Lessons Learned From My Wife’s Long Journey with Diabetes
Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Anthony Smithson, husband of registered and licensed dietitian, certified diabetes educator and type 2 diabetes advocate, Toby Smithson, to commemorate her 50 year journey with diabetes.
Toby’s diabetes story
Fifty years ago, around Halloween in 1968, an emaciated, listless and very thirsty eight-year-old girl was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and hospitalized in the Chicago suburbs to stabilize her blood glucose levels, and to learn how to give herself life-long insulin injections. The odds that she would face significant health challenges in the decades to follow – blindness, kidney failure, loss of limb, heart disease and more – were high. Her determination to stay healthy was higher.
Today, Toby Smithson – my wife, and one of your expert contributors – coaches diabetes patients daily, speaks often at nutrition and diabetes conferences, has authored a highly regarded book on diabetes meal planning and nutrition, “stars” in educational videos on her own website, serves on the advisory board for Diabetic Living magazine, and appears in print and online articles almost weekly as a diabetes and nutrition expert. She’s a busy woman. More importantly, she’s a healthy woman.
Lessons learned about diabetes management
I could go on and on about Toby, but I suspect she would prefer that I actually give you useful information about diabetes management – what I’ve learned by living with her that might benefit you. In that regard, I’ll first tell you that when I say she’s a “healthy woman” I mean she is incredibly healthy. Her most recent A1C, after 50 years with diabetes, was 6.2%. Her “good” HDL cholesterol is 60 (greater than 40 is target), her triglycerides are 53 (less than 150 is target), her kidney function is normal, her eyes are clear, her blood pressure is below target, her reflexes and sensitivity are normal. So far, in five decades, diabetes has not negatively impacted her health. She’s too modest to talk about this herself, but in my view it’s important to know that what she is doing has to be right because its working. So, here’s what she does (spoiler alert – it’s not that complicated):
- She (we) eats a healthy diet (I cheat, she doesn’t). She eats three meals each day, and has protein, fat and carbohydrate at each meal. She eats “nutrient dense” foods – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, eggs, lean meats, yogurt, cheese, nuts. She does not eat “low carb,” but the carbs she eats are almost exclusively healthy ones. She drinks tea. She loves dark chocolate. She uses low calorie sweeteners. We eat at home more than we eat out.
- She does dedicated exercise most days – walking, biking, or her elliptical machine. She does resistance exercise too with stretch bands or small hand weights. We park way out in parking lots. We take stairs (I cheat sometimes, she doesn’t). Her exercise routines are not what you would describe as intense.
- She gets adequate sleep most nights.
- She plans ahead – she plans meals, she looks at restaurant nutrition information online, she makes time for physical activity, she always has diabetes supplies and snacks with her.
- Most importantly, in an intangible way she has accepted the fact that staying healthy with diabetes requires small daily sacrifices and inconveniences. She takes the “long” view, knowing that it’s the small things that add up as an average either to the benefit or to the detriment of long-term health. This is probably the most important lesson Toby’s amazing life can teach us all. Paying attention to diabetes a little bit every day can prevent diabetes from completely taking over your life later – diabetes self-management works!
Do what Toby suggests – no cheating!
When I inquired about writing this to honor my wife’s amazing accomplishment the editors at Type2diabetes.com said it would be great to hear a “caregiver’s” viewpoint. Given Toby’s level of expertise, I’m thinking I don’t really qualify as a “caregiver.” But, we are in this together, and living her lifestyle (except for the cheating part) has surely been to the benefit of my health as well. Plus, you can thank me convincing her many years ago to “go public” as someone who not only has the professional credentials as a diabetes expert, but also the amazing life experience (she’s even willing to admit, with a little addition and subtraction, her age). She is an amazing person, and my advice to you is to do whatever she suggests – no cheating.