Recently, I’ve had several difficult months managing my blood sugar. I was continuously having nighttime highs and couldn’t seem to pinpoint why. I’d also have days where my glucose remained above 200 mg/dL without even eating a morsel of food. Ten pounds have slowly crept back up on the scale. I started to feel very frustrated and hopeless about my current overall health, body image, and possible complications all this could cause down the road.
I reached out to my endocrinologist who tried to get creative and offered me some new solutions to try. We tried switching my long-lasting insulin and she suggested trying a 50/50 mix before bed to cut the spike from my late night protein intake. But nothing seemed to work and burnout set in. I needed to find the motivation to tackle this nighttime issue along with getting serious about making changes to lose weight. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so I reached out to a friend for guidance. He happens to be an expert.
Ben Tzeel is a registered dietitian and the founder of Your Diabetes Insider. He has been coaching people with diabetes for over six years and I often see him post on his Instagram (@manoftzeel) boasting of his clients’ successes. Whether it was losing weight, putting on some muscle, or simply looking to fine tune their diabetes management, these people were succeeding! I was intrigued. I contacted Ben, who graciously offered to help me out. All opinions in this article are my own.
Here are some of the things I quickly learned about diabetes and the value of online coaching:
1- Use an app and track!
The weight had been creeping back on and I needed to get serious. Ben recommended an app that counts calories and macronutrients. It is fascinating to see how quickly calories and macros add up! Documenting everything you eat will, at the very least, make you more mindful of your intake. And if you’re looking to lose weight, it might be the best way to make sure you stay at a calorie deficit. The macronutrient breakdowns also help you correctly bolus, if you need insulin for meals. This has helped my numbers tremendously after meals: even if you aren’t sure of your actual insulin-to-carb ratio, this still is better than a guess!
2- Stay accountable
Whether it is just using an app religiously or having an accountability partner, make sure you keep your head in the game. Thankfully, Ben checks in often; otherwise, I may have used the excuse “oh it’s summer!” and slowly lost motivation. This is one of the biggest benefits of online coaching, to me. Ben kept me accountable, and he stayed positive despite any setbacks. Positive change doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s important to have a little extra motivation while your behaviors slowly improve. Check in, stay connected, and know you have people cheering you on!
3- Rotate your sites
One of the first things Ben did was ask for access to my Dexcom reports. He clearly saw that some days I would just remain high all day without rhyme or reason. The first question he asked was if I rotated my insulin injection sites.
Why is rotating important? If you don’t, fat and scar tissue can build up, which creates insulin absorption issues. I got so comfortable using my hips and buttocks for shots over the past 9 years of living with diabetes. He suggested I try my stomach, the thought of which used to make me cringe, but I did it, and it helped a lot!
4- Stop eating so late at night
This has been a problem for me as far back as I can remember. I guess emotional and mindless snacking turned into a terrible habit. Ben noticed that my overnight spikes were usually occurring three to five hours after the last time I ate. Eating late at night, even if you’re choosing healthy snacks packed with protein, can wreak havoc on your blood sugars. Protein and fat cause a delayed blood sugar spike which, coupled with dawn phenomenon, meant I was fighting an uphill battle. And what’s worse: the spike would happen while I was sleeping so I was rarely able to correct it. Cutting myself off from snacking, even a few hours earlier, removes a very unpredictable variable and has allowed me to see improved numbers overnight!
5- Plan ahead and meal prep
Getting focused and organized is key to success when it comes to healthier eating. If you are able to set aside a few hours once a week to prepare meals, you are more likely to eat at home, stick to your portion sizes, and avoid takeout splurges. You also are sure to save a couple bucks by doing so!
6- Practice Introspection
When Ben pinpointed my problematic late-night snacking, I explained that this was a hard habit to break. Instead of giving me unrealistic options like chewing gum or taking up sewing, he asked me point blank, “How can you make changes to reinforce new habits?” I was stumped. I had never actually looked inward and tried to come up with a tangible solution that could help me take steps in the right direction. I took a moment and answered, “I’m not quite sure.” Hours later, I sat with his question and thought of some ideas that could work. Save one sweet thing to look forward to after dinner! Stop buying the things I know I am a sucker for! The ideas came from within, which felt very empowering.
7- Celebrate victories!
If you are spending time trying to improve your diabetes management or lose unwanted weight, you should be proud! It isn’t easy juggling everyday life, plus the demands of diabetes. If you do something you are proud of, celebrate! Tell a friend, buy that new dress, or get pampered! You deserve it!
8- You can have carbs!
Both Ben and I have explored different ways of eating during our diabetes journeys. At one point, we were both ultra low-carb, but we each found it to be unsustainable. Now, we both are mindful of our carbs but aren’t scared of them either. Carbohydrates are tricky, but learning how to correctly dose for them can make life with diabetes a lot less stressful.
9- Blood sugar trends are key to troubleshooting
One of the hardest things about diabetes is knowing how to make adjustments to keep your blood sugar control tighter. Low or high blood sugar measurements can be caused by about a million different factors. Ben made making adjustments based on my blood sugar trends so easy! I was able to understand where the highs and lows were coming from, how to make adjustments to my food, activity, and insulin (along with my care team), and really tighten my control in a short period of time. Now, I’m much more confident in my dosing at each meal!
10- Consider online coaching
I was a little reluctant to work with an online coach, because I wasn’t sure what kind of time and attention I would get. I didn’t need to worry. Ben quickly got me up to speed, made everything easy to understand, and started troubleshooting my issues right away. Ben has both personal and professional expertise with diabetes. Working together was a priceless experience that I highly recommend for anyone looking to improve their diabetes and/or weight management. In the meantime, you can follow Ben on Instagram for daily tips and tricks “injected” with some humor, which we could all use.
My experience is ongoing and I am still learning a lot. I am continuing to work on staying consistent with tracking on my nutrition app, hitting my macros, limiting nighttime snacking, and being accountable to both Ben and myself! Thanks Coach!
You can learn more about Ben and his team of diabetes dietitians here.