Alice in Sugarland - Diabetes

Diabetes is the rabbit hole down which we descend into life-threatening conditions. But it can be pretty scary all by itself.

It was a great day for a walk, so Alice hit the nature trail, determined to best her current record of 5 miles. Somewhere just over mile 3 on her step counter, she felt a little different, maybe a bit more heavy-footed and weary than normal. But Alice being Alice, her curiosity about how far she could go drove her onward. Soon she was sweating profusely under her head band and feeling light headed.  She was also incredibly hungry. A park bench suddenly presented itself like a life boat bobbing up and down in a turbulent sea.  Alice dove for it as she felt herself nearing a blackout.

What Alice experienced was a hypoglycemic attack, a series of symptoms the body uses to send out flares that her blood glucose level, the sugar in her bloodstream, had fallen to dangerous levels.  Fortunately her friend, Rabbit bounded off for the protein bar they left in the car, and within a few minutes, Alice was feeling more like herself.

The attack she had is largely associated with a diagnosis of diabetes, arguably the fastest rising health risk in overfed America today.  Currently more than 34 million – or 1 in 10 – Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. Another 88 million are categorized as pre-diabetic, meaning it may still be possible to reverse their condition with dietary changes.

Why is diabetes such a serious condition? Because of what having too little or too much sugar can do to your heart, nervous system, eyesight, kidneys and even your mental health. Having diabetes increases the prospect of both heart attack and stroke and makes both more deadly.

Without getting too far into the rose bushes, diabetes is characterized by a lack of insulin, the chemical in your body that controls how much sugar it produces.

Type 1 diabetics, who are usually diagnosed as children, are unable to produce enough insulin naturally while Type 2, often referred to as “adult onset” diabetes, usually results from years of overwhelming the body with too much sugar from your diet.

The surprising thing is that we’re not just talking about sugar that comes in a bag or hides in plain sight in a candy bar or sugary drink. The body actually turns a lot of the food we eat into sugar, like a plate of pasta or a lot of the bread in our diets.  Even the white rice you find in a lot of calorie counting meals can turn into a dangerous level of sugar if a diabetic consumes it.

And, as Alice found out, even exercise, that healthy lifestyle standby, can pose serious problems if you burn too  many calories too fast. So what’s an Alice, adrift in Sugarland, supposed to do – especially with the sumptuous meals of the holidays fast upon us?

Brenna Winn, APRN“Moderation is really the watchword,” said Brenna Winn, the new APRN at our McPherson Family Clinic. “You want to spread your food consumption out through the day rather than try starving yourself early to ‘leave room’ for the big holiday meal later on. and whenever you eat, take it slow to avoid overworking your metabolism.”

Watch out for starchy foods like potato dishes and rolls. Serve yourself only small portions of foods like this, and go heavier on the fruits and vegetables. Calorie-free drinks like tea or diet sodas are better than hitting the punch bowl or sugary fruit drinks. Pumpkin pie is a healthier choice than that pecan pie you’ve had your eye on.

And just to make sure we sound like your mother, steer clear of alcohol as a general rule. If you simply must raise a toast to auld lang syne, you’d be smart to wait until you’ve eaten to blunt the effect of the alcohol.

After you’ve eaten the big holiday meal, that’s the best time for a walk, Alice. You’ve got some extra carbs to burn then, and you’re less likely to get into trouble. And when you come back, if you feel like a nap, take it. Sleep helps your body manage its sugar level more effectively.

If you play your cards right, you can navigate the Sugarland that awaits you this holiday season and come out on the other side a wiser, healthier Alice.

This post originated in our State of Grace quarterly news magazine. If you would like to receive the magazine, please visit this link and give us your information. Thanks!