Food Freedom: My Journey with Type One Diabetes, Weight Loss/Gain and Finding Balance

Disclaimer: I am still probably in what they call “the honeymoon phase” of type one diabetes, which is why I don’t need any insulin right now. My doctor says my case is abnormal and my sugars will probably go up overtime regardless of what I eat, so please don’t take my case as average. Low-carb diets aren’t for everyone, so I encourage you to do your own research and consult your doctor before you try anything new. I am not a doctor, I am simply sharing my experiences and what I’ve learned along the way. Finally, I don’t want any of you to get the wrong idea and think I’m calling myself “fat” in any of these photos. Looking back, I looked great all along, but I felt so truly horrible about myself. Your weight/body type doesn’t matter at all, it’s all about how you feel about yourself and your state of mind. 

Nutrition is a touchy topic for many people these days.

Tell a vegan that their way of eating isn’t optimal for health and they’ll react as if you stole their first born child. Tell a die-hard proponent of the ketogenic diet that we need more than 50 grams of carb per day, and they’ll write you a dissertation about all the studies that assert otherwise.

People cling to their food choices as if their diets somehow provide them with a piece of their identity, and if you threaten to debunk their ideologies around food, they can become super defensive.

I was definitely like this once. But first, let me start at the beginning of my long relationship with food (obviously it’s long, we all get introduced to food at birth!).

Food holds so much meaning for us as a culture. It’s our comfort, it’s what we do when we get together in groups to celebrate, to mourn, to enjoy life. It’s literally our survival line, and without it, we wouldn’t be here.

So it’s no wonder that for so many people, food can bring up all sorts of emotions and feelings. I’ve only just begun to realize the ways in which many of us abuse food as a drug rather than the fuel it should be.

The only reason I’ve really had to think about any of this is because of my type one diabetes diagnosis almost two years ago. Before that, I was just like everyone else, eating pizza, pad Thai, cookies, crackers and snacks galore whenever I felt like it. As a child and teen, I never gained weight from these foods, but as I got older and lived a more sedentary lifestyle, I definitely noticed a change in my body. I felt puffy, my clothes didn’t fit as well, and I didn’t feel as trim or toned as I usually did.

Me in third year university. Sweets were LYFE!

Throughout university, I tried diets like the Scarsdale and calorie counted like crazy, aiming to stick to 1,200 or so in a day. I upped my workouts, trying to fit an Insanity video in every day, cycling on my stationery bike, or doing a Ballet Beautiful video on YouTube. I enjoyed working out and still do to this day, but I never did manage to stick to any of these diets for more than a week.

Finally, while I was working in a job I didn’t find inspiring and sitting in an office for hours on end, I said “screw it” to any sort of diet and allowed myself to eat a huge carb-laden lunch, a brownie and sugary sparkling juice from Starbucks as a snack, and more snacks and carbs after work. During the same time period, I also went “vegetarian,” which basically meant I would allow myself to eat whatever I wanted as long as it didn’t involve meat, fish or dairy. (Hi, carb fest!).

Looking back on this time period, I really can’t understand my own logic. Going “vegetarian” was an attempt to be healthier, yet I ate all sorts of junk foods, carb heavy meals and sugar, as if it was all made magically healthy by the fact that it didn’t include meat. Silly, silly Kenzie!

So fast forward a few months on my “vegetarian diet” aka junk food extravaganza, and I had lost over 10 pounds, finally reaching my goal weight of 124, which I had been aiming for ever since I started university. Wow, I thought, cutting out meat really does do wonders! That’s amazing!

November/December 2015, just around the time of my diagnosis. I was 125 pounds here, and had lost weight due to ketoacidosis.

Ha, wrong. Along with the weight loss, I also had dizzy spells, no energy, unquenchable thirst and… other symptoms, ahem. But I was skinny! So who cares, right?

Finally the “other symptoms” became too annoying to bear, though, so I went to the doctor to check it out.

“I’ll just check your sugars to make sure they’re normal, but I’m sure you’re fine,” my doctor said.

When the test results came back, my doctor called me saying my sugars were off the charts and I had diabetes. The weight loss had been caused by “ketoacidosis,” which means my body was producing high levels of blood acids called ketones because I wasn’t producing insulin.

This diagnosis changed everything. I would have to strictly count carbs to make sure I didn’t overdose on insulin, which meant I couldn’t just eat whatever I wanted without thinking about it. I was still allowed to eat the things I normally ate, but I would have to know the exact amount of carbs in what I was eating to adjust my insulin dose accordingly.

This worked for a while, but I began to notice that when I ate pizza, my sugar would be super high even with insulin, and if I ate grilled fish with salad, my sugar would be completely normal. I started to do a bit more research and read a couple of books on the paleo diet, and I realized I had been eating completely backwards! I should have been focusing on lean protein sources and veggies, rather than copious amounts of bread and pasta. Duh!

When I overhauled my diet, everything changed. I lost weight easily and effortlessly without feeling hungry or deprived, and my sugars were consistently completely normal.

My boyfriend and I went to Europe for a month in May 2016, and I didn’t have to even touch my insulin stash in my backpack. I avoided croissants in Paris, pizza in Italy and all the other amazing carb-heavy dishes the continent had to offer.

I remember when I got back from Europe, I weighed 117 pounds, which, at 5’7, I hadn’t weighed since probably grade nine. Friends and family members were asking if I had an eating disorder. I was on top of the world: I had an iron will and I had finally broken my addiction to food as fun, comfort and love.

Me in Italy, May 2016. I weighed around 117 pounds.

Or had I…?

Fast forward to later that summer. It was back to real life, and things were moving fast. I had started a new job, my sister had just got engaged and stuff was just happenin’.

Although I had sworn off drinking completely after my diagnosis (read the full post here), I quickly found myself forgetting all about my public declaration and saying “screw it” again, especially at events like my sister’s engagement party, bachelorette in Banff, and of course, the wedding. No way was I going to be the only sober one at such an event!

I found that on the days I drank, I didn’t care about my diet. Inhibitions were lowered, and it became easier to treat myself to a cupcake or a spring roll or whatever carbs were available. The next day was way worse, though. I would be tired, hungover and feeling like crap, and all I wanted was greasy fries and whatever else was in the house.

It quickly became a binge-starve-binge cycle. On weekends, I would treat myself, then during the week I would feel so guilty that I would starve myself. The scale creeped up and up and up.

Over the course of the next year, the problem became much worse. Soon I was bingeing every single day, not just on weekends, and the thought of being healthy again felt like a distant memory. My sugars creeped up, my weight creeped up steadily, and I was packing in about 3,000 calories per day in nuts, nut butter, and whatever else I could get my hands on.

During this time, I noticed that my thoughts and my mood were inextricably linked to what I was eating. When I was eating well, I was thinking about being healthy again, and I was generally relaxed and happy. When I started to binge, I wasn’t happy with the direction my life was taking, and I felt out of control in all areas.

I knew about this mind-body connection intellectually, and yet, I was on a downward spiral and I couldn’t get off the binge express. I was in a very dark place, and it seemed like there was nothing positive left in the world. I would just keep overeating and hating myself until I died. That was truly what I thought!

At my heaviest, I weighed 141 pounds, which I know isn’t overweight or anything, but I didn’t feel comfortable at all there: I felt puffy and cumbersome. I also just knew that if I kept gaining weight at that pace for long, I would be overweight soon. Looking back, it really wasn’t about the weight I had gained, it was about the sense of peace and control I had lost.

Summer 2017, at the height of my binges. I looked healthy on the outside, but inside I was drowning.

I researched ways to overcome binge eating, but nothing I found was very helpful. Everything online just said to be kind to yourself, and to figure out the deeper issues. I didn’t think I had any deep-seated emotional issues, I just wasn’t that excited about life, so food was the easiest way to find enjoyment in the moment.

On a whim, I decided to pick up Tony Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant Within. When I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I had never read anything so motivating and inspiring.

No other self-help sources had made the path to happiness and success so clear to me. Tony says that in order to find the motivation to do anything in life, we must link enough pain to not doing it, and enough pleasure to doing it, so that it literally rewires the way our brains work.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, we can train ourselves to want to work out, eat healthy and work on ourselves, or we can continue to subconsciously believe food will bring us ultimate happiness. I knew that I had already wired my brain to think this way once before, so it wouldn’t be hard to do it again.

As I read his words, something inside of me clicked. It was up to me to take my life by the reins and turn it around, no one else. I didn’t want to keep overeating and feeling sorry for myself, so why did I keep indulging in the same pattern over and over again?

This was almost a month ago, and since then, I have had no problem sticking to a low-carb plan and eating a normal amount of calories a day, but more importantly, using food as fuel, not as an escape from stress. Whenever I start to hear thoughts like “this is pointless, I’ll just cave eventually so I might as well speed up the process,” I remind myself of pain over pleasure. Overeating can only bring me pain, while being healthy will bring me endless amounts of pleasure.

It’s a simple equation and I’m honestly shocked by the miracles it has brought me. The fact that I’ve finally realized that I am in control of my body and what I eat is a miracle in itself. I truly thought I would overeat for the rest of my life, so if you’re stuck in a rut, know that there is always hope!

So far, I’ve lost almost 10 pounds in the last month just by sticking to three high-protein, low carb meals and one snack every day, lots of water and tea, doing workouts that I enjoy, cutting out alcohol and getting enough sleep. Plus, my sugars are completely normal, which is really the important thing.

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Me, October 2017. You may not notice much of a difference on the outside, but inside, I feel so much happier, more confident and way more positive about life.

If you don’t have your health, peace of mind and happiness, you have nothing. Make your own personal wellbeing a priority over everything else in life, because you can’t contribute to the world without it.

My life is still a work in progress, and I am so, so far from perfect. But I’ve found a way to look up instead of down (most of the time, anyway) and that means more than anything else. It’s all about your mindset and how you feel, and a number on the scale is only a reflection of your inner world.

I encourage you to find a way to focus on your health, achieve peace and balance, and cultivate happiness no matter what. Whether it’s kundalini yoga, self-help books, or even just taking a contemplative walk once a day, mindset activities are so important for all of us. I know this life isn’t easy, but we’re all here to grow and learn from one another at the end of the day.

Keep smiling, and keep finding more ways to grow through it. I’m not here to tell you that one diet, one pill or one book will change everything for you, but I’m here to share my own story in hopes that it will inspire you, or at the very least, make you believe that you have the power to turn your life around.

I’m here to help, so if you have any questions or concerns about anything, feel free to reach out!

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, I truly commend you, kind sir. That was a doozy! Sending you love, peace and gratitude,

XO, Kenz.