An Ode to My Pancreas, a Love/Hate Story

Life is so hectic and dark lately. I’ve got so much going on, some of it good and some of it bad. The world feels like it’s falling apart yet we all just keep doing our thing. That’s all you can do, right? Maybe. I don’t know. Somehow 2020 feels different.

Me? Big things in motion. Work is difficult and rewarding (as always), I’m still separated and divorcing the Wonderful Wife (she’s still wonderful, still co-parenting together, she’s just no longer my wife), and the kids are going batty in captivity… er, I mean… in quarantine. Oh, hey, and my body suddenly doesn’t process sugar correctly which is causing my brain and my entire autoimmune system to freak out and possibly kill me from the inside. No biggie.

I suppose I’m lucky, really. I made it almost 50 years before my body decided to try to kill me. That’s a good run.

This is by far the biggest medical issue I’ve ever had. Hell, I’ve never even broken a bone (knock on wood,) and I’ve never spent the night in a hospital (knock on wood.) HOLY CRAP why did I just jinx myself by putting that in writing? [knocks on all the wood]

Knock on wood. No, this isn’t wood, but it’s not my hand either.

I’ve been “working on” eating better and getting healthy for a long time. For 20 years I’ve been trying to eat more veggies, to cut back on sugary crap. I’ve been slowly making changes with some good success, albeit in small ways. I’m proud of how much I’ve overcome my total lack of real food knowledge and role models, total lack of support. I’ve had lots of well wishers and encouragement, but everyone I know struggles with their weight. So, let me just say that I had already done a lot to change how I eat before this Diabetes diagnosis—though clearly not enough.

Mine is the same old story. My weight has been an issue since I was about 9 years old. I’ve always loved food: eating it, cooking it, baking it, eating it, talking about it, photographing it, and eating more of it. Also, I like eating it.

To top it off, I’m not much on exercise for the sake of exercise. Or for any sake, really. I used to do bodybuilding, but not really regularly enough to get much benefit. I like yoga but never seem to get around to it. In fact, I’ve never found any exercise routine that really works for me. I always get bored and discouraged. Plus, I’ll say it… I’m not naturally athletic. I’m not even a little athletic. I’m not graceful or tenacious or driven. (translation: I’m a lazy, out of shape slob.)

I am Fat Thor. I could do worse.

Don’t worry, I’m not beating myself up too much on any of this. Sure, I look back and wish I had taken it all more seriously, and sooner. That’s how hindsight works. But you have to remember it’s hard for anyone to get super serious about something so vague, even from a doctor. “Hey, do all this stuff and you *might* see results in 20 years.” Who can get excited about that? But now today, hoo-boy… it’s crystal clear that everything I eat or do is pushing me toward either health or ruin. Motivation is not so much a problem now.

The biggest eye opener of all the diabetes stuff is not the finger pricks, or counting carbs, or even the new pills. The part that has shocked me the most is how many people already caught the ‘Beetus and how incredibly chill they are about it. I’m losing my shit with every meal, every new ache and pain. But all the diabetes old-timers are like, “Meh. I just have to watch what I eat a little.” And shocking to me is that most people keep eating a lot of the same foods… even though it makes them miserable.

This has weighed on me a lot the past couple of weeks. Am I doing this wrong? Am I the only one who has to completely change how I eat and live? Why has this turned my life upside down? When will this end?

Of course, I’m not doing anything wrong. My only fault is that I’m very new to this and I’m not framing the conversation correctly in my own head. Yes I’m trying to re-create myself, to change my entire relationship with food, virtually overnight. I want to kick this thing, and fast.

Kick this thing?

Sorry, dude. That’s not how this works.

This is Diabetes, not some head cold or the transient flu. We’re tangling with Ol ‘Beetus himself. This isn’t going away overnight with some cough syrup. It won’t “clear up” in a week, or even a month. This is my life now. And the thing about being alive is… no matter how ugly it gets, you have to just get out there and LIVE YOUR LIFE.

Life goes on, my friends, even if a tiny endocrine gland in your gut is screaming “Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!”

My Pancreas, a re-enactment. (no pancreases were injured in the creation of this blog post)

So I live and I learn. Each day brings new challenges and new rewards. It’s maybe not much of a life, but it’s all I’ve got.

In the end, I’m just doing the best I can to soften the impact of a bad situation. And that’s all anyone can ask of me.

Peace and Love, my friends. Peace and Love.

— VVV

On Healthy Eating, Viking Style

I made this green curry. It was easy and it looks like something you’d buy in a restaurant.

I’m sharing my thoughts today on healthy eating for a lifetime and making good long-term choices. You know, like a Viking, taking control of my life and doing what I want. In this case, I want to be around for my grand kids.

I’m not actually focusing on losing weight right now. Yes, I am losing weight, which is wonderful and I’m all about it, but that’s not my primary goal. It’s just a natural and delightful side effect. I’m much more focused on controlling my newly acquired Diabetes.

I’m not doing Keto, just something that borrows liberally from those concepts.

Full disclosure, I’m not a fan of causing my body to go into Ketosis, where it literally starts burning body fat because it’s in some form of distress. I’m not a doctor by any means, and I’m not shaming anyone who uses Keto to get healthy. If it works for you as a tool to create a healthy lifestyle, then by all means go for it. I’m just saying, to me, it feels too unnatural to stress my body that way. Plus, I’m lazy and want to make this a new, natural, and comfortable lifestyle, so the eternal tracking of carbs and strictness of staying in Ketosis is just not for me.

With that said, I have found from much experience that the fewer carbs I take in—especially fast and processed carbs like pasta, white rice, white bread, potatoes, any form of sugar—the less hungry I am over all. Now that I’m visually tracking my blood sugar levels and literally see how carbs affect my glucose, it’s really super obvious. So I’m avoiding 100% of sugar and going super, super light on carbs with maybe a single piece per day of a nice complex whole wheat bread, etc. This just naturally makes me get hungry less and snack less.

So I’m using the phrase “Keto-ish” because the Keto community has done an amazing job of creating wonderful recipes that don’t include sugar and virtually no carbs. So I’m leaning heavily on those concepts and recipe sites.

So then what am I eating? A lot of amazing food, actually.

I’m eating whatever meat I want, cooked just about any way I want. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Steak is low carb! Watch your portion sizes. Viking portion pictured above.

I’m eating cheese, but in controlled amounts because I’m lactose intolerant. Otherwise, cheese is great. I love cottage cheese as a super simple, fast side dish. Goes great with meat! And a hunk of Colby cheese is a great snack at my desk.

I’m eating all the veggies. All. The. Veggies. Roasted, toasted, pan fried, stir-fried, steamed, grilled, sliced, diced, riced… all the ways. And they are delicious. If you don’t have the cooking chops to create yummy vegetable dishes, I highly recommend you start educating yourself on some of the simple, basic, easy techniques for cooking some tasty veg. Hint: Whatever it is, cut it into bite size pieces, toss in olive oil, lightly salt and pepper, then roast in the over at 400 for 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Yes, it works for everything, and yes it’s that easy. You can branch out later into steaming and sauteing and all the fancier stuff. It’s all pretty easy. You can totally do it.

Steak and bacon, because bacon, with cottage cheese and pan-fried Zucchini and Squash that I grew myself.

I’m also eating fruit, but sparingly. It has a lot of natural sugar. It also has vitamins, minerals, and fiber… but still lots of sugar. So I’m keeping it light. Maybe a banana every other day. I splurged with fresh strawberries when the grocery store had them 1/2 off.

If this sounds restrictive, it shouldn’t. Watch your portion sizes and you can eat virtually whatever you want. I’m eating steak and burgers to the point I’m almost tired of beef (just kidding, that won’t happen.) I eat grilled chicken and roasted chicken and even fried chicken with not much breading. I’m eating pork chops and sausages and bacon and ham sandwiches. I’m making lots of soups, and curries, and chili (light on the beans). I’m swimming in eggs any and all the ways. I’ve even made tuna salad, chicken salad, and salad-salad. Yes, salad. Do not underestimate the grandeur of a big bowl of baby spinach greens covered with all your favorite veggies, grilled meats, nuts, bacon crumbles, olives, plus a good shake or five of your favorite salad dressing.

One of many amazing Salads I’ve been eating.

Do I miss dessert? Sure. But I also recognize that most of my dessert enjoyment was an addiction to sugar. I’ve fought, painfully, for three months to break my 50-year sugar addiction, so I’m not going back there. Outside the sugar cravings, I was using sweets for emotional eating, to get that feeling of control when the world was too difficult. Upset about something? Well, here, eat some ice cream. You can’t fix your problems, but you’re so good at eating ice cream! Look at you go!

So desserts were part of the problem, a crutch, and bad choices, splurging despite knowing I’ll pay for it later. That’s just simply not healthy or sustainable. That’s not who I am, not who I want to be. And now, three months in, and I’m getting more comfortable with this new lifestyle, I’m looking into sugar-free low carb dessert options. I’m finding artificial sweeteners that are acceptable. FYI — Erythritol is a great table sugar substitute with no blood sugar reaction but some… ummm… intestinal effects, and liquid Sucralose is good for mixing in drinks. But none of them are great, so I’m limiting it all pretty tightly. Even when I eventually do desserts again, it will be very small portions and sparingly.

Remember, this is a punishment, it’s not torture. If you’re feeling stifled, that’s when you need to get creative. I eat Chinese take-out occasionally, especially when I’m feeling a little restricted. I just don’t eat the rice or noodles, and I’m careful to limit the breaded stuff. Won-tons and General Tso’s chicken are right out, but there are so many other options. More importantly, I’ve taught myself (thank you YouTube) to make a pretty decent stir-fry at home. Just throw in protein and veggies and some aromatics, toss in a sauce, and YUMMY.

Beef and Broccoli I made in my kitchen. So delicious, so fast, so easy.

Really pinched for time? Most fast food restaurants will make you a cheeseburger as a lettuce wrap. Wendy’s in particular is tasty and they will let you sub in a small chili instead of french fries. Add a large unsweetened iced tea and you’ve got a very fast, pretty tasty, and fairly low carb lunch on the go. Fast food is not the goal, but remember I’m building a lifestyle that needs to be sustainable while traveling, etc.

So, it’s not perfect. I’m growing and changing and learning as I go. That’s how this works. I’m learning and trying to do better.

What are your thoughts? I’d LOVE to hear your experiences and what you’ve learned in your efforts to be healthy.

Good luck! — VVV

Chips on My Shoulder

My Oldest, age 16: (walks in eating potato chips) “Hey, since when do you hide potato chips from us?”

Me: “SHHHHH!”

Me: (whispering) “I don’t hide them. I just… store them… strategically. And please be quiet before the others hear you.”

My Oldest: “This from the guy who tells us to not keep secrets. Nice.”

Me: “Hey, now. I only hide them because you kids snarf them up immediately as soon as you know they’re in the house. It’s one of my only treats, so I like to have some stick around in the house longer than 10 minutes.”

My Oldest: “Whatever. You can hide all the BBQ chips you want, I just want the plain ones.”

Danger Monkey, age 10: (from the other room) “We have BBQ chips! Woo-hoo!”

Me: (glaring)

My Oldest: (batting eye lashes) “Love you, Daddy.” (walks away)