How Sweet It Is…

Having Type 1 Diabetes makes life difficult. No kidding, right? But seriously, most aspects of life are rendered all the more difficult by the onset of type 1 Diabetes, but the aspect that has always affected me the most is my diet.

Like most men in my family, I love my food. I love baked goods and homemade recipes and having them restricted in any way is torture. That’s why, in the early 1980’s my childhood got a significant moral boost with the advent of aspartame and artificial sweeteners.

My mother had purchased a bottle of liquid NutraSweet and found a recipe for chocolate syrup. It was exciting, because there was no sugar content, besides the bare minimum natural occurring sugars in the recipe, and I could use it to make chocolate milk, add to plain sugar-free vanilla ice cream or make hot chocolate. I drove my mother nuts, because she could barely keep up with my demand.

There’s been a significant number of studies and controversy over the past couple of decades about how safe the use of aspartame may be as a substitute for sugar. Although the jury is still out and nothing has been conclusively proven, some studies have claimed that aspartame causes many side effects ranging from headaches to cancer.

As is my usual habit, let’s start by defining aspartame, shall we? Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is chemically designated as E951. It’s so effective because it stimulates the same parts of the tongue as sugar does, causing us to perceive a sweetness. Aspartame is actually WAY sweeter than sugar (taste-wise), which is why a very small amount is required in order to make something taste sweet.

There are a number of sites that speak out against aspartame use and the supposed side effects it may have on the system, but nothing conclusive has ever been proven. One could venture to say that it falls under the same propaganda as anti-vaxxer disinformation. Granted, it is a chemical. So most people are thrown off and assume it ISN’T a good alternative to sugar.

The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) as well as the WHO (World Health Organization) have deemed aspartame to be safe in certain measured amounts. these amounts have been measured at a significantly higher level than the average person could possibly hope to consume in a day. An article posted by MedicalNewsToday.com indicates that the FDA has deemed aspartame’s acceptable daily intake at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. this means that you’d have to consume over 19 cans of diet soda in order to exceed that amount (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322266.php#body-weight).

If you’re die-hard against the use of aspartame, healthline.com offers a number of alternatives to the use of aspartame, which include but are not limited to:

  1. honey
  2. maple syrup
  3. agave nectar
  4. fruit juice (not sure how you’d use this one as a sweetner)
  5. black strap molasses
  6. stevia leaves.

I’ve tried some of these alternatives, but they should be consumed in limited amounts as they can still contain a lot of calories with no nutritional values. (https://www.healthline.com/health/aspartame-side-effects#natural-alternatives)

The jury’s still out as to whether aspartame is safe or not, so many people choose to eliminate it from their diet. But like most things that are considered a chemical, it’s all about moderate consumption. Hell, beer is a chemical (it’s C2H5OH, by the way) and we consume that! So don’t take everything you read at face value (he says as he types on his written blog). ☯

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Bring The Noise

Sleep is something that I’ve had an issue with for as long as I can remember. An elusive thing at best, the quality of my sleep often depends on blood sugar levels, stress, PTSD symptoms, other medical issues (ex: colds, flus and the like) as well as the fact I have two small children in the house.

I’ve written a number of posts that outline the benefits of a good night’s sleep. There’s no getting away from it; sleep is a necessary and integral part of a person’s health, well-being and interestingly enough, their sanity (that last aspect is information for another post).

For Type 1 Diabetics, sleep is a mixed bag, because our sleep is affected BY our blood sugar levels, but sleeping through lows or highs can also be extremely dangerous.

After reading a bit on sleep habits and therapies, and having heard about it from different sources, I started trying something new about a week ago that has improved my sleep: white noise.

Before I start describing some of my experiences over the last week, I should start by explaining what the hell white noise actually is. Not everyone is familiar with White Noise, or its lesser-know cousins, Pink Noise and Red (Brownian) Noise. Let’s do some learnin’…

White Noise is described in layman’s terms as a sound that contains all the audible frequencies that can be heard by the human ear. These frequencies are all at the same intensity, giving the sound an almost “static” quality, which is how many people describe it;

Pink Noise is a sound that contains MOST audible frequencies, except the higher ones, and whose intensity decreases as the frequency increases. This can potentially make it more pleasant than white noise, and a good alternative if white noise doesn’t work for you. The sound of a steady rainfall is a good comparison.

Red Noise, or Brownian is similar to White and Pink but with even fewer high frequencies, described as having more bass notes than white noise, which makes it more tolerable and pleasant to listen to than White Noise. An undisturbed ocean wave lapping on the shore is a good comparison.

All three of these are mathematical constructs that do NOT occur naturally in nature, despite what many people think. Although white noise is often generically described as “background noise”, all three of these sounds need to be carefully constructed in order to qualify for the definition. Some people have tried white noise and noticed no benefit. In cases such as those, it would be to their benefit to try pink or red noise, as these could be alternatives that would work well for them.

There are a lot of benefits to using white noise. First and foremost, white noise will buffer out background sounds that have the potential to wake you during the night. A slamming door, a revving engine outside or a family member going to the washroom all have the potential to at least partially wake you, disturbing your sleep cycle. White noise prevents this. It’ll also help you stay asleep as it will mask noise that may wake you and even if you do wake, it’s usually easier to fall back asleep.

White noise also helps to shut off your brain. Have you ever tried going to sleep, only to have life’s problems replaying in your head? Or upcoming tasks lingering in your mind? White noise will help to prevent this, as well. It can also be a helpful tool while learning how to meditate, as it helps the practitioner focus and shut out the distractions that may prevent them from effectively reaching a level of meditation.

There are plenty of other benefits that I’m only just learning about, and the National Sleep Foundation has a great article that defines white noise and offers different aspects, such as falling asleep with your tv on and managing noise in your household in general. Here’s the article: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/hear/what-white-noise

I have all of the issues I’ve described above, so this has been a life-saver in recent nights and even during nap times. You can experience the benefits of white noise in a number of different ways, from downloading free apps on your phone that will produce it, all the way to paying moderate money for an actual “white noise machine”.

I use a free app on my iPhone called Noisli. What’s nice about it (besides being free) is that it allows you to experience a variety of sounds such as rainfall, thunder, leaves blowing, rustling trees and has all three “Noise” options including White, Pink and Brownian. It allows you to blend and mix all these sounds to your liking, which means you can have a rainstorm with thunder and heavy blowing winds, if that’s your go-to relaxing sound.

At the end of the day, sleep is one of those things that will affect every other aspect of your life. If your sleep routine sucks, it WILL affect your health, appetite, work and fitness life… all of it! That’s why it’s so important to have a regular and consistent sleep routine (going to bed around the same time every night) and ensuring your sleep is profound and deep. You can take advantages of the methods I’ve described above without breaking the bank, or don’t be afraid to take advantage of sleep therapy if you find that it still isn’t happening for you.

This is one of those things that you have to try for yourself in order to be the judge. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a nap! ☯

A Shovel Full Of Common Sense

I don’t know about the rest of you, but winter is in full swing in Saskatchewan, and the snow is falling heavily today. As I look out my window, there’s a flurry of heavy flakes falling, with a decent wind pushing it all about. Some Provincial highways have been closed due to snow and ice. Winter wonderland, indeed…

One of the activities associated with winter (besides pelting my son with snowballs) is shovelling. Let’s be honest: shovelling snow is a major pain in the a$$! I don’t recall ever hearing someone say, “Oh, I LOVE shovelling snow! It’s so much fun…” Yeah, no, it sucks.

But it’s a necessity of winter. Whether you rent, own or otherwise, you’ll likely be required to clear away snow in some capacity, at some point. I currently own my home, and one of my biggest pet peeves is the fact that I even have to clear the sidewalk in front of my home, despite it belonging to the city.

Most people forget that this necessity is also a major workout! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a workout I willingly include but shovelling out one’s driveway or front sidewalks gets the heart rate up, increases blood flow and works several muscle groups.

Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly taxing on your heart, increases blood pressure and leaves you at risk for blood clots. A decent article article posted by Harvard Health Blog outlines some of the factors to be mindful of (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/protect-your-heart-when-shoveling-snow-201101151153)

Some little tips I can provide in order to prevent issues include keeping yourself in good physical condition, maintaining your hydration and taking frequent breaks. Consider stretching before you begin shovelling, same as you would with any other workout, and remember to lift with your legs.

Jumping out in the freezing cold and moving hundreds of pounds of snow after being sedentary for months is dangerous and ill advised. We already know that people with Diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease and heart failure. So it becomes all the more important to remember to test your blood before heading outdoors and keep some fast-acting ready, just in case. ☯

Liquid Courage Or Stupidity? It’s A Fine Line, People!

Although Homer Simpson is definitely not a source of what one may consider to be a source of salient wisdom, he is definitely quotable in Season 8 Episode 18 where he says, “To alcohol!  The cause of… and solution to… all of life’s problems.”

The consumption of alcohol poses a distinct societal issue in modern times, as we have the world’s information and communication at our fingertips… even when we’re drunk!  That’s not a good thing.  How often have you heard of a friend drunk-texting, messaging or contacting an ex-partner?  Or someone who has shopped and made frivolous and even ridiculous purchases online?  It happens more than we care to think about, and most of us only realize our mistake and check our phones the morning after, while in the throws of a hang-over, questioning our life choices.

For someone with Type-1 Diabetes, there’s definitely more to think about when consuming alcohol than declaring one’s undying love for the one you left behind. There’s a great checklist available at Diabetes.ca (https://www.diabetes.ca/DiabetesCanadaWebsite/media/Managing-My-Diabetes/Tools%20and%20Resources/alcohol-and-diabetes.pdf?ext=.pdf) that will help you ascertain whether or not it would be safe for you to enjoy a drink or not.  Further into the article, there a table that provides a general guideline to the number of carbs you may be ingesting, depending on what you drink.

The problem with alcohol is that one can never be certain what effect it will have on one’s blood sugars.  While some drinks may cause your levels to rise, excess alcohol may actually cause your levels to drop dramatically since, you know, your liver is otherwise occupied…

If you’re going to consume alcohol, first and foremost, do it in moderation.  This isn’t always an easy thing if you’re out for a weekend bender with your friends or you happen to be at Burning Man, but it can be helpful.  Further, avoid using mixes that are full of sugar, such as fruit juices or regular pop.

Alcohol (depending on the drink) usually contains a lot of empty calories and can lead to weight gain.  And if you’re anything like me, losing weight around the gut is difficult enough without the added obstacle.  Alcohol may increase blood pressure, triglyceride levels and heart rate, all of which are big no-nos for someone with Type-1 Diabetes.  Last but certainly not least, booze will often trigger your hunger reflex and make you want to eat, and our impaired judgment will often have you making less than healthy food choices while intoxicated.

If you’re going to consume, be sure that you do it with friends who are aware of your condition and some of the accompanying effects.  Have a safe way home (which should apply to everyone, really), which could include a designated driver.  Although I hate them, medical alert jewelry identifying you as a Type-1 is very important as well.  Especially since some effects of alcohol consumption can mimic the effects of low blood sugar or worse; they may hide them.

Look, I enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, especially when it can be enjoyed with others.  In fact, I had the opportunity to sit and enjoy beers with a good friend of mine just last week.  Like everything else related to Diabetes, the key is proper control and moderation. And stay off your phone, unless it’s to call for a ride home! ☯

Who Replaced My Shampoo With Numbing Cream?

You would think that cold air would do something to awaken a person.  But the weather seems to be having the opposite effect on me.  With the coming of winter, I have to admit that my head feels all foggy and I’m utterly exhausted.

The result of this fog is that I seem to have a sincere lack of inspiration on what to write today.  Has that ever happened to any of you?  I’d like to say that it’s only the weather getting me down, but that would be an outright lie.

It wouldn’t be the first time I fell asleep at a keyboard!

Fatigue and even exhaustion can often be side effects of stress and depression. You can tell something is wrong if you’ve slept all night but yet still wake up, just as tired as you were the night before, when your head hit the pillow.

In any event, I think I’ll be taking a night to let my creative juices rest. Hopefully, I’m done answering my door for all the trick-or-treat kids in the neighborhood and can retire to my bed sometime in the next short while. ☯

When It Doesn’t Make Sense Is When You Need To Keep Working At It

One of the weirdest lessons in life is how things have to be the opposite of the result you seek to achieve in order to realize you have to change it.  For example, most people won’t necessarily realize it’s time to change their diets and hit the gym until they gain a noticeable amount of weight and start experiencing health issues.  Or we often won’t eat properly until we are diagnosed with some measurable health deficiency or dietary issue caused by eating too much junk food or making bad health choices.

I think it was Albert Einstein who said, “If you don’t understand it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  There’s a depth of truth in this that applies to all persons, regardless of their goals. Here’s the simple truth: you shouldn’t wait until you fall out of shape or gain weight to start “getting into shape” or exercising.  You shouldn’t wait until your blood sugars run rampant or your health falters before you change your diet and eat better.  And live better.

That’s an important aspect as well.  It’s not all about diet and exercise (although they are two of the most important factors and the focus of this post).  You have to be well within your own existence.  You have to be able to wake up in the morning WANTING to face the day instead of dreading the next 8 hours that may be coming.  Trust me, when I say that this is not always an easy aspect.

But let’s focus on the two first factors, diet and exercise.  I once read that the only way to get in shape is to show how out of shape you are.  What I interpret this to mean is, there’s nothing impressive about the 250-pound muscle jock benching huge amounts of weight and screaming with every rep. Sure, he no doubt worked to get to the state he’s in, but what’s more impressive is the brave soul who steps onto the treadmill and sweats within a minute and has to struggle to speed walk for five minutes.  Then they come back the next day.  And the next. And the next.  And before you know it, this person is losing weight and becoming stronger, faster and better.  That’s how change is made.  By showing up and doing it!

Your diet is the next big aspect.  It has to be specific to what you’re trying to accomplish.  The athlete training for a heavy weight boxing match won’t have the same diet as someone trying to slim down and lose weight.  And most people seem to be confused about what diets can work and what specific foods can do for you and/or against you.

Let’s discuss carbs for a moment.  Carbs are a Type 1 Diabetic’s biggest nemesis.  Why? Because carbs are the reason we need to take insulin.  The more carbs we ingest during a meal, the larger the dose of insulin that’s required. That’s an over-simplification, but carbs are meant to provide energy for the body.    This is true for all people, Diabetic or not.  So it’s usually not advisable or healthy (unless instructed by your health practitioner) to try and be completely carb-free.  Carbs get broken down into glucose or stored as fat.

Carbs get stored as fat when we take in more calories than we require or burn within the day, and get stored in all those lovely areas we hate to look at when we hop in the shower.  That’s why many professional athletes will “carb load”, because they know they’ll need the energy and it will all get used up, as opposed to being stored as fat.

The lesson here is that in order to lose weight and get into shape, you need to combine exercise AND diet.  There’s no getting around this.  You have to fire up your metabolism to help you along, and there’s no magic pill that will accomplish this.  You just need to get off the couch and do it.  You can’t diet but sit around like a lump and expect t lose weight.  You can’t exercise like a pro athlete then go out and eat the entire value menu at your local fast-food restaurant and expect to stay healthy.  You have to combine both aspects.

You want to avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars such as pastries, white breads and pastas as well as sweetened drinks and sodas.  Base the amount of carbs you ingest on your level of exercise.  If you are just starting, then keep your carb intake on the lower side in order to prevent increasing those fat stores.  Eat plenty of fiber and lean protein to help with muscle repair and development and the continuance of “friendly” bacteria in the digestion.  Lean protein means meat options that are low in fat and provide the healthiest totality, such as skinless chicken or fish (sorry vegetarians, cutting out meat does NOT help you lose weight).  And last but not least, don’t make any major changes to your lifestyle without consulting your health practitioner and/or professional trainer.

All pebbles seem small until you have one stuck in your shoe.  I forget who said that, but it’s true.  Getting into shape and reaching your health goals always seem like a HUGE challenge… until it’s not.  Then you get to maintain that health instead of trying to fight for it, and you can look back on the days you wished you were in the shape you are now. But you have to start.  One step, that’s all it takes.  Then once you get moving, you’ll be amazed at how difficult it is to stop! ☯

My Get Up And Go, Got Up And Went!

Being alive hurts!  From the moment of our birth, we suffer traumas.  Think about it: everything a newborn infant feels is for the first time.  A little bit cold?  Hungry? Gassy?  These are all the WORST things that an infant experiences because they’ve never experienced anything else.  The things that could be remedied with a bottle and a warm blanket become traumatic to them.

The same can be said for us as adults.  We simply tend to grow into these pains much easier than a newborn infant.  I remember a time, not so long ago, that I could hop out of bed after only a couple of hour’s sleep and hit the ground running.  Train and work all day, study and write before going out with friends and spend half the night up.  Bear in mind that this was all before I introduced coffee into my routine.

These days, a bit of cold weather makes my knees sound as though I’m walking through a room full of loaded mousetraps and I’m setting them all off.  The pain is about the same, as well!  My mornings start with a wave of fatigue that result in a daily battle of wills against my body’s instinct to simply lie back in bed and keep sleeping.  Caffeine has become a required step in my daily routine as opposed to an enjoyable commodity (don’t kid yourself, I still enjoy it as a commodity as well)

The point is that I don’t recall how all these little pains got this point.  They were so gradual that for the most part, I still remember being full of oomph instead of waking up full of oops!  There is no defeating the ravages of time.  That probably sounds a bit morbid, but it’s intended as a reminder of the importance of taking care of oneself.

From the Diabetes standpoint, exercise, proper nutrition and frequent testing are important as we get older in order to maintain ourselves.  From everybody’s standpoint, being idle is extremely detrimental and can lead to all the aches and pains we begin to experience as a few extra birthdays come and go.  So be sure to take good care of yourself and stay physically fit, Diabetic or not.  ☯