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When I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the disease became my entire life. I was drowning in paperwork telling me who to pay, what to eat, how to medicate, and what to do if I got sick. But as months and years passed, diabetes management became just a part of my goal to live healthfully. I realized that I couldn't compartmentalize my health. I cannot pinpoint when my obsession with all things healthy started, but once it did--well, I've never looked back.
Like many people with diabetes, I found that my dietary needs and desires changed dramatically as I learned how different foods affected my blood sugars and as I became well acquainted with nutrition labels. Suddenly a bowl of frosted flakes or a serving of chicken nuggets dunked in spicy sauce didn't seem as pleasurable. I was learning exactly what was in the foods I readily consumed, and I realized that I couldn't continue. I simply felt too guilty knowing that what I was ingesting was damaging my body.
Additionally, I realized that exercise could no longer be an "if I feel like it" activity. So I learned to make it mandatory. Each morning, I get up, eat breakfast, and head to the gym, out for a walk, or to my elliptical machine in the basement. Exercising keeps my blood sugars more stable, boosts my mood, and makes me stronger. And you know what? I actually enjoy it. I know, I'm strange.
But learning these things wasn't enough for me, so I started reading books on diabetes management and made changes, sometimes weekly. As I saw improvements in my blood sugar control, I gained more confidence as a patient, as a consumer, and as a person pursuing a better life. One book led me to another, and to another, and to another, and before I knew it, I consistently had twenty books on my nightstand on all sorts of topics related to health. I learned about breast cancer, yoga, and vegetarianism, among dozens of other topics.
Recently, my drive to learn about all things healthful progressed into the going green movement. What exactly is "going green"? Generally, it means that you are learning about how what you do, buy, eat, clean with, and more impacts the world, society, and yourself, and you make choices accordingly.
Now, I used to be completely (and happily) oblivious to anything green-related. I didn't recycle, I slathered chemical-laden products onto my body, and I used as many paper napkins, facial tissues, and squares of toilet paper as I wanted. I didn't think twice about waste, organic foods, or where I bought my clothes. I believed that "free trade coffee" and "organic cotton T-shirts" were for tree-hugging hippies who needed to get a real life and stop wasting money.
Then I became a diabetic and then a mom, two events that rocked my world. I learned that what I was putting into my mouth mattered. It mattered a lot. And because I'm the grocery shopper and cook in my home, I was, in part, in charge of the health of my husband and daughter. It wasn't just about me anymore. So I found a list of the dirty dozen (most pesticide-laden produce items) and gradually worked my way into healthier purchasing and cooking practices.
I began to learn, as many green experts preach, that the cleaning product industry is highly unregulated, which leaves consumers easily swayed by words like "natural" and "fresh scent" printed on product labels. I swapped almost all of my cleaning products for white distilled vinegar. It's very inexpensive and it's nontoxic, so when my toddler, in one of her adventurous moods, decides to lick the floor, she's not ingesting chemicals laden with artificial lemon scent.
I also learned that what we put onto our bodies is just as important as what we put into our bodies. As one green author pointed out, our skin is our largest organ, so why aren't we respecting it more? I spent a few hours one weekend reading the labels on every body and bath product we owned and ended up throwing out over half of them. Then I went out and bought a few products to replace them; products that were free of some the most appalling chemicals that secretly boast of side effects like cancer, breathing difficulties, and allergies. These nasty side effects are not only scary, but like diabetes, they are life-altering and can be deadly.
As you probably know from reading some of my other articles, I'm in it to win it. I'm not going to deal with my health halfway. I have been blessed with fabulous resources (like a stellar library and great health insurance), a beautiful family (who relies on me to make many important decisions), and an able body (that deserves my attention and management). My life is full of possibilities and responsibilities, and who am I to waste it, take it for granted, or abuse it?
Many of my health-fanatic friends and I talk about whether relying on our knowledge of food, cleaning products, exercise, and more is truly the way to live. We conclude that we can't hide or ignore what we have learned. It's always there, tapping on our shoulders, begging for compliance. Knowledge is very powerful, but it also comes with some pretty serious responsibilities. And responsibility takes time and effort. Thus, many choose ignorance, because for right now, it's easier.
But what about tomorrow? What about your child's tomorrow? Your grandkids? I believe the investments and implementations I'm making in my home in the name of better health make a difference. I think I'm worth the effort. I think my family is worth the effort. And I think you are, too.