By Matt Barrie
I have type 1 diabetes since age three, and am now 37 years old. Living a ‘normal life’ has always been my number 1 goal, but how this has manifested has been different through different stages of my life. As a teenager, I hung out with friends and wanted to do all the same things as them, eat the same things as them and just be a ‘normal’ kid. I made it through, although there were several seizures and hospital visits.
My twenties had their ups and downs both with health and life events. I had weight fluctuations from quite low to an extra unhealthy 20 lbs., and my HbA1cs were also all over the map. By 26, I made some big changes and adopted a healthy, standard carb-diet lifestyle and enjoyed that sense of ‘normalcy’ that we all crave. I played soccer, ran, skied, and lifted weights.
By my late twenties, I made some big life-changing decisions, like heading back to school to change direction with my career. Through studying and supporting myself at the same time, my health began to slip slowly and steadily. By the time my degree was finished, I had put on 50+ lbs., had developed very unhealthy eating habits, and could barely make it up a flight of stairs without being out of breath.
Doctors were giving me all the warnings, my HbA1c was up in the 8s and 9s and most significantly, the diabetic retinopathy that had begun to develop in my 20s worsened and progressed into macular retinal edema. So, monthly visits to the ophthalmologist (daily, when I developed an infection from the injections I was getting that almost took my eye!) became my new normal. With fear as a driving factor and determination as the driving force, I jumped into action, although not sure where to begin.
I started experimenting with the ketogenic diet after reading that it had proved successful for many people with diabetes, both types 1 and 2. This was around 3.5 years ago. Most of the success I read about then was regarding type 2 diabetes and reversing it with the diet.
I was very curious though how I could make this work for myself so the experimenting began. I tried cyclical, where you rotate carbs in and out, but this didn’t work. I tried semi-strict, with the infamous ‘cheat days’ which I needed at the time to preserve those foods I ‘missed’, but ultimately this didn’t work either. I tried many different iterations of the diet and for two years saw small successes – up to 20 lbs. [weight loss] here and there. It was enough to keep me going but I never saw that breakthrough success that I was truly after.
After the summer of 2019, I had taken a ‘break’ with visiting relatives and had gained back all my losses and then some. It was very discouraging, but it was the motivation I needed to make a serious change. I hit a saturation point where I knew I couldn’t keep continuing on the way I had been. I weighed in over 210 lbs., which on my 5’8″ frame felt like [an extra] 100 lbs. I committed to myself that I would be absolutely strict keto, I signed up with a trainer twice a week to stay accountable, and committed to running twice a week. I also began practicing intermittent fasting with the 16 hour/8 hour split between my fasting and eating window.
Within the first month, I dropped 15 lbs. and the weight and body composition began to change week by week, month by month. By the time the pandemic hit, I was well on my way to my weight loss goal and was able to stay on track. I lost 50 lbs. by April of 2020 and have been working on building lean muscle mass ever since!
My insulin needs have dropped significantly – basal by about a quarter and fast-acting by over 3/4! My HbA1c is in the low 6s and most significantly, I have reversed my macular edema and the retinopathy seems to be going into remission as well. My ophthalmologist was blown away that there was no fluid in my retina.
It’s hard to put into words the effect these lifestyle changes have had in my life. My energy, ability to perform, clarity of mind, spirit, and purpose are all significantly improved. Thinking and being told by convention that carbs were essential led me to high levels of insulin resistance, fat storage, yo-yo blood sugars, and unnecessary highs and lows due to over-correction. I now enjoy steady blood glucose levels during exercise, during waking hours, and overnight. I’m also enjoying much lower insulin needs and feel confident that my risk of diabetic complications is significantly decreased.
I can’t shout from the roof loud enough that the ketogenic lifestyle can be such a powerful tool for diabetes management! I’m not saying it’s the only way, but it has certainly worked for me and changed my life. At first, you do miss the foods from a standard carbohydrate diet that we are all programmed to accept, but with time the cravings go away and the way you feel on the other side is totally worth it! It doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice anymore and being creative in the kitchen to make satisfying, delicious food is all part of the fun!
If you’d like to follow my journey and pick up any tips and tricks I’ve discovered along the way, I’ve recently started a public Instagram account. You can follow along @type1ketoguy.
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Read more about A1c, diabetes management, exercise, insulin, Intensive management, ketogenic (keto) diet, retinopathy, weight loss.