[Is Going Vegan Diabetic Friendly?] -- 7 Minute Read
Have you ever changed something so big that it forced you to reconsider how you go about your daily life? Up until this point, diabetes and marriage were the two biggest changes in my life (marriage being a great change of course). However, going vegan, and then super strict vegan (extremely low fat, whole food, plant based ONLY) is up there with the biggest life changes I’ve experienced. Let me elaborate.
How it all began
While traveling Europe, my wife and I were naturally moving away from the western diet since we did not have access to a lot of the American foods that we were used to. This led to us eating slightly less meat, a lot less fat, and overall less food. I like to say it was my unplanned intro to going vegan. While traveling, I experienced a bit of a medical emergency which forced me to jump on the next flight home to the states. It was this scare that pushed me to try going vegan.
The Vegan Experience
I decided to start my journey on January 1, 2018, not because I needed the help of New Years, but because I thought it would be fun. Naturally I had 3 plates of meat and cheese on New Years Eve (so as you might be able to tell, I wasn’t doing it for the animals.. sorry). As I started my first week out, it honestly didn’t seem that hard. I had to hold back from shouting from the rooftops. I wanted to tell the world of my new strict diet, because honestly, you do kinda feel superior eating organic, cruelty-free, all around good food. But I held my tongue because I didn’t want to be THAT GUY. Within a few days I truly felt a difference. I was already a pretty darn healthy eater, but the biggest difference that I felt initially was that I felt lighter. No, not like I was losing weight (though I did loose a lot.. not happy about that). It was more of a feeling that I had. After a heavy meat meal, I often had to rest because of how full I was. However, after a vegan meal, I felt that I could immediately go for a jog and not feel sick. It was nice. I was also pleasantly surprised that Vegan food was still really tasty. Like.. REALLY tasty. The problem though was that it took a lot of effort to make the delicious food, so I found myself making boring foods when I was in a rush. Rice and beans were a staple of my daily diet. This brings me to my next point, variety. There are so many options for vegan foods, and the more variety you have in your healthy diet, the better off you will be. This is because you will be ingesting a variety of nutrients from different foods instead of eating too much of one type of food and being deficient in others. But here’s the catch.. eating out becomes very difficult if your friends and family don’t follow the same eating plan as you. Because of this, I found myself saying no to each and every hangout to go out and eat because I knew that they either didn’t have vegan options, or that the only option was a salad. I’d rather just skip the hassle and make dinner at home. Not the best for a social person. Second, even if you do find a place that offers vegan options, there are rarely any truly healthy ones. Most vegan places, in order to have to mass appeal, will offer many deep fried and sugary vegan plates. Not a great option for anyone, but especially me being on an extremely low fat, whole food, plant based diet.
The Rough Patch
The next problem would prove to be one that turned into one of the roughest patches of my life outside of my initial diabetes diagnosis. My blood sugar fluctuations seemed to be straight from hell. They mocked me every day as if to say, “you will never regain control of your diabetes.” You see, I’ve been in really good control of my diabetes for many years, but going on this extremely restrictive diet, coupled with extreme weight loss, coupled with bad medication while in Europe (I ran out and they gave me the wrong concentration) turned my life completely upside down. I thought I was going to die, and when I didn’t, I wanted to. All of my insulin needs changed drastically.. and daily. I was always playing catch up and was never able to go more than a day or two with steady blood sugars. I made it through nearly 3 months of complicated feelings with this new lifestyle. I would go from wanting to give up and die all the way to feeling superior to the rest of the world because I was so disciplined and healthy with my diet. The problem though is how stubborn I can be. I wanted to beat the system and win. I thought I could “fix” my diabetes with this diet and achieve perfect blood glucose control, but it was literally killing me in the process. Now, I should mention that this is not everyone’s experience when going vegan as a diabetic. Most type 2’s experience great success and even some type 1’s are able to live wonderfully fulfilling lives as vegans. But it just wasn’t for me. I needed to put on 30 pounds of muscle that I had just lost. I needed to be able to travel freely around the world for work and not have to worry about finding places to eat that were compliant with my strict vegan lifestyle. I needed steady blood sugars and a stable life. To me, going back to my healthy and well balanced lifestyle was the only way to attain that again, and my doctors, endocrinologist, and cardiologist all agreed with me. So after nearly 3 months of being insanely strict with the low fat, uber healthy, “I’m better than you” vegan diet, I called it quits.
I made a very important and smart decision to take things slow in my transition back to meat. I chose to do this because I saw how much damage and uncertainty there was in making massive diet changes overnight as a diabetic. I started with egg whites. No carbs, no fat, just protein. A few days later I introduced turkey. Then chicken the following week. It has been over a month and I still haven’t had beef or any of the fattier meats. I will get there one day, but because I am taking it slow, I have been able to make the small adjustments necessary in my insulin dosages to play catch up and avoid the insane jumps in blood sugars that I saw initially.
Is the vegan diet for you? What about Keto? What about nothing but donuts and pizza? In my opinion, different people do better with different diets and will have varying amounts of success as they experiment to find the right one for them. However, in most cases, I believe that moderation is key. The more restrictive the diet, the more likely you will get frustrated and fall off. The harder you are on yourself, the more likely you are to fail. If you have found a diet that works for you and your health care provider approves, then I encourage you to stick with it while considering healthy alternatives to add into your diet. I went against my doctors wishes to pursue the ultra-strict diet, and as it turns out, their warnings came from a good place and I definitely should have listened. The vegan diet is definitely healthy, environmentally friendly, and cruelty-free, but may be a difficult transition for diabetics, especially type 1’s.
My Pros and Cons List
· Stable post meal glucose, even with a massive bowl of fruit
· Insane increase in Insulin Sensitivity
· 70% reduction in insulin use
· Super duper healthy
· Good for the environment
· Easy to lose fat
· Higher Energy
· Very restrictive
· Unexpected and unexplained blood glucose fluctuations
· Requires a lot more planning a food preparing
· Loss of muscle mass
· Difficult to maintain when eating out
· No carb-free snacks (like meat and cheese)
· Massive diet change means likely changes in medication dosages and needs
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