When the newspaper headlines screamed that India is fast becoming the diabetes capital of the world — it was just another statistics for me and just another sensational headline. There are more than 77 million diabetics in India, that means every sixth diabetic person in the world is an Indian.
Diabetes often leads to complications like glaucoma, kidney disease, blindness, heart disease and hypertension. Diabetics have a higher risk of almost every known disease — cancer to corona virus. But then once upon a time, these were just dry facts — unimpressive!
One common human blind spot is the belief of invincibility — that nothing would happen to us (even if it’s happening to everyone around us) — and I was a major victim of this ‘invincibility syndrome’. Despite knowing that my grandmother had serious diabetic complications and my mother also was a borderline diabetic, I somehow believed that I would be the exception.
I was indeed an exception. Coming from a family of lean and
health-conscious people (who still had the affliction), I still piled on weight recklessly, especially after the birth of my two children. Being married to a foodie and having acquired a taste for good food (read fried, oily, spicy, outside food), it was very difficult to stay away from the temptations. And while I didn’t inherit the good sense and health consciousness, I did have the family heirloom of a sweet tooth — gorging on sweet kalakand (a sweet popular in India) or chocolates was my favourite stress buster.
I did a bit of exercise once in a while which didn’t reduce even a gram. Once I put my determination and will power to use somehow, I did lose weight — some 8 kgs. But every fairy tale has its end. As soon as that strict exercise regimen and focus on staying healthy went away, the calories and the weight surreptitiously climbed back up. The learning was that it’s tough to maintain demanding exercise or diet regimens in the long run.
In January 2019, I was transferred to Mumbai, away from my family. There, I learnt and practiced Isha Yoga practices taught by Isha Foundation. That gave further strength to my invincibility syndrome and misplaced confidence that now Yoga will protect me from any malady, despite being clearly obese .
My mother’s fervent pleas for controlling my diet and lifestyle fell on deaf ears. The sarcastic comments of my in-laws, again did not affect me much since food and sweets became my only escape from loneliness as I stayed away from family and combated more than usual stress at the workplace. Binge eating soon became my only effective strategy for handling stress.
August 2019 was a watershed moment when in a random test, done for additional health insurance, my HBA1C value came at 11.2 indicating severe diabetes. I couldn’t believe it. Accusing the insurance company of fraudulently increasing numbers, I decided to get re-tested. But just as the world is not a slave to my whims, the test results had their own independent will, and they refused to budge despite my fervent prayers. I was suffering from diabetes!
The doctor started me off with insulin injections, along with oral medication, as my fasting blood sugar was 269, and postprandial level was a whopping 413. Coping with the many side effects of medication, pricking my stomach every night with the Insulin pen and my fingers every few hours with the glucometer, I looked into the mirror and asked myself if this is the life I wanted for myself! And if I was ready to face the further onslaught of multiple other friends of diabetes, like hypertension, kidney disease, neuropathy and others?
The pain became more than the pleasure of savouring sweets, more than the addiction highs of a toxic lifestyle. When I went to my sister-in-law, who is well-known dietician, her food list knocked off all my favourite food items, including rice, wheat, mangoes, potatoes, carrots, and grapes. In fact, the list of not-to-eat foods was so long (running into 4 pages) that I asked her to give me a list of the foods I can eat which came to just about 5 lines! You can only imagine how I felt then.
But the limitations of observing this very austere and strict lifestyle among challenges — like a lot of air travel (especially in late night and early morning flights), eating in office, and still being away from family — made me struggle badly, depleting all my energy and willpower to combat the disease.
Advice on what to do and what medicines to take, desi nuskhas, and
Ram-Baan cures, just poured in on its own. That’s when I realised I was in very august company, and what the statistic ‘one in six people has diabetes’ meant. While I was grateful for the well-meaning advice I was getting freely, it was like most Whatsapp forwards — unverified and generally invalid. And that made me wary of popular suggestions.
There is a hobby of mine that came to my rescue — Reading. I am a voracious reader and I devoured whatever credible, technical and general literature I could find on the disease across medical streams from Ayurveda to Allopathy. And then, based on my understanding, I decided to experiment a bit on a guinea pig… Me. I made small but significant changes to my lifestyle, and then waited with a bated breath. Actually, no, I just made those changes and continued to persist.
The results started showing up in 4 weeks. I started losing inches although the weighing scale decided to be blind, it behaved like a jealous enemy and only showed 1 kg less — and that I thought could be an error. But the loss in inches was unmistakable as were other effects. My constant sense of fatigue and irritability vanished. I was happier and felt much lighter (approval from the weighing scale didn’t matter:)).
The numbers on the glucometer changed, too. From 269, the fasting blood sugar started touching sub-90 levels, and the random blood sugar was never over 160. My doctor progressively brought down the insulin and eventually 5 months down the line, I was free of insulin — which was a big milestone! Sometimes you don’t realise when an unpronounceable hormone or enzyme might be spoiling the hormonal soup needed for happiness — but then when health is restored, the gratitude for the miracle machine called your body cannot be overstated.
My weighing scale now became a friend instead of an enemy as I lost 10 kgs without breaking a sweat (you really believe that? Just kidding). I received compliments on how I had started looking younger, while those were pleasing, what mattered the most to me was how I felt inside — hopeful, energetic and charged up. My medication was reduced to half after 6 months, and my HBA1C came to 6.1
My sister -in-law, the dietician, became very curious to learn what magic pill I had taken to combat the silent killer (diabetes), as I clearly hadn’t followed her tips and was happily devouring mangoes this summer .
Here is a summary of my learnings on the journey of reclaiming my health from diabetes:
What matters more than what you eat is, when you eat: An early dinner at 6:00pm was the most significant change I made.. I didn’t know it then that I was switching to the Intermittent Fasting (IF) by doing so I read in Swami ji’s blogs that eating 4 hours before the bedtime helps in staying light, so it also helps in getting a much better sleep. And I trusted that wisdom.
Circadian Rhythm fasting (part of IF — eating at the same time everyday in synchronicity with the sun) – what came naturally to our ancestors and which is so difficult to adopt for us, is what eventually proved most effective.
Walking everyday for at least one hour: This habit was hard to build but whether it was 2°C on an icy-cold Delhi morning or thunderous rain in Mumbai —I walked outside the building on a 100m-long podium in Mumbai and a long and beautiful walking track in Gurgaon for at least 60minutes. Consistent walking lowers blood glucose and releases endorphins which make you happy! And walking is an exercise you can do anywhere.
Black lotus (BL) and mindfulness: Mindfulness doesn’t come easy, but like any other practice it does build up slowly, and Black Lotus RARE exercises just honed the practice. I mindfully chose what I wanted to eat instead of attacking sweets. Before attacking every samosa, I could see the red warning board with a danger skull sign saying 900kcal. (Well, no,I didn’t develop schizophrenia —this was just a visualisation).
Before RARE framework too, the habit of meditating that BL helped me create for a stretch of 108 days straight, is what helped me put my health before my cravings. I now eat when I am hungry and not when I am with friends and they are gorging on mouthwatering dishes. Social eating and peer pressure are some of the most difficult to avoid drivers — but being mindful helps in avoiding these drivers before they sweep you and your habit in their strong tide.
Giving up dairy: This was true sacrifice or Tyaga for me. But after reading Swami ji’s blog on his own health and numerous other articles on the efficacy of Dr Neal Banard’s suggestion that those with diabetes suffer more from dairy, as milk has IGF (Insulin like growth factor) which keeps the blood sugar levels elevated — I finally steeled my heart and gave up my age old favourites: milk, curd, paneer, and butter… other than very occasional use in salads or dressings.
I also switched to barley and ragi for my rotis and gave up the joys of sharbati atta. Fruits made my plate and palate more colourful as the grains disappeared.
It wasn’t an easy journey but surprisingly it was a joyful one. Reading Swami ji’s writing on willpower, I fulfilled a little promise I made to myself every day to walk and to be mindful, and everyday it built my willpower just a bit more. And lo and behold! What a transformative effect it had in 7 months — I felt I had become totally fit .
Psychologists find that changing the context and environment changes the habits completely. Heroine addicted USA GIs in Vietnam could kick the habit easily when they returned back home as the context and the environment had changed. From dull drill routines in barracks with easy availability of narcotics to ease the pain of loneliness and boredom — now they were amongst family and friends but without the drug, and to everyone’s surprise, they discovered they didn’t suffer any withdrawal symptoms.
For me, the change of environment and the home imprisonment mandated by Covid had the opposite impact. The disciplined schedule I had built up with a lot of effort started crumbling as my kids wanted to enjoy movies munching on popcorn, having feasts at home and basically using good food to battle the isolation caused by Covid. And I was willing to fulfil every indulgence as I was enjoying their company after a long time. I then realised that it’s easy to succumb to temptations but difficult to build a habit back.
So, I have started making those little promises to myself again. Every night when I fill the Day Evaluation Tab on the BL App — I am either delighted to have kept my promise and make one for the next day or I realise what I need to be more careful about. The next goal is to give up sugar and my medication — completely.