“It’s actually become a way of life” – Controlling Type 1 Diabetes with Paleo

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controlling type 1 diabetes
Exactly one month ago today, I embarked on this new way of eating.  I don’t have positive associations with the word diet, so it’s actually now become a way of life.I’ve been a type 1 diabetic for 8 years which has meant a readjustment of how I eat but not a process that has forced me to eliminate specific things from my diet.  I was taught to eat anything in moderation.  After honeymooning in Spain and Portugal for three weeks during the month of May and eating everything these lovely countries had to offer, my new husband and I knew it was time to “detox” when we arrived back home.  In addition to eating everything, my sugar levels were all over the place and as a diabetic, that’s never a good sign.  Our really good friends, Fernando and Justine, were months into paleo, had dropped about 80 pounds collectively, so we figured we should give it a try.30 days later this is where I am.

It’s been a month-a full 30 days.  What does that mean really though?  Big deal- 30 days not 30 months or 30 years right?….WRONG!

Numerologists suggest that “the number 30 represents thought, introspection, and mental superiority.  Thirty is a neutral number and is associated with good or bad luck depending on the mental outlook of the person it represents.” Well, I like the number 30 and it’s the day I’ve been counting towards when starting this journey.
Here is what it really signifies for me.
It means:
  • A month of eating healthily and “cheating” about 2-4 times versus cheating myself every day I ate without complete consciousness.  Eating healthily means this to me:  Foods that do not have any added sugar (minus bacon), foods that have only ingredients that I can read, pronounce, and eat, foods that are mostly green and colorful (like fruits), foods that go bad if I don’t eat them versus “food” that can last a lifetime in a cabinet.
  • I’ve eaten two small pieces of bread versus a possible 2 with breakfast and sometime 2 with lunch, totaling in a possible 60-120 pieces of bread a month! This is not even counting the amount of croutons I used to eat!
  • I’ve had one meal with a little bit of feta and one cup of coffee with 1 % milk versus milk everyday and several meals with cheese.
  • I’ve lost around 10 pounds, currently at 146, without routine exercise, which is not something I suggest but that I will be changing for myself very soon.
  • Snacking on healthy food bars, fruits, almonds only when I am hungry not when I think I’m hungry.
  • I feel amazing! Seriously! Aside from the random, occasional headaches and low energy levels, I feel really good!
  • Challenging myself to continue to be better is possible.  That I, and anyone else, can really make this a lifestyle choice if we want to be around a little longer on this earth.
  • I’ve shared my story with perfect strangers, friends and family alike.  I have had close to 1,000 visits to my blog (http://ygil-maestro.blogspot.com/) and have had readers from the US, Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Canada, United Kingdom, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, and Mexico! I would have never imagined this but I hope my story has helped in some way.
    Now the most important part of this entire lifestyle change is related to my diabetes.
  • I’ve used only 10-12 units of insulin in 30 days versus a MINIMUM of 360 units (based on a minimum of 4 units per meal x 3 meals a day=12 units per day x 30).  This is incredible writing down as I hadn’t quite done this math yet.  10-12 units of insulin in a month is unheard of! I’ve contacted my nutritionist and doctor, both of who I’ll see in August, during month three of paleo.  In the meantime, my nutritionist suggested incorporating dairy for calcium, which is not something I am interested in doing.
  • I have had around 10 highs and one low in a month (high of 220 and lowest at 69).  During our honeymoon, I was having high sugar readings almost every other day and during the 8 years of being a diabetic, highs were always lingering because matching insulin to food has been the worst guessing game I’ve ever played!
  • I’ve derived great pleasure from not having to poke myself every day and plan on keeping it that way.
Day 60, month 60, here I come!
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  1. Allison
    August 15, 2011 at 9:37 am

    This is SO inspiring to read as a type 1 diabetic for 16 years!! I know what I need to do and I’m glad to see it working for other people too – sometimes I think I make my doctors crazy :)

  2. LeahinAustin
    August 15, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Yahaira, what a great story! Great blog too. I’ll keep checking in, and I hope to share it with my younger cousin at some point in the future. He has Type II diabetes and when he was younger was constantly in the hospital due to diabetes related issues. Now that he’s older (15) I’m hoping he’ll be interested in taking back control of his health, like you!
    Thank you so much for sharing your story and best of luck on your paleo journey.
    ~Leah

  3. Jeff Witt
    August 15, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Interesting that your “nutritionist” would be worried about calcium after you told him/her that you (a type 1 diabetic) only used 12 units of insulin in a month.

    Congrats! I’m heading over to your blog to learn more!

    • Amy B.
      August 16, 2011 at 9:14 am

      Yeah…tell him/her (your nutritionist) to whip out a basic textbook and be reminded of how much calcium you can get from dark leafy greens – minus the lactose and casein. :)

    • Yahaira Gil Maestro
      August 17, 2011 at 11:43 am

      I seriously need to find other advice somewhere else!

      • conor
        August 22, 2011 at 5:39 am

        Why not take calcium supplements?

        • Amy Kubal
          August 22, 2011 at 6:16 am

          They have been linked to increased risk of heart attack for one and also the calcium from supplements is not well absorbed. Eat good food and you’ll be doing yourself a lot more good.

  4. Crunchy Pickle
    August 15, 2011 at 11:08 am

    That is a great story! It is exciting to see you beating the symptoms of Type I Diabetes – keep it up!

  5. Sean
    August 15, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Awesome! I too have been on Paleo for a little over a month and have never felt better. I used to think I had great control of my type 1, but now I understand how far from being in control I actually was. Amazing that 12 units in a month is all that was needed.

  6. Jason Sandeman
    August 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I caution though – and this is a biggie…

    You note that you are type 1, but have you had your C-Peptide tests to check the amount of insulin you actually still make? If you were diagnosed 8 years prior, that suggests you are a LADA diabetic.

    The reason I feel compelled to write – you may still be in your honeymoon period. (Not from your actual honeymoon, just your pancreas may still be producing your own insulin.)

    I feel this is important, because, the preservation of your pancreatic function is paramount to your life with diabetes. I don’t think you are taking enough of your basal insulin to preserve that function. (You stated that you are taking 18 units in a month…)

    At first, all may seem well, and great! You don’t need that insulin, because of a Paleo diet!

    What will happen though is your pancreas will start to burn out what function you have left, and then you will need even more insulin.

    I wonder why the nutritionist hasn’t alerted your endo to what is going on.

    People need to be careful – you too, Robb Wolf – with what you are advertising here. Paleo is NOT a cure for T1 diabetes. There is no cure.

    The best Paleo can do is to limit the need for insulin, but again, it’s NOT a cure.

    This story is like thousands that I have read before; a person is in the honeymoon stage of their diagnosis… they drastically reduce their insulin intake – and WOW! Things are great!

    Then they get kicked in the ass with reality. They are a diabetic, and now they need EVEN MORE insulin in order to survive.

    • Robb Wolf
      August 16, 2011 at 9:13 am

      Jason-
      Back the hell up and READ the posts on Type 1 on this site. http://robbwolf.com/?s=type+1+diabetes

      All of them. listen to podcast 89. Get informed before you comment on this.

      Now, you obviously do not understand that this honeymoon stage is an opportunity to actually restore pancreatic function. This is possible is the autoimmune reaction that is damaging the pancreatic beta cells is reversed. This paper will provide a primer on this concept:
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19538307

      Now, if folks do not have any pancreatic function they will still benefit from this type of eating as they will require less insulin and will show better A1c’s and signs of systemic inflammation.

      I’m sorry I kickeed you in the balls on this but I’m dead tired of the hand-wringing Type-1 crowd that is “convinced” they cannot do anything to improve their situation. If you want to discuss this further please be articulate with the material I’ve provided. If you want to actually be of help to people, please be articulate with the material I’ve provided.

      • Jason Sandeman
        August 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm

        Robb. I respect everything that you do – but the reality is that diabetes is a degenerative disease. I have listened to all of your podcasts, and I have followed your site for over a year now. I just don’t agree with what you say about diabetes.
        As for research – I have done more research than most about my condition. I have read all that I can get my hands on from low-carb, paleo, primal, and what the ADA, CDA, and other various associations have to say.
        Here is what your abstract boils down to:
        “This new theory implies that once the autoimmune process is activated, it is not auto-perpetuating, but rather can be modulated or even reversed by preventing the continuous interplay between genes and environment. Since TJ dysfunction allows this interaction, new therapeutic strategies aimed at re-establishing the intestinal barrier function offer innovative, unexplored approaches for the treatment of these devastating diseases.”
        The “theory” is that removing the grains from the diet will reverse T1D.
        (Great, if that’s the only thing that causes T1D. The reality is that there are multiple reasons a person will go into the autoimmune destruction of pancreatic function. No where does this reference or abstract imply that insulin therapy is to be avoided.
        I am just cautious about advocating a “cure” by diet alone when it comes to T1D. It may work for T2D where a person has the chance to manage it by diet alone.
        Why is there a “fear” of insulin? Pancreatic function *could* be restored, by giving the pancreas a rest. You do that by putting the patient on insulin. There is nothing new about this – in fact, it is the main recommendation of Dr. Bernstein in his excellent book on diabetes, “The Diabetes Solution.” (Robb, if you have not read this book , it is the BIBLE on diabetes!) Trust me when I say to you that I trust a type 1 diabetic who is also a endocrinologist – who has been there, done that. (And also advocates for the Paleo lifestyle as well.)
        So, let’s look at reality here. When you are in your honeymoon phase, your pancreas reacts to the insulin you introduce to your body by functioning more effectively. It is the calm before the storm. The story with T1D is almost ALWYAYS the same, (especially if they are younger at diagnosis.) They find that their insulin ratios go way down; they get the illusion that they don’t need insulin anymore. They stop taking it, and one day their pancreas burns out.
        As for hand-wringing? I’ll tell you one thing man – I HAVE been active in my treatment.
        I have a healthy skeptical mind. I question everything I read, and I’ll tell you that I was the one that took control of my disease, and that I enjoy pancreatic function 1.5 years later AFTER my diagnosis with a combination of diet and insulin. (The usual length of the honeymoon period is 6 months.) This despite a diagnosis with an A1C of 17.1%, and average blood sugars of 24.4 mmol (440 mg/dl.) I managed to get my A1C down to 5.0% in less than 3 months, and maintain a BG level of 4.9 mmol through the combination of insulin/exercise/diet. And yes, I follow a Paleo/Primal WOE.
        I plan to keep my pancreatic function for as long as I can (by giving my pancreas a rest.) If I can, it will be until the end of my days.

        • Sarah
          October 2, 2012 at 1:35 am

          Yes, although a paleo/primal diet is a VERY good way to control type 1 it is DEFINITELY not a cure. I was diagnosed with t1 at age 12 (now 22) and have managed it well on a low-carb/paleo type diet, but it makes me angry that someone would suggest that this diet would cure the condition.

      • Jason Sandeman
        August 28, 2011 at 9:21 pm

        Robb – I would like to correspond/collaborate with you on email, but I can’t find it! If you are interested, I would love to talk the finer points by email. I am currently fitting the paleo lifestyle in my diabetes management plan, and I would love to contribute in some way to what you are doing.

          • Paul
            September 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm

            I’m a recently diagnosed 32yo T1D, and using paleo/insulin/exercise to manage during the honeymoon period. I would be very interested in following this conversation on email, if possible. I resonate with points that both of you are making here and would like to discuss more.

          • Amy Kubal
            September 15, 2011 at 5:07 am

            Paul, I would love to help you out and discuss this further! Let me know what I can do for you! http://robbwolf.com/consulting/amy-kubal-consulting/

    • Yahaira Gil Maestro
      August 17, 2011 at 11:41 am

      Jason,

      People like you inspire me even more. I know I am a diabetic and have never been in denial about it. However, after three months of being on paleo, my diabetes has been under the best control it’s ever been. I too was a skeptic but when something works, I refuse to ignore that and I refuse to keep playing the ridiculous guessing game of insulin matching. You remind me of all the negative advice I’ve gotten in the past couple of years of my life. Try and learn to celebrate accomplishments strangers share without trying to negate all of that information.

      For now, you and every other person that wants to keep me in this “uncurable diabetes” track can have a great time staying there. I, my friend, plan on continuing this thing for as long as I could.

      • Robb Wolf
        August 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm

        YOU ROCK! God forbid we tinker and try to find a better way.

    • tyson
      August 26, 2011 at 10:17 am

      I’m a type 1 as well. I am 34 years old, and I was diagnosed when I was 10. I’ve always considered myself a pretty good diabetic, but the Paleo diet has really opened my eyes.
      When I was about 19 or 20 my doctor wanted me to go on insulin resistant type medication… which is for type 2. I was turning into a type 2 diabetic because of the diet I was on (recommended by the American Diabetic Association). I got my hands on some books about eating balanced protein fat and carbs. That curbed my need for the new medication, and it took me from being really crappy to a little better than crappy.
      When I started Paleo in April, I cut my insulin by 1/3 and had the best blood sugar results since MY honeymoon period- which was about a year after I was diagnosed… I went off of insulin for a full year.
      I also started to read Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetic Solution after hearing it mentioned several times on Robb’s website. He DOES caution against going off insulin because of beta cell burn out. However, he and his patients take very little insulin, because of the extremely controlled nature of the diet. Also, I don’t know how you can take so much insulin that it actually makes you go low. I think what he’s talking about is just because you can take no insulin and your counts may be the same as they were before, or ever better… that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go off insulin. I think he was would say take what you need to take to stay at 93.
      Speaking for myself, my results aren’t quite what they were when I started. I am still on far less insulin, but not quite as much less, and my counts aren’t quite as good. I think I’m going to bite the bullet soon and do the Bernstein diet within the parameters of Paleo. It’s pretty restricted, but honestly if it can mean normal blood sugars, I kind of feel like I owe it to my wife and future kids and family. It’s like quitting smoking (I imagine)… may not be fun… but who cares?

      • Jason Sandeman
        August 28, 2011 at 9:14 pm

        Right on Tyson! This is the point I am trying to get at. I am not trying to be negative to anyone here, I am just trying to be realistic.
        Yahaira Gil Maestro makes no mention of whether she had the tests to determine insulin production. This is important – because then you can determine the course of treatment. If it is Celiac related – great – remove the grains and all could be reversed.
        I want to note that I take very little insulin myself. I am on 24 units of Levemir (which is my long-acting insulin) and I bolus 2-3 units to cover my proteins that I eat for every meal. In all, that amounts to about 30-35 units a day – which is very little.
        In fact, if I was to inject 2 units of Novo-rapid into Robb, it would have no effect. The amount of insulin is the key – you need to reduce the load on the pancreas (through diet) and give it a rest (through insulin.)
        Yahaira Gil Maestro is talking about taking 10-12 units in a 30 day period (which leads me to believe that it is a fast-acting, not a basal insulin,) which leads me to further believe that she still has limited pancreatic function left.

  7. Christi
    August 16, 2011 at 8:10 am

    You go, girl! Congratulations and keep up the great work! Doctors and nutritionists are sometimes not smart about prescribing real, whole, paleo food as the best medicine – keep doing what you’re doing because it is clearly working. I’m still horrified about what my father in-law’s dietician told him to eat for his Type 2 diabetes!

    • Yahaira Gil Maestro
      August 17, 2011 at 11:50 am

      Hi Christi!

      I clearly remember being told that I could eat whatever I wanted, in moderation, as long as I matched the insulin. How in the world was I ever going to figure that out? I mean eliminating the things that make my sugar go up makes the most sense to me, and this is all based in instinct, not direct professional advice.

      Thanks on the congrats! :)

  8. Cass
    August 19, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Yahaira congratulations on your new life and focusing on the positive.

    Well just heard about this way of life today and as a aging :) Type 1 diabetic on an insulin pump, I can’t wait to learn more. I’ve tried almost everything with very little success and the success I did have was very slow. My life with diabetes has been a roller coaster…even on the pump and exercise. I’m ready to get off this ride and get on another.

  9. Sean
    August 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Another type 1 chiming in here…yes, all of this is true in my experience. Kudos to Amy, Robb, and all the readers here who continue to tinker and hack their lifestyle to find the best and healthiest fit for them. Rad.

    I started on the “slow carb” aka Tim Ferriss diet about six months ago and saw profound, positive changes just by eliminating gluten, dairy, and heavily cutting back on fructose. 50-60% reduction in my insulin needs, among lots of other good effects.

    A couple months ago I switched to a (almost) full paleo diet while I finish training for my first triathlon, a half-ironman. Obviously I have greater carb needs due to the intense training, but it’s going well: I’m in a triathlon training group and am easily the strongest swimmer and biker in the group. It’s still tough to strike the right balance of foods, timing, and insulin, but I’m certainly a much stronger athlete on paleo than without. And I can’t wait until I’m done with tri training and give paleo a good crack under less rigorous conditions.

    Between my continuous glucose monitor, wireless pump, paleo diet, and communities like this, I’m stoked for the singularity. :)

    Amy, does your 10-12 monthly units include basal insulin too, or is this just bolus (meal time)?

    • Amy Kubal
      August 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      Hi Sean, I can’t answer that question because this is not my testimonial! I just post them! Hopefully the author will read this and respond! If you need any assistance getting your diet and training in sync let me know! I’d be happy to help you!

  10. NancyGirl
    September 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Losing 10 pounds in a month without exercise… sound like keytones to anyone else? If I took 12 units a month… I would lose weight too.

    • Jason
      September 13, 2011 at 11:42 am

      Yes, certainly she’s passing keytones in her urine after eating so few carbohydrates. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a perfectly normal state, and far better for the human body than staying high-carb and letting your triglycerides fly through the roof.

      I may have missed possible sarcasm here, so forgive me if this explanation is unnecessary, but ketoacidosis and ketosis are two completely different states. To put it extremely simply, ketoacidosis appears in diabetics who don’t treat their sugar, and it’s a potentially fatal acidic state. Ketosis is simply a state where your body primarily uses fat for fuel. She’s losing weight because her body is now free and ready to use body fat for fuel because her food intake lacks carbohydrates, not because she’s dying of her diabetes.

      There’s generally nothing wrong at all with passing keytones if your sugars are always staying within range.

      • Robb Wolf
        September 13, 2011 at 12:53 pm

        exactly

      • Jason Sandeman
        September 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm

        Plus, the amount of ketones she would be passing would be very minute, possibly even moderate. Nothing to worry about.
        Only IF her sugars are high, and she is producing moderate ketones and higher would warrant an emergency trip to the hospital.

  11. C Kelsey
    November 21, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    My 60 year old husband is a T1 Diabetic since he was 35. I recently learned of a LCHF (low carb high fat) diet and while investigating it’s use for T1 I learned of Dr. Berstein’s “Diabetes Solution.” I have been Bob’s motivator and total support through this process and we are both doing LCHF. I am having great unintended success with my IBS and he is achieving laudable results with his diabetes cutting his insulin use by 2/3’s in just two months. I get angry when I realize that this is information he should have had from his Endocrinologist from the get go. I do question the facts as stated in the above testimonial. I wonder if she was misdiagnosed and is actually T2. 12 units per month for a type 1 is awfully low. And what does she mean that she “does not poke herself every day.” Is she not checking her blood glucose???? or not injecting insulin???? Both unheard of with a Type 1. I have read Steve Cooksey’s story and blog and I know he said he lived with the belief that he had type 1 for years before learning that it was actually type 2. My understanding is that there is no “cure” for either. Type 1 takes rigourous life long monitoring but using a low carb diet makes “matching insulin to carb intake” possible. Again, as I understand it…type 2 cannot go back to eating high carb without the return of unstable blood sugar. However, whatever you believe…the proof of the pudding is in the eating” (Pun intended) Time will tell for her. And once you are educated to Paleo or LCHF you realize that it is not a temporary “diet” but a lifestyle. I wish her success and a supportive husband.

    • Ara
      February 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      “as I understand it…type 2 cannot go back to eating high carb without the return of unstable blood sugar”

      I believe that no person on the planet can eat high carb without experiencing signs of unstable blood sugar and other ill effects. Most people just think that these symptoms are part of their “normal” state. Unti you practice a primal/paleo lifestyle you don’t know how good you can feel. Most people aren’t interested in even trying it.

  12. kirsty
    December 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Would love to know where this lady is at now…..??????

  13. Marla
    January 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    My 8 year old son was diagnosed with diabetes Nov 26, 2012 and was ketosis, not ketoacidosis so he was not required to stay at the hospital. He started receiving insulin shots immediately and we were able to finally get his numbers under control. On Dec 20, 2012, we were told he was negative for the autoantibodies and that he may be a mody case? I wasn’t sure what to think, but decided to experiment with his insulin doses since we were off on break and I could check him every couple of hours. He was only getting Lantus at night and we had to reduce that to 4U. Then we went on a mini vacation up to the mountains and he started eating every carb in site and his levels went to the 300’s again. I was so discouraged, I thought this is it, our honeymoon is over and we started bolusing again. Then I was introduced to an acupuncturist on Jan 9, 2013. He put us on a very restricted diet – kind of like the Paleo diet, and my son started getting acupuncture twice a week. My son has not had Lantus or Novolog – no insulin at all since Jan 11, 2013. His numbers are well within range each time we check him. Also, his C-Peptide is at .62. I’m praying this works, forever…

  14. Pia
    July 22, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Hi everyone,
    My daughter was diagnosed with T1 in January 2014. She’s turning 3 next month.
    I’m open to all alternative routes to a better life for her but for now, she’s eating the ususal poor diet that post people consider normal in Denmark. She’s on a rollercoaster and I wake up to measure her as often as every two hours many nights.

    Does anyone here have experience with young children on this diet? She eats what she wants, not what I want. I feel guilty and responsible, like I have the knowledge but turn a blind eye. I need to take charge of this but don’t know if I have the strength to introduce a stringent regime to the whole family. Then again, if I slept more I might feel stronger.

    I would love to hear your thoughts.

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