I never thought I needed a life coach or health coach, but while writing last month's post on diabetes coaches, friend and fellow PWD Ginger Vieira kindly offered me a one-month trial to experience what it's really like working with one. Intrigued, I decided to take her up on her offer.
For the past four weeks, I've been having calls with Ginger once a week and exchanging occasional text messages, to take a look at the challenges I have in managing my diabetes and to brainstorm some solutions for what I can do differently. We just completed our fourth (and for now, last) call and while I haven't lost more than a couple of pounds, I definitely have a renewed "I can do this!" attitude toward my diabetes.
I shook up my diabetes management this past Spring when I switched from the pump to Lantus (yep, I'm still on a pump vacation), but I hadn't spent much time thinking about the other areas of my life that affect my diabetes. That's where Ginger came in.
When Ginger and I hopped on the phone for our first session, she and I walked through various areas of my life that might need work: relationships, spirituality, exercise, nutrition, career and finance. Note that not all of these are necessarily diabetes-related. Ginger says, "It helps us both become aware of what areas of life we want to focus on. Some people come to me knowing exactly what they want. Others can't quite put into words what they're really after or haven't thought of the connection between unhealthy relationships and abusing themselves with food, for example."
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Here's what I laid out for Ginger on our first call: I'm already in counseling for some other mental health issues — but none of them are health/weight/food related. Even without the diabetes, I'm hardly the picture of perfect health. I rarely exercise, I eat too much at one sitting and I really, really hate eating breakfast ("the most important meal"). I wanted the focus of my month with Ginger to be on my biggest obstacles, which many of you probably share: food and exercise.
We started each call with some relaxation breathing. As hokey as that might sound, I really liked it because it seemed to get me in the mindset of focusing on myself and my health. Between balancing work, family, friends and diabetes, I'm often stressed out. So this was a nice way to start off a session in a more relaxed, uplifting mode.
Our conversations generally lasted about an hour, with Ginger each time pointing out several things that I knew factually, but didn't know how to embrace in my life.
Battle of the Breakfast
I hate that first meal of the day. And that's what I told Ginger.
This might sound crazy to some people, but the thought of food first thing in the morning really turns me off. Plus, I have two added challenges: I don't eat cereal or bagels (my blood sugars just can't handle them) and I don't like to cook. That eliminates about 97% of all breakfast items. Jokingly, I told Ginger that maybe I should start eating non-breakfast foods and she actually agreed with me! Ginger explained that the longer I wait to eat in the morning, the slower my metabolism will be the rest of the day, effectively making it impossible to lose weight. She suggested eating a few small things, around 200 calories, even if only a couple of string cheese sticks and a piece of fruit.
For the past couple weeks, I've been doing much better on the breakfast front. First, I found that small granola bars, like Trader Joe's Fiberful Granola Bars, are light enough that they don't sit like a log in my stomach. But they're also light on protein, so I also eat a slice of cheese or string cheese for some added protein and calcium. Light fruit, like grapes and cherries, are a great option because they're light on the carbs (in small amounts) and take no prep work. I've also had the PowerCrunch bars a couple of times, which I discovered at AADE. Unlike your average meal replacement bars, these are much easier for me to eat because they are made with wafers and therefore are easier for me to digest.
Of course, if any of you have suggestions for what I could munch on early in the day before my stomach fully embraces a meal, please leave a comment! I'm all ears.
Going for Moderation
We've all heard the phrase "all things in moderation" but I've never been very good at putting it to use. That's where Ginger could help again. Instead of just giving me a list of things to eat or not eat, she listened to what my food preferences are. I explained to her (in addition to the breakfast woes) how lunch, dinner and snacks work in my household. I admitted being addicted to ice cream and that I tend to go hours between meals. Breakfast (when I get around to eating it) is in the late morning, followed by lunch right around 1:30 or 2:00. Dinner comes in around 7pm, as my husband is the cook in our family (I'm on dish duty).
But Ginger told me this is no good. Why? Because I'm eating too far apart and I'm eating too much at once. Ginger explained that, for me and my love of ice cream, the ideal meal plan would be 200-300 calories at breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack, a slightly bigger dinner at 300-400 calories, and then a normal dessert. Ginger explained would give me roughly 1500 to 1600 calories per day, which for someone my size is still a calorie deficit.
At first, I didn't think I could do it. I'm used to three square meals a day, each with an entree and a side. I didn't think I could go so small. But it turns out, it actually isn't that hard if you plan things out. For instance, for lunch, I'm used to a sandwich and chips. But instead of eating them all at once and then waiting until dinner, I split them into my lunch and snack. Ginger showed me that I don't have to go on some crazy strict diet and that I can still eat what I want. Just not all at once!
Ginger's original exercise plan was to start me off slowly with a couple days of 20-minute cardio sessions, and a couple days of strength training circuits. I liked strength training and at first didn't think there'd be a problem doing it, but then I realized that I only liked the fact that strength training helps me lose weight and it was actually really boring for me to try to keep it up. Note to self: be honest or you'll get stuck doing stuff you hate!
While talking, I realized a few things about my own preferences: I hate working out at home (too distracting!) and I hate doing straight weight-lifting. It's not that I think I'll bulk up, I just don't find it very enjoyable doing repeated motions all by myself. Ginger suggested I investigate some classes in my area to see if I could find something that I like. She suggested Body Pump, a strength-training workout developed by Australians, that is offered at gyms around the country. She also said something like CrossFit (bootcamp-like workouts) would help, but that it might be too intense for me. In my research, I found something called the Bar Method, which is based off one of my favorite cardio exercises, ballet. It incorporates resistance training and light-weights, so it's not pure weight-training, but still a good workout. When I admitted to Ginger that I chickened out of my CrossFit trial in exchange for visiting the local Bar Method studio — and I liked it — she said great!
In an email over the weekend, she wrote, "If the bar class was fun, and you felt it, then that's a better choice than standard strength-training for YOU... because you enjoyed it, and you'll want to go again :) It's of course an awesome workout, and definitely involves body-weight strength-training, so go for it."
No lectures that I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing! No guilt-trips! Just listening to what my issues are and helping me find something that works for me. Hey, some exercise is better than no exercise, am I right?!
My final observation is that, as many of us in the DOC have expressed, nothing compares to connecting with someone who actually gets it. Obviously there are many smart and caring educators, nutritionists, personal trainers, and what-have-you's out there, but there is a neat perk to having a fellow PWD be your guide.
In Ginger's case, there 's one caveat: she's not just a PWD. She is a a former power lifter herself and now a highly trained and experienced personal fitness trainer and life coach. She has faced all these challenges herself. She knows her stuff and why it's important, and she knows how to ask probing questions, brainstorm solutions, and support people. And this is what makes coaching different from your average afternoon on Twitter. Sure, PWDs might know a lot about their own bodies, but that doesn't always translate for other people. Many people can get very stuck in "their own way" of doing things. But the hallmark of a good coach is not forcing anyone to fit into a cookie-cutter routine, or do anything they don't feel motivated to stick with on their own. Rather, the value coaches add is figuring out what our unique hiccups are and working with that to get us where we want to go -- our own way.
Having someone to talk with about different options and to check in with me is awesome (!). Although going forward, I'm not sure I can afford both a mental health therapist and a diabetes coach, knowing the benefits of working with a coach when my diabetes management needs a little tune-up is priceless.