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A heart attack and diabetes diagnosis lead to a change in eating habits

By on November 2, 2015
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Tyrone Gillispie remembers January 20, 2015, pretty well — even if he doesn’t want to. He was in the hospital receiving treatment for a heart attack that day. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s also when he found out that he had developed type 2 diabetes.

“I’d been to the eye doctor a few days before, and she saw something that concerned her with my eyes,” says Gillispie, an owner-operator who leases with Super Transport in Idaho Falls, Idaho. “She told me to get my blood tested, and it showed that my blood sugar was elevated. That night I began having chest pains. When I got to the ER they tested it again and it was extremely high.”

Gillispie began working with his physician and other healthcare providers, including an endocrinologist, to tackle the diabetes as he recovered. At first, he just had to work to get his arms around the condition itself.

“The diabetes was such a surprise, because I’m not overweight and I do exercise,” he says. “But I’m also a truck driver, and I will grab a doughnut or the candy bar when I’m on the road instead of having a healthy meal.”

Making the needed changes

He began being more proactive about a healthy diet, which allowed him to get his blood sugar down to normal levels in just a few months. It also allowed him to take pills instead of insulin injections, so the 30-year veteran of the road was able to get back behind the wheel again. Lastly, Gillispie is following doctor’s advice regarding his heart health, and has made progress on that front as well.

To incorporate more exercise into his day he got a fitness app for his smartphone, and now tries to get in at least 6,000 steps (about three miles) a day, during his 10-hour breaks. He’s put the same energy into his diet regimen.

“I studied and learned what to eat, portion sizes and how to prepare my food,” he says. “I ate a lot of fruit, but it was apples and bananas, which have a lot of sugar. It’s easy to grab the bad stuff, but I had to give up all sweets, and stay away from pasta and bread. I don’t even
use sweeteners, because those have a tendency to raise your blood-sugar level also. I got some recommendations, and it was like a light going off. I was given the motivation to make some changes and make some right turns to get back on the road.”

Diagnosis: Diabetes

A diabetes educator’s advice

Truckers worry about developing diabetes with good reason. If serious enough, a diagnosis can lead to the loss of their CDL. But many drivers, like Tyrone Gillispie, are able to manage their blood sugar levels and keep driving.

Dr. Margaret Powers, PhD., presidentelect of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and a certified diabetes educator at the International Diabetes Center at Park Nicollet in Minneapolis, has helped a number of truck drivers stick with healthier habits so they can stay on the road.

She urges people to take the risk assessment test available at the ADA website, diabetes.org and see a doctor if there is concern. It will mean making changes, but diabetes is manageable.

“It’s about making a commitment to yourself and your longevity,” she says. “There are many resources to learn and get support so that diabetes doesn’t have to be a big burden.”

Pay attention to your body

Diabetes doesn’t always present symptoms, but some issues merit investigation.

‘When your blood sugar is high, your vision gets blurry,” says Dr. Powers. “Often people think that they just need new glasses. Another sign is feeling lethargic, just having no energy.”

Understand carbohydrates

Carbohydrates relate to blood sugar, so people with diabetes must be aware of how many carbs are in the foods they eat.

Even healthy foods like fruit, juices, rice, potatoes, grains, milk and yogurt contain carbs that cause a rise in blood sugar. Overindulging can cause problems.

“Often a truck driver might just have coffee for breakfast, grab a piece of fruit around lunchtime and later, because they are so hungry, they eat a huge snack and have a big dinner.,” Dr. Powers says. “That’s a lot of carbohydrates and their body may not produce enough insulin for all of those carbs at once. Instead, if they eat carbs throughout the day they can make insulin for the morning, for the afternoon and for the evening.”

Moving around helps too

“Movement helps the body use insulin better,” says Dr. Powers. “Get 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. It can be as simple as doing chair stretches — raising arms and then legs, up, to the right and to the left — for five minutes, and walking for a few minutes in the day.”

Turn to the experts

Trying to change a lifetime of food and exercise habits without help is daunting. Initial enthusiasm fades and old habits start sneaking back into daily routines.

“Going to a diabetes education program will benefit anyone with diabetes,” says Dr. Powers. “I know from my own practice that I can get someone started on the right foot after they get diagnosed, but after six months they need reinforcement and additional support. If it was that easy to change habits, then two-thirds of us would not be overweight. We recommend a yearly assessment for people diagnosed with diabetes to see what their needs are, or just to get that support and encouragement.”

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