Here’s a medical tip – be wary if anyone tells you that you’re healthy as a horse.
That was my family doctor’s prognosis after last year’s physical, and it’s been all downhill ever since.
I like to think that I take pretty good care of my physical well-being, for a person of my vintage. (My doctor, bless her soul, tells me not to think of myself as getting old, but as aging like a fine wine. Earlier this year somebody paid $160,000 for a 1787 bottle of Bordeaux that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. It is no longer drinkable, so I expect my doctor to think up a better metaphor to appeal to my ego.)
Take my diet. Nobody eats more fruit or vegetables than me. My neighbourhood A&P provides me valet parking. The produce manager clears other customers out of my way as I load my shopping cart with bags of plums, apples, avocados, spinach, grapes, asparagus, parsnips, mandarin oranges, Swiss chard, peaches, strawberries……and that’s just for Monday!
So imagine my shock when, after this year’s physical, my family practitioner closes her office door behind me, shoves a Michael Buble album into her CD player, and tells me I am a borderline diabetic.
Now this is not the first time someone has suggested that I am “borderline”, but no-one has ever said I have too much sugar in my blood. Immediately I feel I have been lumped in with those chubby people I see loading up their minivans with cases of soda pop and bushels of potato chips.
The doctor lady is trying to console me – it’s not too bad….. at least not yet. Nothing that proper diet and exercise shouldn’t be able to fix.
“What about all the fruit and vegetables I eat?” I protest, as if I can somehow talk her into changing her diagnosis. What I don’t tell her is that I operate on the “balancing out” theory of food intake. I figure that if I gorge myself on things I’m supposed to eat – all that green and leafy stuff, “rabbit food” I call it – that will offset eating things I really like to eat. So I might sit down to watch an episode of CSI Miami munching on an apple, which I will “balance out” with, say, a few chocolate-covered almonds, or Wine Gums.
The dietitian to whom I have been referred shakes her head, and wags a finger at me. “It doesn’t work that way,” she tells me, patiently, confronting me with an array of charts and guides which seem to demonstrate that eating as much fruit as I usually do at one sitting can actually contribute to type 2 diabetes.
I seem to have forgotten that fruit contains lots of sugar – natural sugar – but sugar nonetheless. Our bodies, I learn, treat sugar the same whether it comes from grapes or gumdrops.
My eating coach suggests I alter my practice of having a stingy breakfast of orange juice and vitamin pills and sparse lunch of carrot sticks, topped off with a five-course evening banquet that starts when I enter the house after work and ends when I brush my teeth at bedtime.
“Little meals,” she purrs, pulling a small cup of granola from her top drawer. “Then you won’t be starving when you get home at night.” Eating more frequently is the key to being satisfied by smaller portions, she assures me.
She also talks about the great label conspiracy, whereby manufacturers make it next to impossible for consumers to really understand what’s in what they’re eating. I believe the dairy producer when he puts “low fat” on my favourite brand of cheddar -- until I realize that, yes, 11 per cent is “low” compared to 18 or 20.
And those “organic” soy-based potato chips I thought would soothe my salt cravings in a healthy way? They contain almost 30% of the bad, cholesterol-causing fats – even more than the non-organic brands.
With a little bit of detective work, I have managed to locate food options that appeal to my taste – and help me eat more healthy. Cheese is one of my weaknesses, and I have found that skim-milk cheese contains a mere 4% milk fat, and only tastes a little bit like cardboard. I was so excited one day to find little boxes of imitation red licorice bites that are made from molasses!
For me the toughest part of the anti-diabetes regimen to follow is maintaining regular exercise routines. Twice-weekly workouts are about all I can seem to manage, but I am trying to apply the “little-meal” approach to this as well. Lunch-hour walks around the office perimeter, and parking as far away from stores as possible to stretch my legs more often all add up over the course of a week.
My biggest incentive to stick to the program is my aversion to needles. I don’t know how people – especially kids – can so cheerfully jab themselves with syringes full of insulin every day. I almost pass out pricking my fingertips to take blood-sugar readings.
One thing’s for sure -- next time I hear anybody talking about healthy horses, they better be holding a bucket of oats or sitting beside me at the Kentucky Derby.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.