“We know a great deal more about the causes of physical disease than we do about the causes of physical health.”

— M. Scott Peck

When I came across this quote, I knew I had to take some time to talk about my own experience in this area.  In June of 2008, I received the results of some routine blood tests ordered by my doctor at my yearly physical.  Most results were in the normal range, but my fasting blood sugar level was 189.  It was official — I had inherited my grandmother’s legacy of diabetes.  The possibility that this might occur had sat in the back of my mind; but I always had pushed it back as far as I could, so that I wouldn’t have to think about it.

During my adult years, I had given birth to five children, inherited a son through marriage, and adopted two older kids.  With each birth, my weight had inched up a bit; and after several years of high stress levels, I had begun to feel old.  An insidious pattern of increasing weight, unreasonable stress, and sedentary lifestyle had combined to bring me to my diagnosis.  I thought about my grandmother — overweight, insulin-dependent, and legally blind.  I thought about my 12-year-old granddaughter who lived with me and counted on me to care for her and see her through to adulthood.  I knew that I had to do something that would not only reduce my glucose level but that also would reverse the decline I had overlooked in my general health.

Where to begin was the huge question.  There’s a riddle that goes like this:  “How do you eat an elephant?”  The answer, of course, is “one bite at a time.”  It had taken a long time for my body to deteriorate to this point, and I figured it would take a long time to reverse my condition.  Patience would be essential, and I decided to be kind to myself while still being determined to make progress.  I began reading about Type II Diabetes, and discovered that treatment always included physical activity and good diet.  I decided to start moving.  I would walk twenty minutes each day, without any requirements of how far or how fast I would go.  I committed only to the time.  In the beginning, twenty minutes took me around the block one time — not much, but certainly more than I had been doing.   I would also clean up my eating habits.  Often, because I never felt hungry, I would skip breakfast and not eat anything until lunchtime.  Even then, I would grab something high in carbohydrates, feel sluggish all afternoon, and then eat a large meal at dinnertime.  My body was very confused by this method of refueling, but I really didn’t understand how confused it was.

I decided to eliminate refined sugars and white carbohydrates from my diet.  Everything I read seemed to agree that these things contributed to my problem.  I also decided to include whole grains, vegetables, and fruit in my meals — by prescription — and I would eat six times a day.  As I began settling into my new eating routine, I found myself actually experiencing hunger for the first time in years.  My body actually was burning the fuel I was feeding it!  I never had used artificial sweeteners, because I felt ill when I ingested them, so I continued to skip them as part of my diet.  I drank water — lots of it — and discovered how thirsty my body really had been.

By the time I returned five weeks later for another blood test, my glucose level had dropped 44 points.  After nine months, my levels were withing normal range.  The bonus is that my energy level is higher than it had been for ten years.  Without making weight loss a goal, I dropped 35 pounds; and two years later, I have maintained a 30-pound weight loss.  That initial trip around the block has grown to be nearly a mile long; and some days I stay out longer, just because I can.  My knees don’t ache the way they did when I was carrying so much weight, and I am once again able to get down on the floor to play with my grandchildren and be confident that I will be able to stand up when I am done.  I began taking my camera with me on my daily walks; and my new freedom of mobility has allowed me to discover beauty in my world that I had forgotten existed.

My focus now is completely different.  Last year, my diabetes diagnosis was removed.  No longer an I concerned with how to manage an illness.  Now I concentrate on wellness — on maintaining my health rather than putting out the fires of disease.  I have a renewed appreciation for the way my body works, and now I expect it to work if it is properly maintained.  My emotional and spiritual life has improved in sync with my physical health.  I find myself excited to wake up each day and grateful for the energy and vigor I need in order to enjoy whatever lies ahead.  Regardless of what might be affecting your health — whether you can reverse it or not — there is always something you can do to encourage health — something that goes beyond treating illness.  Whatever it might be for you, be kind.  Give yourself the gift of wellness.