I don’t like to tell myself No.
It’s probably my greatest character flaw and something that I briefly talked about last week in my post on my diabetes secrets. My inability to tell myself No has affected my weight, my diabetes, my finances, my relationships… pretty much my entire life and I haven’t quite been able to break myself out of the habit of letting myself get away with things that I know are not good for me. I have learned over the years how incredibly easy it is to convince ourselves that the absolute worst decision in the world is the right one.
For instance, if I was at an event where there was food, and they had four kinds of cookies available — and I liked all four flavors — I would eat all four cookies. Often times when I’m in line at Starbucks or at a restaurant looking at the menu, my mind will zero-in on the worst food possible as the one that I should most definitely order even though I’ve told myself dozens of times that I need to start eating healthier, I should stop eating so many carbs, I shouldn’t eat foods if I can’t count the carbs. All of those are very well-intentioned resolutions that I’m not sure I have ever actually followed through on.
And in the end, all it does is hurt me.
On Saturday, while in Philadelphia for the Insulindependence event on diabetes and exercise, I started both lunch and dinner at perfect numbers. I was 89 mg/dl at lunch (and dropping) and I was 104 mg/dl at dinner. My blood sugars could have been meter advertisements! And then what do I do? I order sandwiches with a boatload of French fries and I eat all of them. I have never been able to properly count French fries to save my life (mostly because I’m in constant carb denial about how much they really are), so I end up skyrocketing to 300+ for several hours after.
I attended the conference with one of my best friends, Caroline, and we discussed my difficulties with food and weight on the way home. At one point, she shared with me an email exchange that she had with a lurker in the D-community who has very strict control over his diabetes. She told me that this individual never eats carbohydrates if his blood sugar is over 150 mg/dl. Wow, I thought. We both agreed that it’s hard to be that stringent, and this person is a pretty unique individual.
But then I realized that there are people who are that stringent with their diabetes. Pregnant women with diabetes are very strict with their diabetes. Athletes, like the ones attending that days event, are also pretty strict with their diabetes management, because it affects their performance. Gary Scheiner, one of the presenters, shared how blood sugar can affect our strength, stamina, flexibility, and our mental energy too. We manage our diabetes around our fitness because that allows us to do what we want. I realized that our desire for our goal versus our desire for the immediate reward was incredibly important. It’s not that we love one thing and hate the other. It’s that we love one thing more than the other.
I realized that when it comes to my fitness goals, I’m also pretty diligent about doing what I need to do to get outside to train for a race. I tweak my basals and boluses so that my blood sugars are in that prime spot — not too high and not too low. It’s the reason I went from being an evening exerciser to a morning exerciser. In those times, my desire for running outweighed my desire for sleep. But I find that I only do this for running. I’m only concerned with having the best blood sugars when it comes to my running performance. But what about the other 23 hours in the day?
Why don’t I see my life as performance?
For one thing, I think at this point I’m used to weaving in high and low blood sugars so that I’m able to function pretty normally if my blood sugar is 180 mg/dl or even 280 mg/dl. Having elevated blood sugars doesn’t affect me the way that it would if I was always running. Because mildly high blood sugars are typically asymptomatic, it’s very easy to ignore them as not being a big deal.
Gary said that it’s very difficult for most of us to be motivated by threats of complications in the far off future. We react to things in the immediate present. This is very true for me. I think I have had a hard time motivating myself to say No because saying Yes hasn’t really been such a bad thing. I don’t have any heart, kidney, or eye problems as a result of my diabetes. Other than a mild thyroid deficiency, a Vitamin D deficiency, and a broken pancreas, I’m the picture of perfect health.
So what’s my motivation here?
Well, two things. Dr. Matt Corcoran, founder of the Diabetes Training Camp, explained that one of the key steps to enhancing sports performance is to actually cutting out the chaos in our lives. Simplifying our diabetes management will make it easier to make modifications to our diabetes plan. Although we can’t completely eliminate variables, if we’re able to really fine-tune our basal rates and bolus ratios, have a solid nutrition plan, and more effort overall going into managing diabetes better, then that will only help us when it comes to exercise. We will be set up to succeed.
The second thing that struck me was a presentation by Anna Floreen, from Glu, who participated in an Artificial Pancreas trial in Boston. I have heard many people with diabetes say that for the first time, they felt “normal” when they were on the the Artificial Pancreas. Their highs were minimized and their lows non-existent. Their week-long A1C was close to perfect. I thought to myself, how would I even know what normal feels like anymore? Maybe I am just incredibly adapted to feeling like total shit all the time. What would happen if I actually worked toward being more like the non-diabetics in my life? How would I feel then?
Working toward being like the non-diabetics in my life does not mean acting like one. Because I’m not a non-diabetic. I’m not even like other diabetics. My husband gently pointed out to me the next day while I was discussing my revelations that I do have a tendency to want to do the things that I see other people doing, even if I know it won’t be beneficial to me. If I see someone else eating four cookies, then goddamit, I want four cookies too.
Telling myself no is probably the most uncomfortable thing I could ask myself to do. I’m already writhing in anxiety and I’m not even saying No to anything. But as I talked to Caroline, I realized that there are a lot of uncomfortable things that I do to manage my diabetes. I check my blood sugar and I wear a pump and CGM. They aren’t fun, but I do them because that’s what you do. Then I considered that maybe what I needed to do was reframe the negatives into positives.
I read this in a parenting magazine a long time ago: they said that when disciplining a child, it was better to give them an alternative rather than simply saying No. Instead of saying “No, don’t color on the wall!” you would say “Color on this piece of paper.” Instead of “No, don’t hit your sister with that toy,” you would say “Play with this other toy.”
I’m not entirely sure how to reframe denial into a positive, but I think I would start this focusing on what I would be getting, or perhaps even a compromise to make certain situations a little easier. Instead of “No, you can’t have all four cookies” I could tell myself that I can have my favorite flavor now, and save the others for later. Or I could tell myself that instead of having French fries at the restaurant, I could have ice cream at home (which has carb counts and I can measure it out, thus making it easier to manage then copious amounts of carbobomb French fries).
I hate telling myself No. But I also want to perform better. Not just as a runner, but as a wife, student, employee, friend and — hopefully soon — mother.