I think everyone has a particular type of person whose lifestyle and successes really “speaks” to them. Someone who has truly inspired me since I “met” her on Facebook is Ellen Sherman. Ellen is a wife, mother of two sons, and a 63 year old woman living with type 1 diabetes. I’d describe her as very healthy, disciplined, positive, and generous. I am very grateful for the information she has been sharing with me which I now want to share with you. So kick back and get some free inspiration today :)
I will let her do most of the talking as I believe this is more powerful in her own words.
Ellen has had type 1 diabetes for 33 years. Despite always being interested in learning about nutrition, emotional, and physical well-being, Ellen became and thoroughly enjoyed being a High School teacher. Although diagnosed with diabetes at age 30, she was familiar with the devastating effects of uncontrolled diabetes from watching her grandmother suffer total blindness and amputation before her early death.
Her diagnosis was a bit complicated:
“At first, I was improperly diagnosed as a Type 11 even though I had none of the characteristics–I was thin and did not have the blood profile of a Type 11. When I saw a highly recommended Endocrinologist, he did a GAD antibody test and other tests that confirmed that I was Type 1. In addition, I was being treated with an underactive thyroid which is another autoimmune disease prevalent in Type 1 diabetics. By the time I was properly diagnosed I was terribly underweight and struggling with high glucose numbers. I started insulin immediately and began researching various dietary recommendations that were available at the time. After months of testing, I realized that if I kept the diet that the ADA recommended I would be taking more and more insulin, thus increasing my chances for insulin resistance and destroying whatever beta cells I had left. I was determined to find a different approach that worked for me. At first it was trial and error, but with time I realized that I had to make considerable lifestyle changes to achieve my goal, to remain complication free and live a long, healthy life.”
Ellen started testing herself and keeping a journal. She took up weight training to build muscle mass and made aerobic exercise a part of her daily life. She tested before a meal and two hours after a meal and came up with her own diet plan. She read Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetic Solution and incorporated many of his ideas. She says Dr. Bernstein himself was kind enough to speak with her over the phone to answer any questions she had. Ellen doesn’t happen to agree with the high fat/low carb diet for herself in particular so she modified her own diet according to her beliefs about the necessity of preventing cardiovascular disease.
What she did instead:
“I ate lean protein like chicken and fish high in omega 3 and low glycemic vegetables and fruit. For years I was able to maintain an A1C always between 5.5-5.7 with insulin, exercise, and a rigid but delicious diet. Fortunately, I loved vegetables and used my creativity to prepare meals that were low carb, nutritious, and delicious for myself and my family. For many years I followed this plan of action with considerable success–Cholesterol/HDL/LDL and A1C were well above average for someone of my age and being diabetic. I was monitored carefully by my internist and endocrinologist. They began asking me questions about how I was able to maintain such a healthy lifestyle which I gladly shared with them.”
I found out that Ellen has done a lot of giving back to the diabetes community.
“Over the years, I have helped others who have dealt with Type 1 and Type 11 diabetes, especially young children and their families. I am a firm believer in treating the physical, emotional and spiritual well being of an individual to deal with any chronic illness. Diabetes is very stressful to the individual and their families. Stress has a devastating effect on one’s physical health, thus it is extremely important that individuals learn techniques to maintain a positive, problem-solving state of mind. Through meditation, cultivating the sacredness in everyday life, and developing cognitive behavioral techniques to overcome anxiety, depression, etc. which comes with dealing with a chronic illness. In addition, I am a firm believer in the transformative power of mindfulness–staying within the moment. Without these techniques it is very difficult to maintain the highest level of lifestyle to overcome the effects of diabetes on your body and spirit. People with diabetes are unable to take time off thinking about how to control their highs and lows by testing, taking insulin and counting carbs. Thus they need tools to enable them to obtain the peace and spiritual enlightenment to not become a “victim of diabetes”. I believe that by empowering oneself we are able to become warriors with the strength, discipline, and dedication to control the disease, rather than it controlling us. When I coach people, I do not expect them to follow the lifestyle that I have chosen. However, if I can teach them a few techniques that enable them to get better control.”
While on maternity leave from teaching, she “got a call from the head of continuing education from the state department by a women who had heard about me through parents of former students and students who were now working. She asked me if I was interested in developing a program for the state of New York on motivational techniques, time management, organizations skills and problem-solving techniques. At first, I hesitated but then I realized that I had many techniques that I shared in my classroom that would be applicable to adults working for the state. All my seminars were based on curriculum that I developed and later approved by my administrator in Albany. It became a very successful program for employees working at the state building, Stony Brook University, and other facilities that were state run. In time, I found that it was almost becoming more than a full-time job, and I was being asked by private corporations to speak to their employees. I continued conducting seminars until a few years after my second son was born and then retired. After, I was heavily involved in volunteer work in my school district and then I became interested in helping adolescents and young adults dealing with emotional and physical challenges who were referred to me. Always on a volunteer basis. Later I became interested in helping others who were dealing with Type 1 or Type 11 diabetes, again on a volunteer basis. I now do it on a limited basis. At this point in our lives my husband and I are finally getting the chance to spend more time together.”
Ellen feels very strongly about daily exercise, saying it should become a part of daily life. She suggests activities such as “walking, running, bike riding, and some weight training to build lean muscle mass contributing to the better utilization of the insulin you take or are making.”
She is a firm believer in her low carb and low glycemic diet where she eliminates anything white like sugar, white bread, potatoes, and white rice. Ellen suggests trying to eat “vegetables of every color to maintain glucose control and obtain antioxidants to fight free radicals, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.”
I asked her what all makes up her diet:
“Fruits: strawberries, blueberries; apples.Nuts: -walnuts, almonds, peanuts (handful a day). Lean protein–chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, sardines, flounder, snapper. Herbs: cumin, oregano, thyme, rosemary, tumeric, etc. Olive Oil for cooking and in salads. In addition, I love to make sandwiches for lunch or egg whites with spinach with my low carb, high fiber tortilla from La Tortilla factory. I try to eat a salad with very little olive oil and loads of vinegar which works to keep my glucose stabilized with my dinnertime meal. During the weekend, I allow myself a little more freedom, by giving myself a shot of novolog if it is a higher carb meal.”
About her diabetes management and insulin intake:
“Right now I take Levemir and split it–morning dose 5 1/2 and evening dose 5 1/2 to 6 units (always adjusting according to glucose readings and a goal of 100 or less fasting/morning reading and 140 or less two hours after meal). This seems small but I am only 5 feet and I have a lean, muscular body 102-104 lbs. mostly muscle and very little body fat for a female. I run three to six miles in the morning after having two cups of coffee with milk no sugar until my glucose is down to 80. For lunch I have a Tortilla with tuna or salmon with humus, and whatever cooked vegetable from last night’s meal is leftover, salad and a piece of low fat cheese. If I am higher than 140, two hours after lunch I run a mile. My snack around 4 o’clock is two pieces of dark chocolate wedges from Trader Joes, strawberries and cheese, nuts or a piece of an apple. For dinner I have chicken, fish, and 3/4 of my plate filled with multicolored vegetables, salad with low fat cheese, berries (balsamic vinegar, little olive oil). I find eating between 6 to 6:30 pm works for me. My snack after dinner if low enough –sugar free jello/whip cream or a handful of nuts. Throughout the day I test. I graze on a few nuts or berries if I am heading below 100 before my lunch or afternoon snack. I test myself 8-10X a day. I have eliminated my breakfast just recently, as I have found that since I am getting older I need less food to maintain my lifestyle, energy and physical well being.”
“Overall, I am in excellent health according to my doctors–no complications. The last time I got my eyes tested by a retina specialist he was amazed I’ve had diabetes for over thirty years. He saw no signs of complications. I do not produce any insulin at this time unfortunately, but I am able to maintain a wonderful positive, happy, productive life. Most importantly, I have tremendous gratitude and attempt everyday to help others in their struggle to deal with a chronic disease or any emotional or physical illness.”
Ellen said something else that really struck me and gave me more energy to continue my blogging:
“One of the most essential ingredients to living a happy life is giving of our time and sharing our knowledge. Hopefully, through your efforts and others more and more people will become aware that they can live a long, healthy life with a chronic disease. In many ways, the challenges and obstacles that I faced throughout my life have been empowering lessons that have given me the strength and motivation to obtain the happiness and serenity I always knew was possible even in my darkest moments.”
Ellen, you’re a true inspiration to me. I hope to continue to thrive with my diabetes by taking care of myself to the best of my ability and I hope to do it as elegantly as you have with the same empowered and grateful spirit. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Note: Ellen advocates for everyone finding their own path to wellness according to their own individual circumstances and needs. She acknowledges the fact that we all have different diabetic “profiles”. I would have to wholeheartedly agree.