A Diagnosis and its Lesson

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Disclaimer: I’m sharing this for a few reasons. One, to extend the same transparency and vulnerability I encourage others to have. Two, to get out of my comfort zone, just as God has called me. Three, to raise awareness about a condition that doesn’t necessarily deserve a negative stigma.

“We have your results, and your numbers were high.”

“I’m afraid this means you have gestational diabetes.”

“It just happens sometimes, it was nothing you did.”

“You’ll need to see a nutritionist and check your levels four times a day.”

My head was spinning after I got the call. Even in the midst of the news, I understood the diagnosis wasn’t earth-shattering. After all, it’s not a terminal disease. I wasn’t living my last days. I was still carrying a precious baby boy.

But still, I was devastated. I felt like my body failed me.

The tears came. And then they came again. And again after that. I didn’t understand how a person who eats well and exercises regularly could be plagued with the dreaded “d word.” Diabetes. Here’s an unfiltered glimpse into how I’ve felt the last couple weeks:

  • Confused – I’m a healthy person. I eat real food most of the time, and I’m active nearly every day. This just doesn’t make sense.
  • Embarrassed – People will think I’m a fraud. There’s such a stigma around gestational diabetes, so everyone will assume I lie about what I eat.
  • Overwhelmed – How is a formerly anorexic girl going to cope with a set of rules and restrictions around food? I’ve come so far, but the emotional scars are still there. I’m worried I’ll spiral back into those old habits.
  • Angry – I’ve seen sample gestational diabetes nutrition plans, and they recommend things like 100-calorie snack packs and Ritz crackers. In what universe is that an improvement?
  • Scared – Am I hurting my baby? Was it something I did? What’s going to happen?

Now here we are. Still wondering how this is possible, but trying to comprehend it all.

Making Sense of the Diagnosis

It’s taken lots of work to accept all of this. And some days are better than others. Truthfully, my heart doesn’t exactly feel “ready” to share this with all of you. But I’ve learned my heart isn’t a great compass. So here I am. Standing, a little shaky, outside my comfort zone.

I feel I need to go a little in-depth about what gestational diabetes is, and my particular diagnosis, so please bear with me as I explain. Slowly, I’m coming to grips with the fact that having gestational diabetes (GD) has nothing to do with how you eat or how much you work out, but has everything to do with how your pancreas handles carbohydrates during pregnancy. The fittest, healthiest people can fail the glucose tolerance test. Likewise, the mom who has fast food and soda every day can pass the test with flying colors.

There are risk factors, of which I fall under three: I’m over 25, I’m not Caucasian, and I have an existing autoimmune condition. It’s also worth noting that years of learning to eat intuitively have led me to discover that my body thrives on a higher fat/protein, lower carb way of eating. Please know this is not the right nutrition protocol for everyone, but it works well for my body. While I no longer track my food in a journal, I do know that I regularly consume anywhere from 60-80 grams of carbohydrates per day when I’m not training heavily (i.e., during pregnancy). There are exceptions of course. For example, I spent much of the first trimester only able to stomach simple carbs like saltine crackers or toast. And I don’t hide the fact that I indulge occasionally – a quick look at my Instagram feed shows transparency in the form of oatmeal cookie sandwiches, churros, and donuts from time to time. But for the most part, my day-to-day meals are made up of real food that I take the time to prepare and savor because it’s important to me.

After doing some research, I’ve discovered that during the glucose tolerance test, the physiological insulin resistance response from a lower carb way of eating is very real. In other words: give a lower-carb/real food eater a neon syrupy orange drink with 100 grams of glucose in it, and of course their body isn’t going to know how to handle all of that sugar. Their body is used to seeing a fraction of those carbohydrates…not in concentrated form…with meals…spread out over the course of an entire day. My personal experience with the drink wasn’t positive – it made me nauseous and lightheaded. In fact, they put me in a separate waiting area and kept an eye on me so I wouldn’t throw up. Glamorous, I know.

Could it be a misdiagnosis? Possibly. I won’t know until I get my glucometer this week (to test my blood sugar after each meal). I plan to share these numbers.

Could it be that I was consuming too few carbs for a pregnant woman, thus affecting my test results? Possibly. I do feel great and my weight gain is right on target, but perhaps the way of eating that made me thrive as a “regular person” has proved ineffective to me as a pregnant woman. I’m learning as I go.

A fellow mama-to-be reminded me of an important point: Gestational diabetes does not deserve the stigma it has. Consider what a strain pregnancy is on the body. While we’re indeed designed to carry babies and give birth, it’s not the gentlest process. Think about how the organs, ligaments, and bones must be squished and rearranged to accommodate a new life. Hormones wreak havoc simply by doing what they’re supposed to. All women have different struggles during pregnancy – some experience debilitating ligament pain, some have severe nausea/vomiting throughout their entire pregnancy, some struggle with depression, some have difficulty regulating blood sugar, some have preeclampsia, and the list goes on. Every single body has different strengths and weaknesses.

At the end of the day, it is what it is. My pancreas just can’t seem to keep up. So I digress. If you’re interested in some accounts of otherwise healthy women who have failed the gestational diabetes test, I’ll include some links in the Resources section at the end of this post.

Painting a Bigger Picture

But here’s why no amount of explaining, researching, or reasoning matters:

We are not called to lie down, defeated and distracted. We are called to get up. To move forward. To walk in victory.

I thought of John 5:1-9 as I wrote that. When you get bad news, it’s easy to internalize everything and throw a pity party because that’s what feels right in the moment. And boy do I know how to throw a good pity party. My husband can probably attest to that.

Here’s what I need to consistently try to understand: the end result of my unexpected, beautiful mess is parenthood. It’s a baby. It’s a family. It’s life. It’s LOVE. And that’s easier to accept when I realize just how intricately God is involved in my process of becoming a woman after his own heart. That includes shifting my perspective and embracing my facets like the gem that I am.

To many of you, this probably isn’t a big deal. You might be thinking, she has gestational diabetes – so what? But for me, accepting the diagnosis represents so much more: It’s the often forgotten lesson that not everything goes according to plan. It’s the fight between my flesh and my spirit. It’s the decision to let go of fear. It’s the absolute need to erase unhealthy shame from my life. It’s a way to remember that I’m not the one in control here. It’s a reminder that we all have our issues.

So what are your issues teaching you?

 


Resources:

 

What To Do When You Feel Stuck

The rainbow lit up my hand and lingered there for a moment. I had been so immersed in a deadline for work that I didn’t realize sunlight was streaming through the window, making the hanging prisms scatter tiny rainbows across the room. As I typed, the colorful streak kept traveling back to my hand — its placement a beautiful reminder that these hands are made to write. It was the slightest inkling that God’s calling me into a new season and a new promise. The little rainbow tattooed itself to my hand every few seconds as if to whisper, “There is fire here. There is color. There is life. Share it.”

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For what seems to be the better part of a year, I’ve had writer’s block. Not for lack of ideas, but for lack of confidence and grace for myself. While many things were going “right” in my life, I, as a person, still felt like one big question mark — a mystery I just couldn’t solve. There are so many many many things I wanted to say about health and food and image and mindset and life, but I didn’t know how to say them. Or if I’d change my mind. Or if I wasn’t qualified enough. Or if I would embarrass myself. And now I find myself slowly digging my way out of this very deep rubble of doubt and discontentment. Because I need to move forward, but first I must make my way up and out.

In this time of excavation, I thought I’d share ways to make the most of what you think may be a lackluster time in your life. Because the more I think about the rainbow on my hand, the more I understand how my season of silence equipped me for what’s to come. Here’s what I’ve done in seasons when I feel blocked or stuck:

I pray as much as I can. When I wake up, in the shower, while I cook dinner, while I sit in my backyard, while I drive, while I fall asleep. Some days are better than others. It’s never very eloquent, but it changes me.

I enjoy eating good food. I often choose food that nourishes my body — colorful, real, satisfying food that makes me feel vibrant from the inside. And sometimes I choose food that may not be “healthy,” but really nourishes my heart. Either way, I make sure I enjoy the process and really savor whatever I eat. If it’s not incredibly delicious, it’s not worth it.

I walk every day. Such a simple thing has such a huge impact on my day. On days I’m not able to fit in at least a 20-minute walk, I feel restless and underwhelmed. Walking in silence can be freeing some days, but most of the time I use that time to learn. Which leads me to my next tip…

I listen to podcasts. Anything and everything goes. I search iTunes and cherry-pick free podcasts or I get recommendations from friends. At the moment, my go-tos are The Jillian Michaels Show, The City Church with Judah Smith, The Birthful Podcast, and The Nourished Podcast.

I’m gentle with myself. I don’t respond well to tough love (whether self or otherwise inflicted), so this one is so important to me. And it’s crucial for you too because only you know the best ways to be gentle with yourself. For me right now it means being OK with silence, letting my body wake up without an alarm clock (I realize this is a privilege), empowering myself to choose balance/moderation when it comes to food and fitness, and letting go of preconceived notions about what my body should look like.

I look for and make beauty. This is one of those “make or break” things for me because much of my livelihood is caught up in noticing and appreciating my surroundings. I love hanging crystal prisms in a window that gets a lot of sun so that the room is flooded with rainbows every day at a certain time. Or taking a million pictures of the sunset with no intention of ever sharing on social media. Or making sure my bedroom is clean enough so that it can become a sleepy, wonderful haven of soft blankets and squishy pillows. Or concentrating on how comforting my husband’s laughter sounds at the end of a long day. Or realizing how much friendships can teach you about grace and God.

If you’re in a season of silence like I’ve been, know that it will pass eventually. And know you’re allowed to enjoy the silence because the “block” you feel might not be the concrete barricade you’ve dreamt up after all. You’re likely being prepped and primed in a way that’s unique to you. Because somebody, somewhere will need your words. Somebody will need your art. Somebody will need your knack for listening or leadership or loving others. This is your invitation to stay sane in whatever season of life you’re in, and to be OK with a little mystery.

Who Cares if You Miss a Workout?

“Don’t look. I’m going to order the pasta.” “Sorry you didn’t see me and my rolls at the gym this morning.” People have said these things to me. I usually force a polite laugh and quickly change the subject. Because the truth is I don’t care if you miss a workout. Or if you accidentally faceplant into a slice of chocolate cake. Let me be more clear: I care, but not in a judgmental way. What I don’t care to do is entertain the idea that there is any room for guilt or shame related to when you exercise or how you eat. As a health coach/wellness enthusiast/whatever you want to call me, I’m not your boss nor your keeper. I am your advocate in every sense of the word. I root for your health and want you to embrace and explore every ebb and flow in the journey — including the times you “fall off the wagon.” Question those moments especially. Scoop out the guilt and replace it with grace. Lean into the exploration. Talk to someone. In all honesty, taking a couple weeks off isn’t such a big deal when fitness and proper nutrition are core to your typical lifestyle. Here’s a gem of a tip from the Girls Gone Strong community:

To avoid the “all or nothing mindset,” think of eating well and exercising not in days and weeks, but in months and years. What’s more important is, are you still going to be eating well and exercising 6 months from now? 5 years from now? 20 years from now?

I’d love to hear from you! Do you typically feel guilty when you “fall off the wagon”? Did this help shift your perspective? Comment below or let me know on Instagram (@gemperspective).