringing you year-round peace of mind that your insulin is safe to use, even in extreme temperatures.
What makes it so unique?
ViViCap1 requires no batteries and no charging. There is a phase changing formula within the cylinder of ViViCap1. This is a NASA patented technology used to control temperature within the walls of spacecraft without using power. When your ViViCap1 and insulin are exposed to temperatures from 28◦C, the formula activates itself, turns from a solid state to a liquid state, rushes around and prevents heat from reaching your insulin. Even in extreme heat, your insulin will never exceed a safe 26◦C. As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 26◦C and below, the ViViCap1 regenerates itself. The ViViCap1 I endorsed by the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE).
Why is it so important for insulin to be kept cool?
Insulin is extremely sensitive to changes in temperature. If not regulated properly, the insulin will spoil and could prove very dangerous for the person with diabetes if the insulin has no effect.
Is there any way to know if your insulin has denatured because of heat?
The ViViCap1 has a green light indicator which assures you that your insulin stored in the ViViCap1 is safely protected against heat. If, in some extreme example, the insulin in the ViViCap1 has been compromised due to heat exposure, the light will turn red and that red light will serve as your warning that your insulin is now compromised and not safe to use.
How is the ViViCap1 different to a cooler bag?
A cooler bag will only keep things cool for as long as the cooler bag can stay cool. Ever been on a long road trip? Nothing stays at the required temperature for extended periods. The ViViCap1 will activate itself when the ambient temperature gets to 28◦C and if that temperature is constant for 12 hours straight (daylight), ViViCap1 will keep the insulin at 26◦C no matter what the ambient temperature is. A cooler bag has no stop/start mechanism and therefore can only lose heat.
Where can people find out more or buy one?
ViViCap1 is available at the CDE pharmacy and can be ordered by all CDE centres through the CDE pharmacy. It is also available at Clicks nationwide. Some Clicks stores may need to order for the patient, but most will have in stock. It can also be purchased online at www.tempramed.co.za through our online store. It is priced from R1300 with a two-year guarantee. Find out more at www.tempramed.co.za
Any questions? Email Matthew Wray for answers.
Phew, but this World Diabetes Day was a whirlwind! Between radio and TV interviews, the Know Diabetes campaign and sharing the 5 symptoms of diabetes far and wide, it’s been nonstop diabetes in these parts for the past week. Very exciting!
I thought I’d share a few clips from World Diabetes Day, for those who missed them:
eNCA / eNuus
I was interviewed by the lovely Nadine Theron for both eNCA and eNuus – here’s the eNuus version.
5FM – The Thabooty Drive
Listen here for a great interview on 5FM, spreading the message about diabetes.
702 – Breakfast with Bongwani Bingwa
An interview about the fact that 70% of South Africans have a family member living with diabetes.
Expresso Morning Show
A lovely chat on the Expresso Morning Show – still waiting for the official link, but here’s a sneaky photo from the day.
Fresh Living magazine
A great spread in Fresh Living magazine, talking all about Sweet Life and diabetes…
And a succinct and helpful article on All4Women: 5 symptoms of diabetes and how to get screened for free.
What a busy week!
This National Diabetes Month, our focus is simple: sharing the 5 symptoms of diabetes throughout South Africa. That’s what the Know Diabetes movement is all about. Did you know that half of all people with diabetes in South Africa are undiagnosed? We can change that by sharing these symptoms with everyone we know – family and friends – and asking them to share.
Getting your blood sugar checked is quick and simple – the results are immediate and it only takes 5 minutes. Please encourage everyone you know to get their blood sugar checked every year!
The festive season is nearly upon us! But never fear, we’ve asked Leanne Kiezer, the dietician at Pick n Pay, for some helpful tips for healthier eating during the holidays. It can be really tempting to throw good meal choices out the window when the temptations of the festive season roll round, but unfortunately your diabetes doesn’t take a holiday… Here are a few helpful suggestions for eating healthy without feeling like you’re missing out on all the treats!
Make healthier choices when eating out
Eating out does not have to sabotage your focus on healthy eating. Use these tips to keep you on track:
Build healthier meals
You can reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in a recipe without compromising on taste by using healthy substitutes:
Fat: For baked goods, use half the butter, margarine or oil suggested in the recipe and replace the other half with apple sauce or mashed banana.
Sugar: In most recipes, you can reduce sugar by a third to a half. Add spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg or flavourings like vanilla and almond essence to enhance sweetness.
Sodium: Reduce salt by one-half in baked goods that don’t require yeast. For foods that do require yeast, don’t reduce the amount of salt as it is necessary for leavening.
Healthy substitutes not only reduce the amount of fat, energy and sodium in your recipes, but can also boost the nutritional content.
The 2nd annual Diabetes Frontier Africa conference is in Johannesburg this week, and has some big questions to answer. Medical researchers continue to highlight the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes on our healthcare infrastructure. Due to a lack of current prevalence data and worryingly low rates of diagnosis in sub-Saharan Africa, it is expected that the International Diabetes Federation projected 156% rise in the disease could well be short of the eventual reality.
How to educate the public about diabetes
In an effort to avoid this worrying outcome; government, medical professionals and social influencers will meet in November to discuss ways to educate the public and mitigate many of the challenges South Africa faces in dealing with diabetes. Diabetes advocates including Sophie Ndaba-Lichaba (entrepreneur and actress) and representatives from Gauteng MEC for Health, Gwendoline Malegwale Ramokgopa’s department will join global medical professionals at the 2nd annual Diabetes Frontier Africa conference. Key on the agenda will be the issue of developing societal shifts in SA to help alleviate the challenges of scarce resources in fighting diabetes.
Limited medical resources
Due to a myriad of medical complications, including organ failure, loss of sight and limbs as well as sexual dysfunction, diabetes casts a wide shadow of burden on already limited medical resources. This is especially problematic in low income and rural areas with limited medical staff and beds to deal with the supportive care needed to deal with diabetic complications. Complications which could be largely managed through a consistent and widespread campaign of awareness to fight myths and stigma in these communities.
The stigma around diabetes is particularly complex in SA as patients are not only judged for falling sick or becoming obese, but also for taking their treatment seriously. Insulin injections, exercise, maintaining a strict diet and weight-loss have all been linked with negative social response in many of the communities worst affected by the disease.
Recently, diabetes advocate Sophie Lichaba was at the centre of body shaming attacks directed to her and husband, businessman Max Lichaba on social media. Attacks that laid bare the very real problem of SA society assuming that obesity is a sign of affluence while weight-loss is an indication of terminal illness and bad lifestyle choices.
The expert panel led by top London-based researcher, Dr Louise Goff will join Lichaba to discuss challenges and strategies in citizen advocacy at the event that coincides with World Diabetes Day (14 November). Dr Goff’s research focuses on how ethnicity impacts on the pathophysiological development of Type 2 diabetes. Her research team are working on culturally-tailored self- management programmes for diabetes.
The role of technology and data science will also be highlighted with Dr Vukosi Marivate from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Mr Norman Moyo from Cumii Technologies expected to discuss ways that professionals and caregivers can leverage emerging technologies to help with diabetes care.
Diabetes conference line-up
Here’s the entire line-up of impressive names in diabetes:
Join global endocrinology researchers, nutrition experts, policy makers and top medical journalists for networking and collaboration in fighting this growing epidemic.
Conference chairperson: Dr Sundeep Ruder (Clinical Endocrinologist, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital; Lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand)
Speakers for the event include the following top experts:
Dr Bongi Ngema Zuma (Former 1st Lady of RSA and CEO – Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation)
Dr Gwendoline Malegwale Ramokgopa (MEC – Gauteng Department of Health)
Dr Louise Goff (Senior Researcher, Diabetes & Nutritional Sciences Division Kings College London)
Dr Bo Liu (Researcher, Diabetes Research Group Kings College London)
Dr Chibuzo Anaso (Diabetologist, Western Cape Department of Health and CEO Anaso Diabetes Foundation)
Mr Norman Moyo (Chief Executive Officer, Cumii Technologies – a subsidiary of Econet Group)
Dr Vukosi Marivate (ABSA Chair of Data, University of Pretoria and Senior Researcher, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research [CSIR])
Sophie Ndaba-Lichaba (Entrepreneur, Actress, Diabetes advocate)
Dr Charlotte Boughton (Clinical Researcher, University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories)
What are you doing on Saturday 3rd November? Why not join WoW (WesternCape on Wellness) in Athlone for a fun and informative Diabetes Awareness Day?
It’s a free event, with a family walk and various events throughout the day… See below from Joan Leukus of the Athlone Lions Club, one of the organisers.
Why is a Diabetes Awareness Day necessary?
This is indeed very humbling to talk about this event that is aimed at raising awareness about diabetes which is reaching epidemic proportions in adults and children. Gaining and retaining a state of wellness is also a very essential aspect of good living.
As a recently diagnosed diabetic, l have made the conscious choice to embark on this diabetes and wellness journey on Saturday 3rd November at Nantes Park in the midst of The Silvertown – Bridgetown residential area.
The focus is on:
- Experiential learning, listening, experiencing – questioning – tasting, and most importantly, thinking about changes of attitude and action.
- Making good, healthy, informed changes, for daily living that will improve your shopping list; your medical bills; your confidence levels; heart health, as well as your state of mind.
- The outcome of all of this will be a healthier happier you, with more positive goals in mind.
Activities on the day
Throughout this planning, my hope was to engage and bring onboard people with experience and enthusiasm to make this event a lively, interactive learning hub of activities for young and old.
- Laughter is so therapeutic. There will be lots of that in between the seriousness of screening and testing for blood sugar; blood pressure and BMl. It’s important to know your numbers.
- Follow up services for support will also be provided by our local clinic and day hospital as well as our local pharmicist Abdullah Khan, owner of Athlone Pharmacy, also the founder and sponsor of Diabetic 101 who spearheads regular educational programmes and walking events to support diabetics and their families.
- I’m so privileged to be flanked by two superfit hunks: Bradley and Nathan. Bradley Bailey is a WoW! Champion and founder of Perfect Fit 360. Nathan brings the roof down daily as he takes the teams through their paces.
- They will set the tone of the day, amidst healthy foods and various diabetic friendly items on sale. With many kids activities and storytelling.
- Virgin Active will ensure we keep up the pace with mini fit challenges.
- These all follow after a focussed guest speaker broadens our horizons about diabetes. Our overall experience will increase our understanding about wellness on many levels. We are fortunate to have a health official that brings us this important message. I trust that it will boost our level of self-care.
- Pampering sessions will be available at a small fee.
- We will also have nutrition, loads of raffles, games and news about community support groups as well as news about the Athlone Lions Club.
Our programme will roll out in the vicinity of the arena and is best accessible via the main gate, in Appledene Road, where our local neighbourhood watch will be in attendance. The event will be supported by a variety of health promoting ideas for education and improved networking.
Today, our guest writer Maryna shares some tips and advice from her travels… Specifically, travelling with diabetes. She’s outlined 8 helpful tips for travelling with diabetes. Do you have anything to add? Comment below, or on Facebook!
Adventures with diabetes
I love travelling. I’ve travelled overseas, I’ve travelled to remote places in the country with no facilities, I go camping a lot – especially in summer. I love seeing new places, meeting new people and just basking in a foreign sun. Insulin and glucometer in tow, I’ve spent ten days in the middle of the Karoo without electricity or running water. It wasn’t an easy task and required a lot of planning on my part, but it’s an experience I wouldn’t exchange for anything.
Going on holiday should be an exciting adventure filled with laughter and fun. Unfortunately, if you have diabetes it comes with its own set of troubles. Besides that annoying feeling that you forgot half of what you should have packed, you have a few extra factors to consider when packing that suitcase.
Easier to travel with diabetes now
Travelling as a diabetic has become much easier than it used to be. In 2002 when I went to the UK for the first time, I was still using syringes and vials and the ensuing three-hour debacle at customs left me crying and embarrassed in a busy corridor in the middle of Heathrow Airport. I had a doctor’s letter, I had a letter from the medical aid, but trying to get boxes of syringes over the border ended up being far more difficult than expected.
In 2018, Customs isn’t a worry anymore, in most cases authorities don’t even notice the pens in my hand luggage and when I declare my medicine, most flight attendees are too scared to take my insulin away from me and keep it in the cabin like they are supposed to. I don’t really need a doctor’s letter anymore since it’s now a rarity to be asked for one, and even the strictest airports don’t seem to bat an eyelid at my luggage.
There are a few tricks to making your travel experience as easy as possible. Here are my top eight tips for travelling with diabetes:
1. Travelling with insulin
Firstly and most important comes the insulin. The ins and outs of travelling with insulin can be a bit tricky, especially keeping your insulin cold enough. My solution came from the fitness industry: www.sixpackbags.com. These bags are made for bodybuilders to keep and carry their eight meals of the day. The bags are sneakily lined with small pockets for ice-packs, you can line the whole bag with icy goodness, and the bags are insulated very similarly to a coolerbox. It’s saved my insulin on numerous occasions, especially during long-haul flights or long road trips.
Always remember to take extra insulin! This I learnt long ago when I went on a sandy beach vacation. I never considered that sea sand is fine enough to slip between the seals in my epipen, which in turn makes the pen useless as it can’t turn anymore. Lesson learnt! The panic was very real and only after a whole day of going from pharmacy to pharmacy and eventually the hospital, was my problem solved… At a price. Always take extra needles with you and keep a doctor’s letter on you for overseas trips to satiate that one-in-a-thousand strict Customs employee.
2. Remember your water bottle
Secondly is water, always have water with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s an eight hour drive, 12 hour flight or a leisurely stroll on the beach. Water is a great way to help your insulin do its work. Since diabetics dehydrate faster than the norm, it’s important to have your liquid backup prepared.
3. Watch what you eat
Take into account that sitting for prolonged hours is most probably throwing off your daily routine, so check what you eat and drink while travelling. I usually eat far less while on the road or on a flight or I’ll pay the price later with a high blood sugar reading. Once you arrive, it’s important to watch what you eat as well – especially when you travel overseas. Foreign food is one of the best things when travelling, I love tasting new dishes and experiencing local food customs, but don’t be shy to ask what is in your delicious food and how it was made. You’ll regret it later if you ate something that doesn’t play well with your diabetes.
4. Be aware of water retention
Holding back water is normal when travelling for long hours. It can be uncomfortable and at times even painful. Personally it affects me for a couple of days when I’ve travelled for long and I’ve had some instances where I would have made balloons jealous with my puffiness. Invest in compression socks, which you can get at any Clicks or Dischem. Trust me, the last thing you want is huge “cankles” when you get off the plane, waddling like a duck for the first two days of your holiday.
5. Be (medically) prepared
Always make sure that your medical information is readily available. It sounds obvious, but I have been surprised by the amount of people that don’t have any type of indication of their diabetes on their person. Get that MedicAlert bracelet and wear it.
6. Pack carefully
Comfortable, worn-in shoes are a must. It doesn’t matter if your holiday includes a lot of walking or not, make sure those sensitive feet are comfortable. Combined with the water retention that you may experience, you might have less feeling in your feet, so make sure to check your feet more regularly, especially for blisters. In the last couple of years I’ve also started covering my lower legs when camping in the veld or places with rough terrain. The last thing you want is scratches and scrapes on your legs.
7. Test your blood sugar more often
This is not a must, but I find that my routine is completely topsy-turvy on holiday. I eat differently, my activities are different, sleeping patterns are strange, so I test my blood sugar more often. I carry my glucometer on me at all times during my trips. Depending on how sensitive your body is, even a slight difference can affect you. So listen to your body and make sure you are always ready for highs or lows or just a crazy surprise sunburn.
8. Enjoy yourself!
Possibly one of the most valuable tips I can give here is to enjoy yourself. If you are prepared, there is nothing stopping you from having a fun-filled, adventurous experience. Be vigilant, but not obsessive about your condition. Enjoy the sites, smells and surroundings, meet new people, experience something different. Travelling is an enriching experience, make sure you get as much as you can from it!
It sounds like a lot of effort, many things to remember and just a plain inconvenience, but trust me: being prepared will make your holiday and travelling so much more pleasant.
There’s been a lot of talk on our Facebook page about how diabetes affects the whole family. Especially after this guest article about how Diabetes destroyed my relationship with my mother. Today, we have the other side of the story to tell – a mother’s story of parenting a child with diabetes.
The World Cup Soccer was upon us! The atmosphere was abuzz with all the excitement and schools were closing for holidays. My girls were gearing up for a slumber party to celebrate Kirsten’s 16th birthday, great excitement filled the house as friends arrived present laden and ready for a night of storytelling and fun after an evening at the fan walk.
I asked her not to sleep near two girls who had a cold as it was a long holiday and I didn’t want her to get sick. The party came and went and Kirsten got the dreaded cold. She left two days later to go and spend time in Elgin with a few close friends and when she arrived home with bronchitis was put on antibiotics. She was looking very pale and her loss of weight was almost shocking. The doctor seemed concerned at the time but said we could go away and to see him on our return.
Langebaan was like a breath of fresh air compared to the madness in Cape Town and we were looking forward to a couple of days rest with good friends. Kirsten crawled into bed and did not move. We spent days trying to get her to eat to no avail and then she started vomiting: something was wrong and we could all see it. The chemist said there was a bad virus going around and she stuck to fluids for a couple of days: Energade, Powerade and naartjies were her only input.
The scariest day of my life
I could see that there was something drastically wrong on the Sunday night – it was as if she was not registering my presence, her knees had swollen to the size of rugby balls, her movement was staggered and she looked like a skeleton with skin on. I could not sleep worrying about what was happening to my beautiful daughter, was it what I had feared the most?
The morning came and with it came the scariest day of my life. I went down to check on her and she was semi-comatose. We threw everything into the back of the car and got back to the doctor in Cape Town in record time with her passing in and out of consciousness. I ran into the doctor and I said what I had been dreading to say: “I think she has diabetes!” Tests were run and confirmation came through two hours later: Kirsten was a Type 1 diabetic, her HBA1C registered as her being one for at least 3 months prior to diagnosis and she was immediately started on insulin. A new chapter in our lives had begun.
Let me just add here that on my husband’s side of the family diabetes was prevalent and I had always had a fear that my children would one day be diagnosed. I had constantly had them checked throughout their childhood. I thought by now they were all safe from this terrible burden.
Days filled with diabetes
Our days were filled with diabetes: from doctors to specialists to diabetic educators and reps, it was like a neverending story and a huge overload of information. Could the doctors be wrong? What if it was the energy drinks and naartjies we had given her that had sent her sugars over the top? Could she wake up next week and be fine? “No” was the answer to all our questions and we had to resolve ourselves to the fact that all of our lives were forever going to revolve around diabetes.
Kirsten would have to inject herself three times a day at mealtimes and once before bedtime for the rest of her life. Our days of running into the shops turned into hours reading every label and checking the carb count. All temptations were banished from the house, no more fast foods, as we started our new journey.
Unfortunately for Kirsten, things just did not seem to want to come right. She had lost 11 kilograms and had no muscle on her at all, her BMI was only 16. She could only manage to grab a millimeter of skin to inject but her blood sugar levels were fantastic and her endocrinologist was very impressed with her management thereof. Despite her levels being fine, she kept getting recurring lameness in her legs (from walking the one moment to waking up lame the next), as well as severe neck pains and constant chest infections. We had to forbid anyone near her who was even remotely sick.
At the beginning of December we were thrown into shock as she woke up with a mass of glands on either side of her groin, she was scanned and the glands were in excess of 3cm each so it looked like a bunch of grapes. We anxiously waited as they ruled out lymphoma, but praise be to God, it was not so, and she was blasted with antibiotics to reduce the glands.
Complications of diabetes
Our annual holiday to Plett arrived and everyone was so eager and happy to get there, days filled with friends and relaxation and just time to forget about the negatives of the past six months. We enjoyed the first week without a hitch and then once again Kirsten fell ill: she could not eat anything which was most frustrating as diabetics have to eat, and we landed up in the hospital where they could not find anything wrong. Two days later she could not even drink without crying and when her breathing became difficult we once again packed up everything and raced back to the doctors who knew her history in Cape Town.
She can’t recall at all how she got back home, she had lost all the weight we had painfully tried to put onto her and she was admitted for an esophagogastroduodenoscopy showing she had picked up a viral infection which had left her with hundreds of ulcers from the mouth down into her stomach, another complication of diabetes. Once again, loads of meds and a struggle to get her to put on the weight which she desperately needed to gain her strength.
Friends were understanding and eager to learn how to deal with her should her levels drop and were a constant by her side throughout. My frustration was immense, I was so mad at the world, at my Creator, for allowing this to happen to my once super-healthy and fit daughter who had the world at her feet. How could this be happening and why could I not fix it?
I battled every day to put on a smiling face so that she could not see my worry, I would spend hours sitting in her room at the dead of night praying and watching her just to make sure she did not slip into a coma, I had prayer circles going all over the world for my girl and yet no answers were coming. I realized that God had placed my son (who has Aspergers) in our care because he thought that we could deal with it. He had now obviously decided that we did that job well as Kirsten’s sickness had to be dealt with by us too.
I felt that somehow, somewhere, I had to find the inner strength to show Kirsten that she was still the beautiful daughter I always had, except now she was more special as now it meant that we would have to care for her daily, in all walks of her life. I prayed for the strength to guide me to help her in every way that I could: my shoulders are broad and would surely bear the load.
Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what her levels are, what she is eating or how she is feeling, if she is not with me it takes everything in my being not to reach for the phone to check. The expense of the last years has been immense, but being her constant carer and companion throughout this ordeal has changed me for the better.
Diabetes brought us closer
We are aware of everything that we eat. This is usually the stage in a teenager’s life that they tend to drift away from the parents, but we have become more united. I still allow her freedom but help by providing pre-packed meals knowing that she can enjoy herself without having to worry about where her next meal is coming from. As a family, we have always been close but this disease has brought us closer. We are always on the lookout and we stand together and work through it so that she feels that she is never alone in this lifetime fight with diabetes. We take a small step each day learning and knowing more. Her smile is constant even through all her worries and ill health and this keeps us going.
My daily thoughts revolve around Kirsten and my prayer is for a cure for diabetes to help, not only my daughter, but the millions of people living with diabetes all over the world.
PS: Kirsten is now a successful mountain climber and blogger – follow her adventures on Instagram: cape_town_adventurer
Our regular guest writer Maryna has some advice to share today about work stress and diabetes. How do you cope with work stress? Maryna shares some helpful tips that have made it easier for her to stay calm.
Stress and diabetes
Life is stressful. In my experience, diabetes and stress don’t play well together.
There are many factors that cause stress, some of them we have no control over, but other factors we can control. Personally, work life is my largest source of a clenched stomach, short breath and continual headaches. Gone are the days when loyalty and hard work paid off: this utopia that my parents so often talk about, I have never encountered.
In my youthful ignorance I chose to pursue a career in advertising. Now, I can’t speak for other industries. But I’ve certainly spent my last fifteen years working eighteen hour days, sleeping badly, drinking too much coffee, fighting stomach ulcers and being guilted into working weekends and holidays.
Constant work pressure
Rising up the ranks didn’t make things any easier, as the work and hours didn’t get any less, but the pressure and stress multiplied exponentially.
Don’t misunderstand me: I love what I do and I’m good at it. Most of my fellow creatives are amazing, brilliant people and the fact that I can wear what I want to work is a massive plus in my eyes! I’ve achieved what many others in the industry never do and enjoyed a career that has given me many opportunities to grow, but what did I sacrifice in the process?
It’s difficult coping in these high stress, high output environments, both physically and mentally. Adding diabetes to the already toxic mix makes it even harder. Looking back at the last couple of years, I can’t say that I would do everything over again and not regret it. My body and soul have taken a beating in so many ways and I certainly have the scars and stories to prove it.
Stress coping mechanisms (for a diabetic)
How do you cope in this crazy stressful world as a diabetic?
It’s taken me many years to learn this, but firstly: come to terms with your condition. I have this innate drive to not admit that anything is wrong with me. I spent years thinking that my diabetes was a weakness. Many of the things that my co-workers do effortlessly leave me in a near catatonic state for days. I have to sleep, I have to eat, some days I’m exhausted beyond measure, I get headaches, my ankles swell up, the list goes on and on, but it doesn’t make me a lesser employee.
Yes, I have issues, just like every other person around me. You have nothing to prove if you work at your best and deliver good work.
The secret here is that you can’t work your best if you feel like a half-asleep zombie all the time, and that’s a message that needs to come across to your superiors. Don’t let anyone guilt you into over-stretching yourself, don’t let anyone tell you that your diabetes is a problem. You can be just as productive as anyone else if you are responsible and give your body what it needs.
Be responsible for your diabetes
That brings us to point number two: be responsible. You, and only you, know your limits, and it’s different for all of us. Say STOP when you need it, and if your boss has a problem with that, then he’s most probably not a very good boss.
Look after your well-being, not only physically but mentally, I have found that your mental health has a lot more to do with healthy blood sugar levels than we are led to believe.
I am a strong believer in meditation and it has helped me to control my raging stress and emotions over time. This might not be true for you, it could something as simple as going to the gym every day or as complex as building a ten thousand piece puzzle. Find that thing that makes you calm. Find the space that gives you time to contemplate, analyse and solve your problems.
Educate others about diabetes
Thirdly: make sure those closest to you at work can recognise the signs when you lose the plot. Over the years I have become a master in casually talking about my diabetes, not in an aggressive or “feel sorry for me” way, just a casual chat. Educate those around you about your symptoms. I’ve found that at times I get so distracted by my work or a specific problem, that I don’t notice what my body is telling me. We’ve all had that unpleasant surprise hypo, that sneaks up from behind and leaves you a blubbering, confused mess.
Fortunately, or rather unfortunately for those around me, I turn into the proverbial bear with a thorn in its paw, so it’s obvious when my blood sugar is on the low side. Always make sure that there is at least one person who can recognise the signs and make you aware of them before you get into trouble.
Lastly: if your gut is telling you something is wrong, there’s most probably something wrong. Go to the doctor if you feel anything odd is going on in your body. Stress does strange things to you: I’ve had everything, from odd circular dry patches on my skin to a septic ulcer that landed me in hospital with a sugar count of 48 mmol/L and a near-death experience. Needless to say, that experience taught me that you can never be too careful or vigilant when it comes to your diabetes.
Our bodies tend to react a lot more violently to issues that most non-diabetic people just brush off as nothing. Learn to know your body and how it reacts to different situations.
There is no right or wrong way to deal with stress. Be aware of what your body is telling you and take responsibility for that. Learn what helps you deal with your circumstances and practice that. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and defend your own health. Care for yourself and your work will surely flourish.
Victoria wrote to me last week with this glimpse of life with a Type 1 diabetic husband…
Brian has a question I haven’t heard before… Any advice?
I am a Type 2 diabetic and just recently I broke my hand in a freak accident.
To cut a long story short, the blood tests showed that I have a serious iron deficiency and I’m on a course of iron and Vitamin C supplements.
My question is: what foods contain iron that I can add to my diet?
Last week, we were informed that Sweet Life has been named one of The Best Diabetes Magazines in the world. We are absolutely delighted – and honoured – to have been chosen from thousands of diabetes magazines on the web. Feedspot uses search and social metrics to rank the top 10 diabetes magazines based on the following criteria:
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Be sure to follow these blogs for more great diabetes information!
“Diabetes…. Uugh.” That feeling pretty much sums up what diabetes burnout is all about: the feeling that it’s too exhausting / frustrating / unpredictable / impossible to manage your diabetes, so why even try? Diabetes burnout is common in people with diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) and for good reason – it’s a chronic condition. Chronic as in forever, never giving you a break, never giving you a holiday, never giving you a moment’s rest. Add to that the fact that diabetes is an ever-changing condition, with blood sugar fluctuating depending on everything from your diet and exercise to hormones, weather, sickness and more, and it’s no surprise that people with diabetes sometimes feel exhausted by it all.
When you need to worry about diabetes burnout
“Diabetes burnout is a normal emotion for diabetics to feel at any given time,” explains Gabi Richter, a Type 1 diabetic and counsellor in Cape Town. “It occurs when you are fed up with the routine and lifestyle that being diabetic entails, and you just want to forget it all. This is fine to feel once in a while – and can even be healthy to some point. But it needs attention when the feeling stays for a long time and your routine diabetes care stops.”
This, of course, is the warning sign. If it feels like there’s no point taking care of your diabetes because you have no control any more, that’s when you stop paying attention to food and medication and self-care. And that’s when blood sugar levels can get wildly out of control. Extended periods of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) lead to diabetes complications, and in Type 1 diabetics, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can be extremely dangerous.
So what do you do if you’re experiencing diabetes burnout? Reach out. Connect. Realise you’re not alone. “Diabetes burnout is a very real issue for all the people I am privileged to educate and spend time with,” explains Kate Bristow, a diabetes specialist nurse in Pietermaritzburg, KZN. It’s a combination of the frustration of things: Never having a day off from diabetes. The guilt of not sticking to the right eating plan or forgetting to take medication or check blood sugar. The relentlessness of never being able to take time off from managing diabetes. “Burnout is often accompanied by stress and anxiety and sometimes depression or guilt – all negative emotions,” says Kate.
5 tips for diabetes burnout
Here are 5 pieces of advice Kate Bristow offers her patients.
Share your frustrations with someone – a family member, or diabetes nurse or educator. See if there are ways to decrease your burden for a while.
Try new diabetic-friendly recipes – a change is as good as a holiday.
Try practicing mindfulness – a practice based on learning to become aware of how you are feeling emotionally in a non-judgemental way. It has been found to be effective in supporting diabetes management and the general stress of everyday life. Eating mindfully has been shown to improve diabetes control.
Life is busy – stress is a way of life – defined as a state of emotional tension elicited by the pressure of everyday life. Diabetes is probably only one of those stresses. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels and alleviate depression as much as some medications used for the same purpose. Exercise is also good for our physical health – blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and diabetes. So perhaps another way of dealing with burnout is to get an accountability exercise partner and start getting physical at least 3 times a week (even if it’s only for 20 minutes at a go, or at work).
If you really feel like you are not coping – ask for help. This is why you have a health care team and a diabetes community. Ask your doctor, your diabetes educator, your diabetic community. You’re not alone in this.
Diabetes burnout is a reality for many of us with diabetes, but it doesn’t have to be a long-term reality. With the right help and care, it can be a phase we move through – just another part of living with this chronic condition. How do you cope with diabetes burnout? Do you have any tips to share?
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!