I had the pleasure to connect with Shelby Hughes, a fellow type 1 diabetic, to talk about the great use of a paleo lifestyle to gain health, and more so find more ease in controlling blood sugars. Have a look at our conversation and please share if you have found similar things in your diet transition.
How long have you had diabetes? I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2008 at age 39 years old. Originally I was diagnosed with Type 2, but after changing my diet, taking oral medication and performing daily exercise wasn’t helping my blood sugars, I had additional lab work that confirmed I had the antibodies for Type 1.
What eating regime have you found to be most helpful in managing stable blood sugars and how did you come to find this diet? When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I researched online and found that many diabetics (both Type 1 and 2) had been successful following a low carb diet. When I switched to this type of diet, I did see improvement in my blood sugars. However, I was not able to maintain a low-carb lifestyle for a long period of time. Eventually I “fell off the low-carb wagon” and started eating a Standard American Diet again. My blood sugars were always on a rollercoaster! In January 2013, after hearing about the Paleo and Primal lifestyle from an online friend with diabetes, I decided I would try a Paleo framework for eating. Initially I was going to do it for just two weeks. After two weeks, I noticed that my blood sugars were AMAZINGLY stable. I didn’t have lows, I didn’t have highs. I never looked back!
What main improvements in your health have you observed, diabetic-related or not? Besides having very stable blood sugars (I can literally count on one hand the number BOTH lows and highs I’ve had since starting eating within the Primal/Paleo framework. My sleep has improved (I was having terrible issues with insomnia last fall, before changing my diet). I have lost weight, but I think that’s mainly because I’m staying within or just below my caloric requirements and I’ve increased my exercise. But I do have tons of energy. I was never a runner, EVER, but I completed my first 5K in March and I’m training now for a 10K. In fact, I never liked exercising at all, but now it’s like I HAVE to move my body or I feel like I’m going to crawl out of my skin! Other changes I’ve noticed are that my skin breaks out less and I don’t get mouth ulcers (I was getting them weekly before I made the changes).
Do you find the diet realistic and something to maintain long term? Would you recommend it to others managing their diabetes? I honestly believe this is a lifestyle I can manage long term. There are so many good Paleo substitutes for my favorite “comfort foods” that I just don’t feel like I’m missing out. I make cauliflower crust for my pizza, I make muffins with almond and coconut flour, I make “pasta” with spaghetti squash or zucchini “noodles”. Many people think that Paleo or Primal means “low carb” but it doesn’t have to! I eat tons of fruit and starchy vegetables like butternut squash and sweet potatoes. I am definitely eating carbs! And it’s funny…I’ve noticed that fruit and starchy veggies don’t spike my blood sugar like grains do. I won’t say that I’ll never eat another grain in my life…there may be a special occasion that warrants it! But since I love how I feel and love how stable my blood sugar is, it’s just not worth it to me to change back to eating a Standard American Diet.
What does a typical day of food look like to you? I’m a creature of habit, so I like to eat the same thing a lot of times.
Breakfast: Green smoothie with fruits and veggies, a hardboiled egg, and bacon.
Lunch: a big (I mean big!) salad with grilled chicken, avocado, artichoke hearts, eggs, bacon, tomatoes, raisins, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, cucumbers, balsamic and olive oil dressing, and a nut flour muffin and fresh fruit.
Dinner: some kind of meat (pork, chicken, shellfish, beef), some kind of green vegetable (leafy greens or Brussels sprouts – usually whatever is fresh from the farmer’s market or available from our CSA bag) and some kind of starchy veggie or “grain-like” food – roasted butternut squash, acorn squash “fritters”, sweet potatoes, or maybe cauliflower “breadsticks.” I’m not really a “dessert” person, but I do drink a glass or two of red wine before dinner each night.
What is the best thing about the diet? One of the best things is that you can pretty much eat anywhere and get something that falls within the framework. When I first started, I had to go out of town for work and stay at a hotel. Of course that means eating out every meal. But you can get a big salad pretty much anywhere, and you can always ask that your “burger” or whatever be served without a bun. Of course now when I travel I plan ahead and pack snacks that can be meals: hardboiled eggs, homemade beef jerky, kale chips, homemade “larabars”, fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.
Any tips for someone getting started on this type of diet? Before I started, I bought the cookbook “Practical Paleo” by Diane Sanfilippo. It has the most beautiful full page pictures of food and some great recipes. I bought the book and decided I would make something from it each week. Next thing I knew I had tried several new foods that my husband and I both loved, and it was easy to transition to the next step of eliminating grains. I also used many blogs on the internet – you can google any food and add the keywords “paleo” or “primal” and get tons of great recipes. Mark’s Daily Apple is another great resource for people wanting more information.
Anything in addition you’d like to say? I think some people get the wrong idea about the Paleo or Primal framework because like with all things, there are extremists out in the land of the internet. Also, depending on the source, different people have different ideas about what is “paleo” and what is not. I think that there is no black and white answer…it’s not about “what the cavemen ate,” it’s about nourishing your body with foods that you love and that help your body perform at its very best.
Thanks for sharing your insight Shelby! Perhaps your story will inspire others to seek change and gain health.
Cheers to you and good health,