Milly shares her experiences and obstacles she faces after her recent diagnosis of type 1 diabetes aiming to share and spread awareness throughout the fitness community.

What is Type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed by ‘killer cells’ of our immune system, meaning insulin production is put to a stop. For those who don’t know what insulin is, it’s a hormone that helps our body use sugars (as sugar is one of the main sources of energy, especially in the brain). Without insulin, sugars are digested and just remain floating around our bloodstream, instead of being used up as fuel in our muscles. This leaves us with high blood sugar, which makes our blood acidic and makes us very ill. This is called diabetic ketoacidosis. Symptoms of DKA include extreme thirst, frequent toilet trips, dizziness, blurred vision, and increased risk of infections such as candidiasis. If we stay in a state of DKA too long, unfortunately, there is a high chance of death, as muscles have no fuel and the body turns to other forms of fuel such as protein and fats, and so bodyweight decreases rapidly! Those with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin to stay alive, in the form of an injection or pump (continuous insulin via cannula connected to a little phone-like device) and monitor blood sugars 24/7. We are at risk of low blood sugar (too much insulin, not enough glucose in the bloodstream) and high blood sugar (not enough insulin, too much glucose in the bloodstream) because of the many factors influencing insulin-glucose movement, such as the weather, stress, exercise, hydration, etc... low blood sugar is fatal if left untreated also, and can cause shakiness, confusion and in severe cases diabetic seizure and death. So it’s very important those with type 1 take precautions to prevent unstable blood sugars, despite how difficult this may be!

What made you realise you had Type 1 diabetes, initial symptoms, etc? 

I remember looking out of my window one day and I couldn’t focus on anything properly. I could see but I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly I could see! I could see the houses, but I couldn’t focus on what they looked like, and that was the first time I realised something was wrong. It all happens so slow, so I didn’t really notice my increase in water intake (although it ended up 6-7 litres per day) and it took me around 2 months to watch my weight drop from 9 to 7 stone whilst eating over 3000 calories per day to realise something really wasn’t right. To be honest, I never thought I had type one diabetes, but looking back I can’t believe I didn’t know.

How does Type 1 diabetes affect your daily life?

It used to completely consume my day. My every move was determined by my blood sugars because it’s so scary at the start knowing one wrong move and it could be the end. But now it doesn’t really control me. I check my blood sugars when I’m curious and around mealtimes, inject insulin when my blood sugar is too high or I’m eating carby foods, and make sure I take sugar and diabetes equipment with me everywhere I go. I have a device in my arm with a little tube called a freestyle libre 2. This monitors my blood sugar 24/7 and sends my phone an alarm to let me know if my blood sugar is out of range. There are bad days when it completely knocks me out, but I know when to take time out for myself now, and I never push myself to do anything I know my body won’t benefit from.

In what ways have you adapted your gym life, if any?

Now I make sure I eat a very carby and high protein meal 1-2 hours before I go to the gym. I take a bag full of different foods for every occasion of blood sugar needs. If I’m weight training, I’ll add some aerobic exercise around it (even if it’s getting on the treadmill or walking to the gym), because this keeps my blood sugars down. I do still work out spontaneously because I find it helps me feel free from my routined life of diabetes but having a plan in mind before I enter the gym always helps. The gym has benefited my diabetes so much so I couldn’t imagine not going!

Did you change your diet in any way?

When I was first diagnosed, my diet was cut to 1500 calories per day. 40 carbs per meal and absolutely no snacking unless I had low blood sugar (where I’d have glucose tablets only). I missed all my favourite foods and was constantly hungry and tired. I just don’t work well with low-calorie low-carb diets. So after a couple of months of getting used to the way insulin works with my body, I started to incorporate ‘new foods’. These were foods I’d already had before, but because the doctor told me I ‘shouldn’t’ have them, and because I didn’t know how my blood sugars would react to the foods (some foods with higher fats and protein tend to cause higher sugars hours after ingested, where other sugary foods will shoot your sugars up straight away) I had to try them all for the first time again. There are still foods I haven’t tried; I only had my first bag of popcorn a year after diagnosis. But I’m mostly back to my usual diet before diagnosis, which I’m so happy about! Your diet shouldn’t change because of type one diabetes, you just have to find the right timing and amount of insulin to work with the foods you love.

What advice would you give someone who also faces Type 1 diabetes?

I’d definitely tell them to make a separate account to document their diabetes life. When you’re diagnosed it feels like you lose part of yourself, and you start from the beginning. Literally, baby steps, walking for the first time, running for the first time, eating this and that for the first time. It can be so overwhelming. But when I made my account, I was in touch with many other diabetic people who had been or were in the same situation, I was in. People who understand your struggles and can pick up time and time again. I also find my page the best for giving myself a pay on the back and celebrating something that ‘normal’ people might not take notice of. It’s a real community and I think it’s been the biggest help for me starting my diabetic journey in life.

Follow Milly on social media @diabeteswithmilly