Sunday 7 December 2014

My Fight Against Diabetes Part 2 - Diet and Exercise

When I first started cycling I knew that the hardest thing would be figuring out nutrition.  I wanted to avoid the dreaded bonk.  When I went online, again I found a lot of conflicting information.  Everything from no carbs to low carbs, to high carbs.... Not very helpful!  I realized that many people were at different stages with their diabetes, and some people were probably following misinformation.

So instead I opted to do a bit of field research.  I brought my glucose meter with me and took readings at set intervals.  I'd bring food of varying carbohydrates and GI and see what worked best.  I felt that this was the best way to cut through the misinformation and to give me readings specific for me.  Don't worry, I cleared things with my doctor first; if you are reading this wanting to do the same thing, always keep your doctor in the loop!

What I found was very surprising.  Most of the time my blood sugar was at the bottom end.  I started to consume more glucose with a higher glycemic index and it would still be borderline low.  Eventually I tried very high glucose with high GI, gels and energy drinks.  The stuff that's normally considered poison for a diabetic.  I found on very long rides (3+ hours) I could have a gel or an energy drink every hour and my blood sugar was optimum.

If you read about dieting and exercise to manage type 2 diabetes, you'll see they recommend aerobic exercise and strength training.  Both activities make your body more sensitive to insulin.  In addition, while you are exercising, your muscles use up glucose; the bigger your muscles and harder the activity, the more glucose they burn.  This is why cycling is so effective for managing diabetes; you can easily vary your ride experience; riding hard and doing intervals is strength training.

One of the newer tests to diagnose and monitor diabetes is called HbA1C; or hemoglobin A1C.  The test gives an average of your blood sugar over the previous 2 or 3 months.  For a person without diabetes their value should be in the 4%-5.6%.  If you test between 5.7%-6.4% you are considered at risk of diabetes.  A reading of 6.5% or higher is considered diabetes.  At 7% it indicates poor control of blood sugar; 8-10% is considered very poor control and a much higher risk for diabetes complications.

My type 2 diabetes diagnosis was indicated by an A1C of 7.3%.  I was started on some oral medication and an appointment was set with the diabetes education centre.  Before I got talking to them, I decided to start exercising; the one thing I knew about diabetes was losing weight helped.  And I was massively overweight, I'm pretty sure I was in the obese range.  I couldn't even ride a bicycle properly then.  I just started by walking.  Walking longer distances, harder and faster each time.  It helped me lose enough weight and gain enough strength to start riding my hybrid.

My next appointment with the doctor was a big eye opener.  My A1C reading was 6.5%.  Since I was logging all my food and using apps to track my exercise activity, my doctor was able to review the data with a high level of confidence and no worries about exaggeration.  What she said surprised me.  She told me to cut my oral dosage in half and told me, "If you keep this up you could reverse your diabetes."


There is no cure for diabetes but in some rare cases a type 2 diabetic can "reverse" the condition.  It involves a lot of work but you can bring your numbers down to the point where you no longer need medication to manage your diabetes.  It's not a cure because you are basically locked in a battle with a progressive disease; it constantly fights your attempts to control it.

To be continued in part 3 where I work hard at my new goal of diabetes reversal.


  1. Good work! My A1C when diagnosed was over 14. I'm still struggling to get it down to 6.0.

    1. After seeing some of your rides on Strava, I have no doubt you will reach that goal. You are a recumbent juggernaut! :D