At that point in my life, I basically didn’t care about anything that didn’t affect me directly… at all.Another part of the reason I would’ve said no is because of my type 1 diabetes. I was under the impression that a vegan diet was all carbs and no flexibility. If you don’t know what type 1 diabetes is, then let me first explain. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition where your body attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Type 1 is NOT preventable or manageable by just diet and exercise. In every case, the person affected must take insulin in some form for the rest of their life, whether it be through injections or an insulin pump is up to the individual. About 5% of humans affected by diabetes have type 1. The other 95% have type 2. Type 2 diabetes is the one you hear about a lot more. This type can be controlled by diet and exercise and is the kind you see all the commercials about. When people say “diabetes is becoming an epidemic” and other comments like that, they’re talking about type 2 whether they know it or not. Getting diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 16 was life-changing, to say the least.
At the beginning of the journey, I followed exactly what the Canadian diabetes association told me to do. Eat 5-6 times a day, with the same amount of carbs at each meal and snack. They told me eventually I could be more flexible. They told me to eat whatever I wanted as long as I knew the carb count and it was in range with my regiment. They never told me to eat low carb and they actually had me eating over 150 grams of carbs a day. In the hospital, they fed me so many processed foods like packaged cookies, sugary yogurt, jello, sandwiches… the list goes on. I understand they were doing this because boxed food had exact carb counts on it, but it definitely is not a healthy way to approach food. I ate like this for the first 4 years of my diagnosis, counting carbs on boxed food and avoiding healthy grains, veggies, and fruits.
Fast forward to my third year of college, I had come to a breaking point with my diabetes. I felt so extremely out of control and I was having major spikes and crashes every day. I felt lost and defeated and started missing class and bailing on friends. I began to search for an answer. The only one I could come up with was eating an extremely restrictive low carb high protein/fat diet (which ended up being almost all animal products); this diet included a lot of meat, cheese, and high-fat dairy.
However soon my energy began to fade and my digestive system became completely out of wack, I slowly started to feel like my way of being wasn’t helping my health anymore. Around this same time, I started becoming interested in whole-food, plant-based living. I was initially nervous to take the leap though because of how it might affect my diabetes. But the more research I did on plant-based living and veganism, the more pull I felt towards it. Amazingly -to my surprise- my diabetes cooperated with this new diet. All of a sudden after a week or two of eating vegan I barely had any insulin resistance (which meant I could eat more carbs and give myself less insulin than before).
I was also able to eat with more flexibility without having spikes or crashes. I was filling my body with so many more vegetables, whole grains, and nutrient-dense foods, and my body was thanking me. My energy levels increased and my digestive system went back to normal – I was so happy. The true tipping point was watching the movie Earthlings. If you haven’t seen it you should probably give it a watch, it’s important to stay informed about where your meat comes from and what truly goes on behind closed doors at factory farms. That was 2 years ago and the next day I was completely vegan and I haven’t looked back.
My previously lower thyroid reading was up at a better number as well. I felt completely elated that my new way of living didn’t make my blood sugar worse, but actually better. Even though I do eat more carbs then I used to, I still stick to a moderately low carb diet, that’s just what has worked best for me personally.
There is a group of type 1 diabetics who eat high carb plant-based (extremely low fat) and I did try that eating that way for a bit. Unfortunately, it led to a lot of inconsistent numbers for me and gave me lots of mood swings. For now, I stick to lots of veggies, good fats, protein, and complex carbs. I try to reduce the amount of processed food I eat as well.
Even though my blood sugar is under control 95% of the time, finding a perfect diet for type 1 diabetes will never be possible because food is not the only thing that affects blood sugar. Some other factors are exercise, hormones, sleep, stress, the act of waking up, and so many more. One of the reasons I’m so happy with eating plant-based is because I know its healing the rest of my body as well. I’m taking care of my health as a whole instead of just one aspect. Now that you know my story, here are some pointers I would give to anyone looking to switch to a plant-based diet who are concerned about their blood sugar.
By Abby David