Twenty-eight

By age 28 I was living in NYC and working for IBM, teaching database programming courses. While my eating habits had never sunk back to the depths they were when I was 20, I still struggled. Food was always on my mind, and cravings were nearly constant. Often at work there were breakfast pastries laid out for the students – and those pastries were yummy. They were also terrible for my blood sugar — a fact that was now very clear because of personal blood glucose meters. A quick finger prick, blood on the test strip, into the meter, and oh look, my blood sugar is 300! Oooph. Since I had not been able to fix my ‘moral shortcoming’, fear and shame hovered as I saw every day the numbers on my glucose meter. At the same time I would tell myself that most of my friends struggled with eating and dieting … maybe I was one of the crowd? But my kidneys, my eyes, and my general health were suffering. It seemed I could only control my self-destructive eating for short periods of time. And truthfully, there were moments when I did not really want to let go of the binging … because food tasted absolutely divine when I was in binge mode. If I had a craving and was able to find my favorite corn muffin in a local bodega, it was ten minutes of food bliss.        

Then, one evening Joan and I had one of our epic phone conversations about living with diabetes. We were soul mates on the subject (still are). Joan and I had both been taking the same two types of insulin, NPH and Regular, but Joan’s doctor had suggested a switch. She was on Ultralente instead of NPH now, and found that it worked better for her.  I wanted to try it, so after an appointment with my doctor, I filled the prescription and started the new insulin. 

Within 24 hours of taking the new Ultralente … MY WORLD CHANGED. I stopped being hungry all the time. The cravings were gone. Hours could pass without food entering my mind. It was extraordinary. Extraordinary! I was a new person. I thought about the struggle I had lived with for the previous ten years … now, the struggle was gone. To my surprise, I didn’t even miss the food binge bliss … because instead, I felt control.

The new insulin more closely matched what my body needed, and that was my magic bullet. Still to this day, my insulin needs change from time to time, and when my doses become too low for my needs, the hunger and cravings return.  But now I can adjust my insulin, and within hours I become that new person again. It’s important to point out that my experience is not universal.  Most people with diabetes do not get insatiable hunger when their insulin doses are slightly off.  There is so, so much variation between people’s biology. I once described my scenario to a diabetes doctor … he said he had not heard of my situation before. I think he also might not have believed me, but that’s a whole nuther topic.  

I can however think of at least three stories that seem to relate to mine.   (1) Remember back in the 80’s when Claus Von Bulow was convicted (and later acquitted) for murdering his wife by giving her an overdose of insulin? The defense claimed that Claus didn’t kill his wife; she overdosed herself using insulin as a dieting aid. So, okay, if she did have a pancreas that was not producing enough insulin, judging by my experience, she could well have benefited by taking tiny amounts of insulin. The amount that killed her? … well that’s probably a different story. (2) An acquaintance, Cathy, started taking an oral medication usually prescribed for Type II diabetes. Cathy didn’t have a Type II diagnosis – the medicine was prescribed for something else. After she had been on it for a few months, she realized she had lost twenty pounds. Cathy described that she had just stopped thinking about food all the time, stopped snacking all the time. Sound familiar? Maybe Cathy had had borderline Type II diabetes, her insulin levels were low, and her snacking was just like mine was. Being on a medication that ramped up her insulin function may have provided the same magic that correcting my insulin had. (3) My mom. As a young person mom was tiny, then after age 30 she was overweight. She loved, LOVED sweets. (She was a closet Ring Ding eater : ) In older age, mom’s doctor would occasionally test her blood and find a high-ish blood sugar. Interestingly, mom was frantic about being hungry. Hunger made her crazy uncomfortable. She kept snacks in her purse, graham crackers on her bedside table … in case she got hungry. If she hadn’t had a snack in the last hour, mom would be anxious. I’m convinced her insulin levels were slightly low … not enough for a doctor to label her with true Type II diabetes, but enough to make her struggle, the way I did.    

It is clear that individual biology and chemistry make and control a person. My experience only involves insulin, but there are so many other hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, microorganisms, pollutants, etc. — that affect our individual health and personality.  We know so little.  Obesity is a worldwide epidemic, which cannot be attributed to people’s individual shortcomings. The processed, man-made foods we eat (think, high fructose corn syrup) may be altering the pancreatic/insulin function of whole populations. Pesticides in our food or water might be dulling brain chemistry that regulates hunger. Not for everyone, but for those who are susceptible. We need to learn and understand so much more.

We also need to be more accepting of people who struggle. More accommodating. I have been a ‘thin’ person most of my life, but because of my history of binging, I’ve always felt akin to others who struggle with their weight.  I understand the urgent need to eat while at the same time knowing it’s not the right thing to do.  It is only because my kidneys were pissing out calories that I didn’t face the same ridicule and discrimination overweight people face.

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Some of you, my dear readers, might be thinking … okay, TMI, TMI. Isn’t this blog just a quick tribute to the terminal cancer that will be over soon? I don’t need to know all this!
Well, right now there is nothing to report about my cancer (yay)!   Next DF appointment is August 6th.  Until then I’m hoping that even just one reader will see something here that resonates.     : )

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an old fuzzy photo of me in Times Square in 1988

4 Replies to “Twenty-eight”

  1. Your story definitely had a huge impact on me -first because I’m learning so many things about my sister !!! And secondly because I too have had huge behavioral issues that were later discovered to be chemical and so were luckily altered with chemical intervention i.e. medication. I agree that each of our biological destinies is unique and at the same time certainly at the mercy of major, as yet unclear forces in our environment. Two steps forward one step back ?

  2. Both posts were very insightful and reinforce the fact that we should be aware all the factors that can affect one’s behavior and health. And it is particularly important that we consider these before getting down on ourselves.

  3. Thank you, Kaki, for writing so well about many difficult topics. You have had to come to understand them and yourself in order to survive. And, thank goodness, you have! Love you! Miss you soooooo much.

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