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Ryan

Name  Ryan Whitaker
Type  Type 1 diabetes
Posted  April 15, 2007

This page shares my "diabetes story", ultimately leading to the great success I have found with a low carb and low insulin approach to diabetes management. That success prompted the creation of my website, D-solve.

My story starts when I was 4 years old and got seriously ill -- my folks remember me having a pretty serious virus just previous to discovering the high blood sugars that had come with the onset of Type 1 diabetes.

My mom tells me of her outrage when talking to a nurse over the phone and discussing my symptoms -- frequent urination, vomiting -- and the nurse telling her, "It sounds like diabetes." My mom was outraged that the nurse dared to guess at such a major diagnosis over the phone. Well, it turns out the nurse was right.

I spent about a month in the hospital while they constantly tested my blood sugars with many finger sticks -- and when the blood went dry, toe and heel sticks. My Dad tells me of a time when a nurse came in -- by this time the only thing I knew about nurses was that they used needles to cause pain -- and I launched a toy fire truck at her. Perhaps even at the young age of four, the events during that hospital stay helped shape my scepticism of the medical establishment, which resurfaced constantly through my teenage years, my twenties, and now again in my early thirties.

I should make it clear that I don't ever remember not having diabetes. Maybe this is a good thing, as I can't lean on memories of not having the disease, which would only bring me down about my present situation. In the end I think having the disease has shaped many dimensions of my personality. I deplore all things that I label as "hassles", since that is how I viewed diabetes growing up. Having to pause before a meal to inject, testing blood sugars, and counting what nutrients went into my body were all considered hassles, so I slowly tried to make my life otherwise hassle-free.

Treatment strategyEdit

Starting from when I was diagnosed in 1978 up until I turned 16, they had me taking two shots of pork-based insulin per day. Fortunately for me, my mom came across a doctor who was associated with the University of Washington who was helping his patients use much more "aggressive" treatment by taking a dose of insulin at every meal, and in addition to that, a morning and night dosage of a long-lasting insulin. I began trying this treatment strategy instead.

It was around this time that I slowly drifted away from listening to the medical professionals and pretty much took on my own treatment regime. I was very active as child, and my parents did an amazing job helping me do anything that I was capable of. By the time I was 16, I had summitted Mt Rainer (with a few diabetic complications on the summit), rode the Seattle-to-Portland bike race, and gotten certified to scuba dive in the frigid Puget Sound waters. I also played a lot of soccer and footbag and was always on my mountain bike in the dense wooded forests of Seattle.

I slowly stopped testing my blood sugars regularly and instead insisted to my parents and doctors that I could "feel" what my blood sugars were. I used a sliding scale dosage to adjust what I took at meal time based on how I "felt". I imagine this was still a better method then taking two blanket dosages a day, but I would have helped myself out a lot more by going through the "hassle" of testing before each meal and using a true sliding scale.

When I was 19, I served a two-year church service mission in Texas and then went on to college. All the while, I was staying very active and doing my own self-management. My A1Cs were actually not that bad (in the range of 6-7%), considering I tested my blood probably 10 times a year -- or in other words, only when I was sick.

Right before I got married, I was trying to be responsible by going into the doctor for a checkup. At that appointment, he told me about a new insulin, Humalog, and suggested that I switch from Regular to this new, faster-acting kind. He mistakenly told me to keep the dosage the same, but as we all know Humalog is more concentrated and therefore reacts differently in your body.

After I started taking the Humalog, I had a number of serious low blood sugars where I was completely out of it -- these episodes constituted the only major events I had had, so instead of trying to figure out the concentration thing, I went back to using Regular. My wonderful wife, then fiancée, witnessed these episodes, but luckily for me, she wasn't deterred and still married me. I have since shifted to using Novolog and Lantus. (The Lantus I take twice a day, morning and night, and the Novolog with any food I consume).

Finding a solutionEdit

After getting married, graduating, and moving to take a job in Chicago -- I work in the computer consulting industry -- my increasing age and decreasingly active lifestyle started to catch up with me. I think this caused a bit of a chain reaction -- the less active I was, the more depleted I was of energy, and the less energy I had, the less motivation I had to become physically active again.

This lack of motivation lasted for about 6-7 years, when finally, being about 15 lbs overweight (which in my family is noticeable as everyone is very active and fit), and noticing some small complications which I felt were related to diabetes, I decided to try to proactively manage my diabetes.

I tried doing the classic ADA diet (low fat) and was meticulous in tracking every single variable in a massive spreadsheet. I tracked my food, exercise, medications, and blood sugars over the course of 4 weeks. I plotted some interesting graphs based on this data and immediately came to a conclusion -- it is impossible to have normal blood sugars while following the low fat, high carb diet promoted by the ADA (as manifest by the recipes they publish in their publications alone).

This wasn't really rocket science -- I could actually see my blood sugar dropping and climbing. I gained a massive appreciation for the amount of work a pancreas does and the sheer beauty of its design.

It was at this point after my 4 week experiment that I started looking for alternatives -- thank heavens for Google! (A very sad aside is that I work intensely with the internet on a daily basis and had never even googled the word "diabetes" up until this point in my life. The two things were completely separate in my mind.)

I quickly discovered a book with the exact title I was looking for: Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars. I immediately bought this book. Before receiving my copy, I was apprehensive that it might be what most products are and be overselling just a bit. I read some of the book, parts of which are freely available online at Dr. Bernstein's website, and that sold me -- it was the real deal.

When I received my copy I devoured it, and highlighted the entire thing. There was so much in there I had never known. Everything it said made perfect sense, especially in the context of my recent 4 week experiment. It is just not possible for a person to mimic the complex behavior of the pancreas with injections, and so the best course of treatment to achieve normal blood sugars is to reduce the demand for insulin. (Dr. Bernstein refers to this as the Law of Small Numbers).

It was a beautiful moment when after 4 weeks of trying to do things perfectly right and becoming increasingly discouraged that I would have to resign myself to the ADA's story that diabetes is always progressive and complications were inevitable that in fact one could achieve normal blood sugars. Dr. Bernstein had laid out a solution in black and white, and it was like finding a needle in the haystack of diabetic treatments being pushed by most medical professionals and government organizations.

Another great discovery I made during this time was the Dr. Bernstein Diabetes Forum. Here I found some of the nicest, most knowledgeable, and genuinely helpful individuals around. I know others from the forum will agree with me when I say it is one of the most unique online forums around where there is an amazingly strong sense of community. There are many more success stories like mine on that forum.

After reading the book, I immediately started to put together my own treatment plan following the book’s guidance. Again, at this point in my life, I had done enough self-treatment and experimentation that I was quite confident in taking this course of action. Those who do not feel comfortable with this may need to try to actually set up time with Dr. Bernstein or someone that follows his approach.

After three months, my insulin usage went down by 75%, my A1C went from around 8.0 to 5.0, and my mental health was better than it had ever been before. I finally felt like I had the energy and drive to get my physcial activity going again, and I embarked on intense cardio and weight lifting exercises. In no time, I was in the best shape I had been in in over 10 years. My blood sugars were getting closer and closer to normal. I won't lie -- it takes a lot of fine tuning to truly get them to be normal, and takes a lot of self control to stay away from even small cheats. But even if you do cheat here or there, you are still orders of magnitudes better off than you would be following a straight ADA style diet.

With my diet taking a fundamental shift from about 25% protein, 10-20% fat and the rest in simple/complex carbs to 25% protein, 5% carbs, and 70% fat, I have never felt better. Of course, there were those, including my doctor, who I pretty much use just to get my official A1C about twice a year, who brought up the question of cholesterol. I spent a year researching the question on my own and also leaned on the research already done by the likes of Dr. Ravnskov and Anthony Colpo. I have done a lot of reading and now feel completely okay about my cholesterol -- in fact, my numbers have improved, but in general I am a firm disbeliever in the overall lipid hypothesis and anti-saturated fat movement.

One word of caution is around using the "calibration" techniques described in the book to really figure out how much a gram of carb and a gram of protein affect blood sugar and likewise to determine how much 1 unit of your insulin will lower your blood sugar. (I actually use Novolog to cover carbs and Regular to cover protein with Lantus twice a day.) When I started, I had a number of low blood sugar episodes since I was a bit rushed to start and skipped this important step. Since starting this program, I now take 75% less insulin, so don't expect to keep using the same dosage when you adjust to this diet.

For 2007, one of my New Year's resolutions was to help share the solution I had found to my diabetes with a broader group of people. The last 16 months following this diabetes management has convinced me this truly was a solution to diabetes in the truest sense of the word. And so D-solve was born on January 8th, 2007 with a goal of sharing my story with the world (and hopefully many others as I know there are thousands like mine).


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