Featured Expert Blog

Nutritionists Are People Too

Back when I was in school studying nutrition communication, my friends and I used to joke about being “nutrition superheroes.” Perfect spokesmodels for eating well and living active lifestyles, my pals and I would ooh and ahh over each other’s colorful produce-packed brown bag lunches, catch up over leisurely dinners at Boston’s best fresh food-centric restaurants (featuring just enough—but not too much—wine, for heart health of course), train for marathons together and cut out of biochemistry early to make it to yoga class.

In the years since, I’ve proudly kept up this sort of existence. Of course, eating well and staying active has its challenges. But I’m lucky. I enjoy vegetables, nuts, and beans. I know I feel best when I’m exercising, and there are loads of activities that are fun for me. And while I’m always struggling to find time to work out and to prepare the foods I want to eat, I’m usually able to pull it off.

Until now.

A couple of weeks ago, I made an appointment for a physical with the new primary care practice that opened up in my neighborhood. It’s been a while, I thought, and it would be nice to have a local doctor.

I fasted overnight in preparation for blood work. When my finger stick blood sugar test came out to be 99 (100 is considered high), I wasn’t too shaken. These tests aren’t that accurate, after all. And, sheesh—I’m a nutritionist! I eat kale and chard like it’s my job (it sort of is)! I’m on a first name basis with the organic farmers at my weekly market. Anyway. My new doctor and I agreed that we’d pay more attention to the numbers that came back from the blood taken from my arm that would get sent to a lab. No big deal, I thought.

So wasn’t I surprised yesterday to get a phone call from my doctor’s office saying that she’d like to speak with me regarding my blood work.

I cut right to the chase. “What was my hemoglobin A1C?”

[Hemoglobin A1C, in case you haven’t had blood taken in a while, is a test that measures how well your body is processing sugar over the long term—an average of around three months worth of levels]

Turns out, mine is just over the normal line, putting me at an increased risk for diabetes.

“Well,” said the doctor. “This can be very genetic.”

There’s no history of diabetes in my family. Zero.

“Do you eat loads of fruit?”

I eat a completely reasonable amount of fruit. Also, in all of my years as a nutrition professional, I have never met a person who got diabetes from eating too much fruit. Just saying.

“Do you drink a lot of smoothies?”

I mean…here and there. But I’m not a smoothie fanatic. I don’t do juice. I buy everything unsweetened. I lecture people on hidden sugars and how honey and maple syrup, while natural, will elevate your blood sugar like white table sugar does, on a regular basis. I know. I know!

So what’s going on?

It’s simple. These days, my friends, I’m not at all a nutrition superhero. I’m a person. I’m a mom.

And you know what? Being a mom is stressful. I love my new role. But no doubt, it’s taking a toll on me.

I love making beautiful, colorful, fortifying, delicious meals. But lately, I’m prone to running out the door without breakfast.

I love to exercise. Used to do it nearly every day, in some form. But lately, I can go weeks between workouts. Weeks!

I love sleep. Long, juicy nights of sleep. But these days the work day may begin at 9 p.m., once the baby’s in bed and dinner’s been cleared up (and some laundry thrown in and, and, and…). So much for slumber.

I love chocolate. And lately, I love chocolate a little too much—using it regularly to fuel my late night work sessions. Since my weight’s fine, I’ve been convincing myself it’s not a problem. But maybe it is, especially considering the stress/sleep deprived state I’ve been consuming it under.

So what’s the reason for elevated blood sugar in a person with a low BMI and absolutely no family history of diabetes? There’s a chance something bigger could be wrong, which my doctor and I will be exploring that. But in all likelihood, the reason is some combination of everything listed above, with stress and lack of exercise at the center.

Between family and work, it’s been an intense year with a lot of happiness and excitement, but also extreme sadness and tension. I know I’m on edge in a way that is completely new to me. I’m also tired. As a result, my body’s producing loads of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol over the long term leads to excess glucose, which increases your blood sugar levels. Exercise, sleep, and other de-stressing techniques can help decrease cortisol levels, and as a result, your blood sugar.

I’m a rather private person, but I’m sharing my story here to let everyone reading know that this health stuff is a challenge for everyone, including nutrition superheroes who have made it their lives work to educate and motivate others. We all need a fresh start sometimes. Today, I’m taking off my cape. Last night, I premade some overnight oats for breakfast so I had no excuse not to eat in the morning. I took a short run this morning, thanks to my super supportive husband. I threw a bag of almonds in my purse for a blood-sugar stabilizing snack I can eat if it’s looking like I’ll go too long between meals. Tonight, when I reach for the chocolate chips to help stay awake, I’m going to take it as a cue that it’s time to go to sleep.

So, who’s with me? Take off the cape and take a look in the mirror. You don’t need scary medical results to know where there’s room for improvement when it comes to your health. And there is, I guarantee, room for improvement. After all, we're only human. Tell me below, what health habit are you ready to reset?

3 Comments Post a Comment
by lidiacuny58, Jul 02, 2014
What a great story, thank you so much for sharing!  We've slowly been switching our family over to a healthier way of eating, for the sake of both our health (my husband and I) and the sake of our 2 & 4 yr. old children.  Less processed food, more healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, etc.  My problem is sweets...I can't seem to lose any more weight (I'm 42) since my 2nd child, and have been fighting what seems like a losing battle.  I've tried so many diets, which have actually worked, but as soon as the diet is over I go back to eating too many sweets.  I've even started to try to eat sweets in a healthier way (e.g., making oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip balls myself instead of buying and eating cookies), but I still eat too many sweets.  We've switched completely over to brown rice pasta and brown rice (both of which we don't eat too much of, maybe once a week each), sprouted grain bread, etc.  I think carbs (and sweets in general) are what are keeping me overweight (not that I'm blaming THEM), but I also know that going off of carbs completely is not healthy. Sigh.  It is hard being a mom, but so rewarding, and I really want to be a good example, and not have my little ones struggle as I did.  Thank you again for sharing your story.  It was encouraging me, especially to remember that stress and not sleeping enough affect us so much.  I am working on sleep (getting to bed before 10:00).  I do exercise regularly (attend Curves, mostly) but lately my feet/legs have really been hurting so I can't go every day.  Anyway, exercise and sleep, thanks for the reminder.  Having quiet time alone also helps me a lot.  Thank you, Lidia

by Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDBlank, Jul 07, 2014
Thank you so much for the comment @lidiacuny58. I am beyond thrilled to hear that this post helped someone in some way. And thank YOU for the reminder that quiet time alone is so valuable, too. I need to remember to make time for that as well. It sounds like you've made so many wonderful steps for yourself and your family. It's not easy. Good luck and good health to you!

by Goofnuts, Jul 29, 2014
Good typical human struggle story.
I already did a reset in January, when I quit smoking and started exercising.........buuuuuuuuuuttt, I decided at that time that anything is ok as long as I don't smoke. 1 thing at a time, So popcorn, pretzels, soda, and ice cream were the temporary replacements Along with nicotine lozenges. I smoked for 40 years, and used to party hardy as well (over 13 years ago) I added fruit everyday and take certain vitamins including B12 shots as directed by Dr. It is now time to reset the Ice Cream bar intake, as my workouts are only keeping me at the same weight. I have nuts everyday already, so no problem there, but the nighttime unwind preference always goes to popcorn or Ice Cream. I will never give them up, but now at 6 months smoke free, I would like to see some results from my workouts, so I am going to have to ration Ice Cream the same as I did to quit smoking. I'm glad you are human. This will prepare you for the everyday struggle that is life. Interesting info on the cortisol. I will need to work on the stress since that's what I used alcohol and cigarettes for. Take care.

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