Dubbed the ‘Silent Pandemic’ of our times, type 2 diabetes is a huge health issue in our country – and around the world. So many have it, but don’t realise it. Currently, 1 in 4 adults are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes – with the largest proportion of Australians with type 2 diabetes in the 50-79 age bracket according to the National Diabetes Service Scheme.
The good news is, diabetes can be managed – if you educate yourself, take steps to change your diet and shoehorn more activity into your day. Here’s how Yvonne Appleby, ambassador for Diabetes NSW / ACT, changed her life after being diagnosed with type 2 in 2011.
“I was ill on and off for a long time before I discovered I had type 2 diabetes. I kept getting sore throats, and earaches, and I gained 20 kilos over 4 years, which was significant as I’d been a size 8-10 most of my life. I was getting really bad headaches and migraines and I felt something wasn’t right.
“One early blood test showed my blood glucose levels were a bit high, but my GP just said if I dieted and exercised it would go down. I know now that I was pre-diabetic then, but I trusted my doctor. She did ask if I was peeing a lot or thirsty all the time and I wasn’t, so she told me ‘it couldn’t be diabetes’. It didn’t occur to me to get a second opinion. I just assumed she knew what she was talking about.
After her diagnosis, Yvonne has taken steps towards a healthier and more active lifestyle
“Finally I couldn’t handle being so unwell anymore and asked for another blood test. It then showed up that I had type 2 diabetes and at that point I had been sick on and off for 6 or 7 years. I know now that not everyone gets typical symptoms. Some people have zero symptoms. If I had my time again, I wouldn’t have left it so long. I would’ve gotten a second opinion, or changed doctors (I have now). I know you can take steps to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know much about diabetes. I’d heard the horror stories, but I didn’t know it was common in the older age group – like 50 and over. And my doctor wasn’t a lot of help. She just said, ‘You’ve got diabetes, go to the chemist and get a blood glucose monitor’. I also went on Metformin and as soon as I was on that, I started feeling better within three days.
“At first, I had no idea what I was doing. I was testing my glucose levels for about a week thinking, ‘I’m writing all these numbers down but what do they mean? Are they low? High? Normal?’ I remember one time my sugar dropped to 4.3mmol and I panicked and started eating nuts and it just went lower. I rang the Diabetes NSW customer care line and they said, ‘Oh no. Nuts will just lower your glucose levels – you need a bit of orange juice or some lollies to bring it back up’. It was all very trial and error getting to know what worked for me. I was lucky to know a lady who works at Diabetes NSW and I rang her and told her I’d just been diagnosed. She asked me to come in and talk to someone.
“I did an 8-week education course there, which was hugely helpful. We had an exercise physiologist, a dietitian and a diabetes educator talk to us. They taught us how to read nutritional panels, which is something I never did before. We had to put cereal boxes in a line according to how much sugar they had in them and Nutrigrain was something like 46 per cent sugar! That’s really stuck with me.
“My diet before was bad. Lots of sugar. Now, I make much more sensible choices. Lots of vegies and swaps to low-GI foods. I’ve totally changed how I think about food. I no longer skip meals either, which I’d had a tendency to do.
“I also took up dancing and at one stage I was dancing 9-10 hours a week, doing rock’n’roll and Latin dance. I became an assistant dance teacher and I lost 15kg just from dancing and eating well. I even got to dance with Robbie Kmetoni, former winner of So You Think You Can Dance Australia, for the Move4Diabetes campaign. Two years after being diagnosed, my sugars were stable, I was the fittest I’d ever been and I was even off my meds. My doctor was very pleased.
Yvonne is embracing a new life! She took up dancing and lost 15kg
“I’ve had some health problems since including a serious respiratory infection and some knee issues. As a result I’ve been on steroids and haven’t been able to exercise as much, but my HbA1c levels were still that of a non-diabetic person – around 5.5mmol when I was last tested. When I was diagnosed they were 9mmol! I’m back on the meds to keep my glucose levels stable, but when I’m better I’ll be getting back into dancing and getting back on track.
“My advice to anyone who’s newly diagnosed is to go to the Diabetes NSW and ACT webpage. Ring the customer care line. They saved my skin a lot of times because I had no idea where to turn. They also have amazing recipes and advice. You can ask questions and talk to an expert. I also think it’s important for everyone to get routinely tested because there are so many people out there with diabetes who don’t know they have it. If you have prediabetes, losing just 10 percent of your body weight can stop you developing type 2 diabetes. So early diagnosis is really important.”
Want info and advice about type 2 diabetes? Chat to your GP, visit Diabetes NSW or phone 1300 136 588.