280 Australians develop diabetes every day. That’s one person every five minutes. Stat.
But as common as it is, there’s a misconception that only thing you need to start doing in order to decrease your chances of developing diabetes is to simply cut out sugar. Just ask Drew Harrisberg.
Not only is he an exercise physiologist, but he’s also become a dedicated diabetes educator after he was diagnosed with type 1 five years ago, at 23.
“Type 1 diabetes is far more complex than eating too much sugar and being lazy,” the now 28-year-old tells myBody+Soul. “My lifestyle pre-diabetes wasn’t too dissimilar to how it is now; I’ve always been very active and health-conscious.”
But as healthy and strong as he thought he was, his diagnosis of his chronic disease made him heavily reassess his approach to nutrition and fitness.
“Growing up, I used to follow the conventional food pyramid, however after being diagnosed I made nutrition my mission.”
The FitBit ambassador explains that he’s recently started to trial intermittent fasting (IF), where he eats between a six hour window and fasts for 18 hours – and has since experienced incredible results.
“It is something that I have chosen to experiment with. It’s well-documented in the scientific literature to have an array of incredible health benefits such as reduced systemic inflammation, changes to gene expression, hormonal reset, improved insulin sensitivity, and stable blood sugar control.
“Since including IF into my lifestyle I’ve achieved a reduction in insulin requirements, very stable blood sugar levels, loss of body fat and retained muscle,” Drew adds.
“I’ve always had great energy levels thanks to following a low carb diet for many years although since introducing IF, my energy levels have improved beyond belief. No highs and lows, just a nice steady state of energy all day long. My mental clarity and cognition has increased dramatically, too.”
However, he stresses that while it’s worked for him, it certainly doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.
“Everybody is different, which is why I encourage self-experimentation to figure out what works best for you.”
So what does a day of intermittent fasting look like to him?
Ditching breakfast, he’ll have his first meal of the day at 2pm. “I break my fast with a huge feast including three whole eggs, sauerkraut, avocado, sautéed kale, mushroom, spinach, basil, tomato, asparagus, broccolini, and a piece of low-carb gluten free toast which has been soaked, sprouted, and fermented for maximal nutritional value.”
At 3pm he’ll reach for a healthy snack of mixed nuts and seeds, and some dark chocolate, or a sneaky “spoonful of coconut butter straight out of the jar.”
After an arvo workout sesh, he’ll fuel his energy with some fruit.
“After my workout I reach for fruit because it’s when I’m most insulin sensitive and glucose tolerant. I mostly eat berries e.g. blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries for their lower carb, high fiber, nutrient-dense, and antioxidant properties.”
To finish off the day, he indulges in his last meal at 7.30pm, which consists of “a giant salad with 10 plus vegetables, sauerkraut, some meat or fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.”
But focusing on a low-carb diet rich in healthy fats and veggies isn’t the only change he’s made to his lifestyle; he’s found the simple practice of walking has been his biggest saviour in helping manage his blood sugar levels.
“After figuring out how effective walking is for managing blood sugar levels, I walk as much as possible during the day. I often clock over 20k steps with my Fitbit by walking my dog twice a day, and try to gain as many incidental steps in between as possible.”
On top of hitting his huge step count each day, Drew makes sure he also fits in a workout in the afternoon (probs explains those abs).
“It’s important to cover all bases when it comes to training and that’s why I vary intensities, modes and duration of exercise. Following a morning walk, I do a resistance training workout, varying between upper, full and lower body workouts throughout the week. I also try to keep active by climbing upstairs, using the outdoor gym at the beach and playing social footy.”
Although he’s had to reevaluate his lifestyle habits post-diagnosis, he doesn’t look at it in a negative light. Instead, he sees it as a “life-changing diagnosis” that’s given him the “drive and focus” to achieve his goals – a lesson he wants everyone with diabetes to adopt.
“If you’re passionate, positive, driven, and motivated – adversity will make you unstoppable! If you’re negative, pessimistic, a victim and entitled – it will cripple you,” the diabetes educator says.
“Never take anything for granted, make the most out of every single moment. From my morning ocean swim, to a cup of coffee, a walk in the park with my dog, and a daily workout, there’s not a second of the day that goes by without being grateful about the amazing gifts I’ve been given.”
For more from Drew, follow him on Instagram @drews.daily.dose.
Consult a medical professional before making any changes to your diet. Dr Gary Deed, Chair of the RACGP’s Diabetes Specific Interest network, explains why intermittent fasting may not be the most suitable dietary option for those with diabetes:
“The risks of intermittent fasting is that we are preventing the uptake of calories and nutrition when fasting – many people with type 1 diabetes are not overweight or carry the same risk factors as type 2 diabetes. So, the purpose of an intermittent fasting diet is not as clear in this type of diabetes.
Unless any diet is supervised by an accredited practicing dietitian, it could lead to problems of mismatch between adequate nutrition and changing insulin requirements, leading to serious and severe hypoglycaemia.
Type 1 diabetes is a unique form of diabetes with a need for insulin use often from the very diagnosis for survival as the pancreas lacks an ability to produce enough for the requirements of converting sugars into energy. Thus, blood glucose management is very closely related to the insulin dose, activity and nutritional intake – imbalances in any of these are less tolerated.”
For more on this topic, researchers have discovered there are five types of diabetes, not just two. And this is an 8-week blood sugar diet you can follow if you have diabetes.
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