We may joke about “surfing the waves” of glucose when it comes to life with diabetes, but any talk of sugar surfing these days may be a reference to a new diabetes book that is definitely the real deal. It’s written by none other than Dr. Stephen Ponder, a well-known and highly regarded pediatric endocrinologist in Central Texas who’s also been living with type 1 himself for almost 50 years, since age 9.
Dr. Ponder is a self-described “sugar surfer,” who’s combined his personal and professional medical experience to create his own unique tried-and-true method for managing diabetes in this modern era of continuous glucose monitors (CGM) and other advanced diabetes technology.
In 2014, after hearing from countless people in the D-Community wishing for a central place to find his tips and tricks, Stephen decided to self-publish a book that’s actually a compilation of many forum and online posts he made over the past several years.
This is his first book, and he launched a crowdfunding campaign to support it; he ended up raising $20,715 from a few hundred people over just a single month!
That led to this Spring 2015 release of his 280-page volume in May 2015, co-written by Kevin McMahon, a medical device designer in the San Francisco Bay Area whose daughter Darby was diagnosed with type 1 in 2001. (He invented an early wireless device called GlucoMON back in 2004)
During the past few months, we’ve seen a flurry of discussion online about Dr. Ponder’s Sugar Surfing method and the book itself. We even saw it being promoted on the exhibit hall of the Friends For Life Conference in July, where our data-sharing friends at Nightscout had it on display. Dr. Ponder has also been traveling the globe, holding small workshops on his concept — from San Francisco, to Chicago and London in just these past few months.
To change things up a bit, today we’re happy to feature a guest book review penned by a friend from the Diabetes Online Community (DOC), Mike Barry in the Chicago area, who recently received the book and uses it in his own D-Life.
A few months ago, I received and greatly enjoyed my copy of Dr. Stephen Ponder’s new book “Sugar Surfing.”
Being that he’s a pediatric endocrinologist and has had T1 himself since 1966, I’ve followed him on Facebook for a while and enjoy his interesting and informative posts — particularly those in which he shares approaches to various tactical situations and shows how his results unfold with helpful annotated pictures of his CGM.
Thankfully, this self-published book features lots of these helpful and informative examples to illustrate the text. And we have to assume that his co-author Kevin McMahon (pictured here goofing around with Dr. Ponder) has helped turn these examples into actionable suggestions for readers.
Dr. Ponder shares the thought process with which he manages his BG very effectively, achieving near-normalized A1Cs in the low to mid 5s. The CGM lines show dosing, when various events “appear” and then how things play out. They are not always flat and he points out in both his posts and his book that people without diabetes almost never have straight lines!
The book itself lays out what Dr. Ponder describes as “dynamic diabetes management,” since change and variation and numbers being off are part of diabetes. Instead of giving up, he lays out a methodology we can use to take control of our BG, learn from our experience and feel successful about our achievements.
His method is essentially focuses on being extremely mindful of all your actions that affect blood sugar, and continuously looping through the four-step cycle of: monitoring, being “in the moment,” analyzing, and execution.
“You are probably saying ‘I already do this’ and you would be right. But as has been written about by many authors, many of our decisions are mindless as opposed to mindful. This loop is a skill as much as it is a process. And as such, skills are practicable and can improve over time, or grow rusty with disuse,” he writes in describing his method.
He contrasts this dynamic approach with the more static traditonal approach, whereyou have a specific plan and measure yourself against your success in meeting it. Here, Dr. Ponder points out that diabetes itself has considerable dynamism to it, especially for many people with long-time diabetes, that makes following a rigid plan a questionable approach. Given his own lengthy experience with diabetes management dating from the “dark ages” of color-coded urine strips, Dr. Ponder speaks with a credible voice that, at least to me, resembles how I talk to myself when I’m thinking about diabetes.
The “surfing” metaphor used throughout the book adds amusing spirit to the serious topics under discussion. The motif fits well with the waves in the pictures of CGM lines, of course.
He suggests treating diabetes with respect, rather than fear, but lays out an approach to diabetes management that will allow us to put diabetes in its place successfully by taking our management to a new level.
The point is that know how to use the tools we have, but using them a bit differently can potentially help us all achieve improved results just as Dr. Ponder himself has. Personally, I know that I’ve done many of the same things for years without the framework that this author provides to explain it clearly and concisely.
I’d say that the main drawback of this book might be that the approach seems to benefit CGM users exclusively. If you don’t use a CGM, you may have difficulty following Dr. Ponder’s methodology.
There are several sections where he does touch on how this method can work with frequent BG testing, but he doesn’t “coach” non-CGMers through it. He points out that this would be difficult in a manageably-sized book, but is certainly something to hope to see more of in the future, perhaps on his Sugar Surfing Facebook page or another one he runs titled, “The Power Within.” In the past, he has reached out to people interested in using his method with shots, i.e. surfing without a CGM and other topics of interest to anyone looking to do better and feel good about it.
Some people might object that Dr. Ponder’s methodology presented here could be considered too labor-intensive. The proposition of looking at your CGM almost constantly doesn’t seem odd to me, as I am a big fan of glancing at mine, but someone who is used to maybe checking in on theirs roughly 10 or 20 times a day might find the 40-50 check-ins a day a bit intrusive.
Certainly checking that often isn’t convenient, but IMHO diabetes is rarely conventient. I think it can be successfully managed, and Dr. Ponder’s method shows a path to not just “OK” control but to excellent, repeatable results that can improve the quality and — austensibly — the duration of our lives.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts , Mike!
Dr. Ponder’s book is available in paperback on Amazon for $29.95, or at the Sugar Surfing site — where a $9.95 PDF download version is also available (and a discounted $8.95 download for Texas residents). You can also download a chapter of his book for free online, and word is that e-book formats and iOS/Android apps are coming later in 2015.