A few days ago I posted on my blog The Juice Box Diaries about how I’ve struggled with self-confidence when it comes to body image. Through weight gains, losses, and a bit of an unhealthy outlook towards what it means to be beautiful, I’ve spent over 10 years dreaming of the day I’d finally look desirous or sexy. At the end of that post, I admitted that I often feel like a work in progress, constantly scrutinizing my calorie intake and fitness level. (Like I totally feel guilty about the apple pie I scarfed down for dessert after dinner.) And, I’m 100% positive I’m not alone in the way I feel.
While I’m sure I could write several novels all about my weight insecurities or my obsession with dessert, today I’d like to talk about a different kind of sugar- fitness struggle. I’d like to shift the focus to how my type 1 diabetes affects this aspect of my life, especially since lately I’ve felt as though my blood sugars have started spiraling out of control, at times in the realm of dangerous.
Being diabetic obviously plays a significant role in my day to day life. Most days it’s annoying and when I don’t feel annoyed, I feel downright pissed off. Sure, I could talk to a therapist about accepting my disease, learning to live side by side with it in a constructive and healthy manner, but really I just refuse to admit that having type 1 diabetes is ok. It’s not rainbows and dandelions. It’s an autoimmune disease that throws me a curve ball just about everyday.
Most of those curve balls come into play when it comes to fitness since muscles use the sugar in your body for fuel. In other words, it’s hard to coax your blood sugar to go one way when exercise is yanking it in the opposite direction. In Part 1 of this post, I talked about being a fitness enthusiast, which basically translates to ‘I spend a significant portion of my free time doing sweat-inducing repetitive motions that cause my muscles to burn and make me want to fall over.’ So since I frequently visit the gym, I also frequently deal with nasty blood sugar roller coasters.
For example, last Wednesday before my weekly turbo kickboxing class, my blood sugar was an uncomfortably high 315. At that number, it’s questionable whether or not it’s safe to even exercise. However, after months of taking this class, I’ve discovered that my glucose levels always drop an extraordinary amount during the 60 minutes. Case in point, I ran a respectable 108 just half an hour after finishing my last jabs and kicks. If I hadn’t started the class at 315, it’s pretty much guaranteed I would have dropped too low by the close of the class. But just because it worked out in the end doesn’t mean I managed my levels safely, correctly, or effectively.
As I said before, a blood sugar over 300 is a dangerous number and the stress of exercise in that condition could prove catastrophic. My body could have developed ketones and I was also most likely dehydrated. But even though logic tells me that I should sit out from turbo kickboxing for the day as a safety-first precaution, my obsession with weight and body image restricts my ability to make that safe choice. After years of struggling with an unhealthy perception of my body, I often would rather take the chance of ending up in the hospital than give up that workout for the day. Like I said before, I’m obsessed with calorie intake vs. calories burned.
I battle my blood sugar constantly before and after going to the gym. I’m not supposed to be high because it signifies I don’t have enough insulin in my body but I’m also not supposed to be too low because I’d most likely drop dangerously during the physical activity. So basically I’m supposed to keep my blood sugar perfect. You know how in baseball they say if you bat .300 it means you’re doing well. That’s like the golden number, a sign of success. But batting .300 also means you are failing 7/10 times. It seems silly that you can fail more often than not and be considered great. I feel as though controlling my blood sugar is the same. Most of the time I’m out of ideal range, striking out like the baseball player. But then those 3 at bats come up and my blood sugar is great. With this analogy, you can imagine that expecting my blood sugar to be perfect every single time I exercise is like expecting a baseball player to hit every single time at the plate. With standards like that, you’d always feel like a disappointment.
So since my blood sugar is inevitably not perfect when I start to exercise, I frequently fight against both hyper and hypoglycemia at the gym, and honestly, it really does get old. I’d love nothing more than to take one turbo kickboxing class without having to deal with blood sugar issues. Believe it or not, I can feel when my blood sugar changes, and it affects my energy, mood, and the effectiveness of my workout. A high blood sugar makes me feel thick and sluggish, like I’m wading through glue. My muscles feel half asleep while also feeling like weights are strapped to my wrists and ankles. I feel parched, no matter how much water I chug, and the littlest movement sucks the breath right out of my lungs. So when I started turbo last Wednesday with a blood sugar of 315, it’s safe to say I had a hard time. And, when I begin a workout already exhausted and dehydrated from hyperglycemia, I never quite feel like I can recover.
As my blood sugar drops during the workout, I start to feel dizzy and off balance, as if I’m fighting to stand upright next to a fog machine. At this stage, my limbs don’t feel so much like weighted stumps as they do flimsy Gumby limbs, unable to support weight. My muscles start to shake and my stamina drains. So again, working out in this state of fatigue hardly contributes to an effective use of time and energy. Low blood sugar could eventually lead to a seizure, which also means my brain wouldn’t be getting enough sugar to function at a normal level. This state can lead to death quite quickly. But even if my blood sugar doesn’t drop to a dangerous low, I can still feel the small fluctuations in sugar levels during exercise, meaning that every single time I tie my tennis shoes, my body will go through some sort of uncomfortable blood sugar variance.
With battling either a low, high, or fluctuating sugar just about every time I workout, you might wonder why I’d put myself through that. What’s the point? Well, it’s sort of a catch 22. Fitness helps regulate and maintain healthy blood sugars in general while also pulverizing blood sugar during the actual physical activity. So, if i didn’t exercise at all, my blood sugars would be even more of a mess more often. Plus, I’d probably get fat.
Overall, I’m happy that I’ve chosen the healthier route of working out regularly rather than giving up on fitness. I visit my doctor often and we brainstorm new techniques for me to try while working out and also fiddle with my insulin doses before and after exercise. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many ways to ensure my blood sugar will cooperate during physical activity. I try to eat smartly (eat your vegetables!), check my glucose often, and anticipate any possible low or high blood sugars. But aside from learning how to tell the future, carrying a stock of juice in my gym bag is one of the only ways I can prepare myself for blood sugar mishaps during a workout.