carb counting exercise

One might think a life-long athlete who gave up alcohol thirty years ago and has kept herself slim and physically fit into her mid-fifties would not have to concern herself with Diabetes. Ha! Think again.

I got quite a shock nine months ago when I finally got around to the follow-up visit for my physical exam. Finally meaning eleven months after the blood test! Yeah… I’m not really a doctor check-up kind of girl. (If it ain’t broke…) In fact, it had been a decade since my last appointment. Heck, I’m surprised my doc even remembered who I was! Anyway, I figured all was well. And if not, I’d get a call, right? Well… yes and no. If something had been terribly wrong, I would have gotten that ringy-dingy. But for creeping across the line into pre-diabetes? Nope.

So there I was in November, after baking (and eating!) ridiculous desserts for Thanksgiving, when my doc broke the news that I had crossed into pre-diabetes. Needless to say, that was quite the Sugar Shock.

So I pledged, then and there, to slash my sugars. And, since my 5.7 result came from blood drawn eleven months earlier, I requested another A1C hemoglobin test to get a baseline. Good thing I did because it had gone up to 5.9.

Now I meant business!

Being a disciplined person, I read up on the subject and learned I already had a silver star for health. None of the cautions I read seemed to apply to me: I didn’t drink, I exercised almost every day, I was well below average weight for my height, and I didn’t eat junk food or sodas. All I could think to do was count my sugar intake and lay off the crazy desserts. Good plan. Right?

Wrong. After four months of sugar slashing and diligent daily hikes (no skipping allowed), my A1C number went UP to 6.1. Holy crap! I was just 0.4 away from the deadly D.

Now I really meant business!

So, on the advice of my doc, I went back to the internet and researched the heck out of carbohydrates and diabetes. Guess what? Starches raise blood glucose by the same amount and at about the same rate as sugar. In other words, counting CARBS accounted for sugar intake, but counting sugars did NOT account for carbs. Who knew? Apparently, people smarter than me!

So I embarked on a super-strict three-month experiment that I figured would either lower my AC1 number or at the very least get me in awesome condition and afford me the dietary discipline to deal with diabetes if my condition turned out to be genetic.

FYI: I began this experiment just before my 56th birthday when I weighed 112.5 pounds and almost reached my former 5’4″ height. I didn’t (and still don’t) drink or smoke. And I exercised almost every day.

Why was I even facing this problem?!?

Since old and current injuries
don’t allow me to run or bike, I started carrying light weights during my coastal walks and mountain hikes to raise my heart rate. Worked like a charm. And by rotating through overhead pumps, lat-raises, exaggerated jogging-arm motions, and bicep curls, I regained a wee bit of the muscle and definition I lost when I stopped training and teaching ninjutsu.

I also incorporated wicked planks into my daily exercise routine. I had slacked off (relatively speaking) during the last couple years because I was devoting more time to my aging parents while steadfastly keeping to my self-imposed writing deadlines. So, I recommitted myself to a daily practice and added therapeutic and strength-building exercises. (I’ll blog on this topic another time.)

Using the S Health App on my Samsung Galaxy, I tracked my Carbs, Net-Carbs, Fats, and Proteins. Since most low-carb diets fall under 150g per day for a 2000 calorie diet, and since I consumed an average of 1500 per day (smaller folks need less than bigger folks to maintain their current weight), that translated to less than 112.5g of carbs per day. Being a notorious over-achiever, I set my goal for under 100g.

After a month of success, I dropped the target to <70g for carbs, <50 for net carbs, >140 for fats (I didn’t want to lose too much weight), and <70 for protein (apparently too much protein can stress the kidneys. Although what “too much” might be is up for debate).

Grains of any kind. Why? Ridiculous carbs.
Potatoes. Why? See above.
Milk. This was tough until I realized that an ounce of half-n-half with 1g carb gave more satisfaction than a half-cup of whole milk with 6.5g of carbs. Since I wasn’t concerned with cholesterol, I indulged.

Fruit, especially bananas and apples. Why? Sugar spikes and high carbs. Every week I might have 1/4 apple or 1/4 banana. Peaches were great (half or whole) but not every day.
Popcorn. This was tough because I love popcorn. I survived by measuring out smaller portions and accounting for the carb count in advance so I could adjust my diet accordingly. I also limited my indulgence to once a week.

Have I scared you off?

Take heart. If you creep into a new way of eating, your body and cravings will adjust. I was able to go from 100g to 70g of carbs that fast because I normally didn’t eat pasta, rarely ate bread, avoided cereals and crackers, and had slashed my desserts.

I repeat: Why was I facing this problem?!?

Once you start measuring quantities (accurately) and tracking carbs, it becomes immediately obvious what you can and cannot eat. (70g of carbs adds up fast!)

Veggies with every meal, including breakfast. Why? Because they’re a healthy way to fill your belly.
Nuts, especially raw (1/4 to 3/4 cups a day). Why? Nuts aren’t just a healthy way to fill your body, their fat (mostly the good kind) make them very satisfying.
Avocados. Why? Read up on this wonderful fruit and you’ll see that, while high in carbs, they are also high in fiber and loaded with healthy fat.
Fish. Why? Lean protein, zero carbs, and loaded in healthy Omega 3 fats. Need I say more? I always have a few cans of tuna and salmon (low-sodium preferred) in my cupboard for an added boost.
Hard Cheeses. Generally speaking, hard cheeses have fewer carbs.
Almond Milk. Having never been lactose intolerant, I never developed a taste for the stuff. However, I discovered that a half cup of almond milk and an ounce of half-n-half made for an awesome milk carb substitute in my coffee or chai. (Now I don’t even bother with the cream.)
Protein with high-carb foods, especially fruit. Why? It helped prevent a sugar spike.
Psyllium seeds each morning. Why? Because they’re a healthy way to fill your belly and they keep you regular while your body adjusts to the change in diet.

Note: The fewer carbs I ate, the more I could feel the effects of sugar. This heightened sensitivity motivated me to stay on track.

Tip: If I knew I was going out to dinner or to the movie that day, I guessed what and how much I might have and entered it into my app IN ADVANCE. This helped me to adjust my carb intake during the morning and afternoon without exceeding my goal.

I dropped six pounds, gained lean muscle definition, felt healthy and energized and…

Empowered by my success, I am continuing my diet with a few tweaks. I still have the 70g carb-per-day goal, but I’m more relaxed about it and might even raise it to 100g. I’ve stopped counting net-carbs because the food I tend to eat is pretty high in fiber. I’ve started watching saturated fats because,while my HDL is awesome, my LDL is a tad off perfect. And I’ve raised my protein target to 80g per day because my kidneys are doing just fine.

So there you have it, my friends. The end of my Sugar Shock Saga. Take from this what helps, ignore what doesn’t, and go forth and be healthy.

And keep in mind: Everyone is coming from a different place and headed to a different goal. Do what you can to make a positive difference and accept and adapt for what you cannot. Be as kind and patient with yourself as you are diligent in your efforts, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Tori Eldridge
Tori Eldridge is a Honolulu-born writer, a 5th degree black belt ninja, and a former actress, dancer, singer on Broadway, television, and film. She writes action-packed, culturally-rich thrillers and mystically intriguing suspense, empowering non-fiction, and has taught ninjutsu and empowerment across the country.
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