Wednesday 23 October 2019

'Just 18 months ago, my bloods were fine - now I'm diabetic' - writer Barbara Scully on her shock diagnosis

Having been in denial about her weight for years, a shock diagnosis has forced writer Barbara Scully to take action and get fit

Barbara Scully at her home in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Barbara Scully at her home in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

I have been in denial about myself for years, but that denial came to an abrupt end two weeks ago when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

I am fat and like most people who are fat, I know I am fat. Perhaps I don't look as fat as I am because I am six-feet tall. I would be described as a big woman. But I have always felt a bit too big for my world so it's my normal.

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However, as I waddled past the midpoint of my fifties, a couple of things happened that made my being fat start to bother me, a little. I became a grandmother and around the same time, my knees began to complain about the weight they have to bear every day.

I kind of ignored my knees by assuring them regularly that I would lose some weight soon. But I definitely didn't want to be a fat, unfit granny. However, neither fact was enough to motivate me to take myself in hand. I was all body positivity and in denial that my health could be compromised by my attitude to food and fitness.

I love food. I use it as a comfort and a reward. I like to bake and am a huge fan of my creations. I love desserts and ice cream.

I am not a fan of exercise and I made up a million excuses to avoid it. I knew my ageing muscles could do with some gym work but gyms are scary places when you are an overweight, unfit 57-year-old woman. I always felt that I would need to lose weight before I would consider walking into a gym. Swimming meant having to wash and dry my hair afterwards and sure, who'd have time for that?

Walking was something I did occasionally but found boring as hell. Podcasts would have helped and I'd think yes, I must download some podcasts and then I will walk more. I still haven't one podcast on my phone.

My lifestyle was lovely and comfortable and I was getting away with it. I went for a full medical check up less then 18 months ago. And although I did get a bit of a lecture about my weight, my blood work came back just fine. So, I was healthy. I don't really drink and I am a vegetarian. I am a bit unfit (I am very unfit) but I am great. I love my body and thought my body loved me.

But recently I have been tired. Very tired. Even on holiday, I was tired. Falling asleep tired. I consulted Dr Google and diabetes came up. So, I researched further and found I ticked many of the boxes for type 2 diabetes - family history (my dad developed diabetes when he was my age). tiredness, thirst (but I love water and drank loads, so hadn't really noticed), increased peeing (but all the water), and my finger was a bit numb.

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A vegan diet contains only plants, such as vegetables, grains and foods made from plants. Photo: PA

So, I made an appointment with the doctor and sure enough when the blood test results came back this time, I was in trouble. Not life-threatening trouble, but enough trouble that I now have no choice but to change my lifestyle if I want to avoid more problems down the line. My GP mentioned kidneys, feet, heart and eyesight. So the time has come. I have been told to lose weight, cut sugar and start taking medications for both diabetes and high cholesterol.

I will admit that I bounced out of the GP surgery, thinking 'I can do this'. Just eat less, cut sugar and move more. It seemed fairly straightforward. But in the week after diagnosis I found myself increasingly confused as to what I should have for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner. My old options were generally no longer options.

My doctor had given me a phone number for the HSE to call about joining their 'X-Pert Programme' for newly diagnosed diabetics. Apparently, this group workshop would give me all the information I needed, along with hooking me up with a dietitian. Happy days. Except that when I called, I was told that the next available course in my area, Ballinteer (I live in Cabinteely, so not really my area) was at the end of October. Two whole months away.

READ MORE: 15 ways to control diabetes

I know that to be successful in losing weight, I have to act while the shock value of the diagnosis is still a motivator. In two months', time I would most likely be saying "yeah, I am diabetic but sure I am grand." I also want to get off the medications as soon as possible. A friend of mine, also a diabetic and a healthcare professional, alerted me to the Diabetic Unit in St Michael's Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, which offers support and I have now been referred to them by my GP. I am waiting to hear from them.

While I wait for the HSE services, I have begun the process of overhauling my lifestyle. Exercise is fairly straightforward. Yes, I am now walking, fast. It's the easiest option being free and available anytime. I haven't downloaded any podcasts yet but I have made myself a 'fitness' playlist and find that playing music helps me keep my pace up. However, I want to vary my exercise regime because with my low boredom threshold I know that I will get fed up with just walking.

So, I have been for my first swim (left my hair till the morning and hoped no one would call to see me) and I have also had my first two gym sessions, neither of which were as horrendous as I had feared.

Like many people who have never been inside a gym, I had this vision of a hellish dark place, where the walls reverberated with booming music, full of sweaty, toned bodies going hammer and tongs on those menacing looking machines. I consciously chose to visit my local community leisure centre in Loughlinstown where I found a gym that is bright and with only minimum booming music. It is cheap and I began by having a 'one to one' session with one of their trainers who was supportive and kind and made me feel very, well, normal.

It is important to judge when the ideal time is for you to exercise, in order to give yourself the best chance of making it a permanent addition to your life. For me, right now, that is the evening, the time when I used to be lounging happily on my sofa watching TV, with a cuppa and maybe a slice of cake. I am not going to say I am loving all the activity but I am not hating it and I like how virtuous I feel afterwards.

I am still getting to grips with the food end of things. I have reduced portions and carbohydrates and of course cut sugar. But I am still in a fog about many issues regarding the relationship between carbs and sugar, and fruit sugar, and natural sugars etc.

READ MORE: How going vegan may be the secret to managing diabetes

Although I have just discovered the Diabetes Ireland website which has lots of information including a one-hour online programme for new diabetics which I will do this week.

So, I now have a long-term illness which is a bit of a shocker but the great thing is that it's one I can control myself.

The next year or so will tell if I can finally lose weight, along with cutting sugar (all those cakes) and getting on the road becoming a healthier me.


What is diabetes?

⬤ Diabetes is a lifelong condition caused by lack or insufficient insulin. Insulin is a hormone which aids the body in digesting sugar or glucose. So, diabetes is characterised by high blood sugar levels which in time if not treated can have serious consequences for your heart, feet, kidneys and eyes.

⬤ There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 often occurs in children but can also occur in adulthood and always requires treatment with insulin injections. Type 2 develops slowly in adulthood and can be treated with diet, exercise and medication. The risk factors for type 2 diabetes are sedentary lifestyle, age, obesity and family history.

⬤ Diabetes Ireland estimates that there are approximately 225,000 people with the condition in Ireland, with between 10,000 and 12,000 being diagnosed every year.

⬤ Contact Diabetes Ireland via the helpline, 01 8428118, or see

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