It all started when I was pregnant with Dino Boy. For the most part, I had an easy pregnancy, which I was grateful for since I still had a semester of college to finish. At around 28 weeks I went in for the glucose test everyone has to take. I'd read about gestational diabetes, but I never thought I'd end up having it. I didn't have any of the risk factors—I was young, I wasn't overweight, I didn't have a family history.
Well, my glucose levels were so high that they didn't even bother with the three-hour test. Something like 194, when you're not supposed to be higher than 130 after a meal.
It was...a shock.
I was upset. I felt like I'd done something wrong, and I was scared as all get out, thinking I had diabetes, even if it was only temporary. They make a point of telling you that GD increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 50%. That is not a fun thing to think about, especially when you're 22 and figure the big bad diseases are far away in the future when you're old and gray.
The first thing they try when you have GD is to control your glucose through diet (if that doesn't work, they whip out the insulin shots), so they sent me to a nutritionist. Let's just say I was NOT excited to have someone tell me that I was eating the wrong things and too much of them. It's kind of a humiliating experience, to be honest, especially when you're pregnant. Because of course there's this idea that you can "eat for two."
I learned that my morning breakfast of raisin bran and orange juice was basically a triple shot of sugar. So many people think diabetics have to avoid "sweets," but it's not like that at all. For one, it's ALL carbs that have to be counted (Including lactose-based carbs like milk. Did you know milk was a carb? I sure didn't.). And it's not about eliminating carbs, but about balancing them so you get an even amount all day.
I also learned about portion size. I learned that one serving of carbs is a measly 15 grams, and that I should only be having 2-3 servings a meal. You start looking on packages, and you see that most processed foods have closer to 2-3 servings of carbs. I learned that a serving of protein is only 5 grams, and that I only needed 15 grams a day. I learned the importance of having both protein and carbs in every meal, and how it kept blood sugar levels even.
In the end, I was eating more than double the carbs I needed, and more than double the protein I needed. And I had no idea. I thought I was eating healthy. I wasn't eating donuts all day or anything. But it was the portion size. I followed my diet, tested my sugar, and I was NEVER hungry like I thought I'd be.
Honestly, gestational diabetes saved my life. Nutritional education saved my life. Learning what my body needs and how much opened my eyes to how distorted food has become in America.
Because I will always have a higher risk at developing diabetes, I have continued to learn about nutrition. Having diabetes for even a short period sucked, and I'm determined to take care of my body. It's so much easier than having to deal with blood testing and medications and disease.
So I've turned into what I like to call "The Casual Vegetarian." I think a lot of people are intimidated by vegetarianism, and it can almost sound like a religion when you talk to some of the more zealous. If you eat meat, it can feel like a vegetarian or vegan is looking down on you for your horrible choice to destroy the planet.
This, well, creates some friction, though I think we could all agree that Americans could stand to see a little more green on the dinner plate and a little less meat/starch.
I probably eat a fourth of the meat I used to, and my reasons aren't the stereotypical "Don't kill animals!" kind. As I've explained, I think it's better for my health. Also, it turns out Dino Boy has never liked, and will not eat, meat. My family has sensitive digestive tracts, and meat often doesn't go over well. Sometimes we go several days without eating meat, sometimes a couple weeks. While at first it was hard to envision a meal without that piece of meat, I've gotten to the point that I don't really notice one way or the other.
And you don't have to start eating quinoa and wheatgrass, either. There are so many meals we make that don't actually need the meat. I grew up putting meat in pasta sauce—I don't anymore. Lasagna is fabulous with spinach ricotta instead of meat sauce, and there is plenty of protein in the cheese. Loaded nachos taste just as good with black beans instead of meat, as do burritos, etc. Stir-frys and curries don't need chicken to fill you up—the rice does that (Did you know rice and wheat both have protein? [I'm sure I'll get people saying they aren't complete proteins. I know, which is why I'm not anti-meat entirely]).
This is longer than I planned it to be, so I better finish up. I guess all I'm saying is that we have so much more control over our health than we think, as long as we're willing to go out there and get the knowledge. Eating better, no matter how you decide to do that, always improves quality of life. You have more energy, your brain works better, you feel better.