Mila Clarke Buckley is on a mission to help those living with diabetes make food friendly again.
Mila Clarke Buckley was a young professional working lots of hours at her job in digital communications when she began to feel sick.
“I was clammy and sweaty all the time. I was extremely thirsty. I could drink an entire 16-ounce bottle of water in five seconds and still feel thirsty,” Buckley told Healthline. “I had a little bit of dizziness too and was incredibly fatigued no matter how much sleep I got.”
For weeks, she blamed her stressful job for causing the symptoms.
However, after months of not feeling well, she went to her primary care physician, who ran several tests.
“The doctor’s office called me that same day and said, ‘Your doctor wants you to come back immediately,’” Buckley said.
A few days later, she visited her doctor, who informed her she had type 2 diabetes. Buckley was 26 years old.
“I was overwhelmed and absolutely terrified. The way it was explained to me [made me feel] like I had done the worst thing in the world to myself, and I didn’t know how to fix it,” she said.
Although her mother and grandmother both have type 2 diabetes, Buckley says she didn’t know much about the disease.
“I felt I didn’t have a good handle on it or understanding. I knew my mom has to watch what she eats and that she takes insulin, but I never knew that her diabetes was caused by insulin resistance. I didn’t know the technical reason for the cause of type 2 diabetes,” she said.
Receiving the diagnosis made her want to learn more so she could better manage her condition.
“It was a moment of reflection for me and made me feel like I had neglected myself for so long, because I felt work and friends and family were more important than my own self-care and taking care of my own health,” Buckley said.
“I realized if I don’t care for me, then I don’t have anything else to look forward to,” she said. “From that fear was a little bit of inspiration that I could treat myself better.”
Although her physician recommended that she use medication, Buckley wanted to try to improve her condition with diet and exercise first. She started taking a boxing and cycling class and went on daily walks with her husband.
“Diet is where I felt stuck, and I didn’t know how to make changes. My doctor referred me to a dietitian who helped me understand… how my body reacts to certain food and what I could do to make the foods I really love friendlier to my blood sugar and still enjoy them,” she said.
After three months of trying to make changes on her own, Buckley checked in with her doctor, who found her A1C levels to be slightly lower than they were at her first visit, but not where he hoped they’d be.
“[My blood sugar] still didn’t get in the controlled range, so I went on mealtime insulin to compensate those high blood sugar levels in between,” Buckley said.
When Buckley got home after receiving her type 2 diabetes diagnosis, the first thing she did was search the internet for information about the condition.
“I couldn’t find resources that were qualitative. Everything I found was very medical or academic. I could read them and kind of understand them, but I wanted to know somebody who is dealing with type 2 diabetes to get their perspective and learn from that more than from a research paper,” she said.
Buckley decided to fill the online void and be that person for others. She started a blog called Hangry Woman, which is catered toward millennials and provides recipes, tips, and diabetes resources. The name of her blog was inspired by her husband.
“Before I was diagnosed with diabetes, I’d get the highs and lows and get shaky and cranky, and we were driving to dinner one night and I was anxious to get to the restaurant. He told me that I get hangry when I want to eat,” Buckley said. “Down the line I thought it was a cute name that would get people’s attention.”
She was right. The blog’s name and material has gained camaraderie. In fact, the blogger database Feedspot named it one of the top 10 diabetes food blogs in the world.
Most telling to Buckley, though, is that she receives positive feedback from many readers.
“People tell me that when they come across the article I wrote on my blog about what to do with your type 2 diabetes diagnosis, they are so glad they found the blog, and the article made them take a breath and not feel hopeless, but rather channel their energy into doing something good for themselves,” she said.
In addition to articles, the blog includes recipes that Buckley took and revised to make more blood sugar-friendly.
“Before I started blogging, I didn’t know how to cook. My parents didn’t really cook when I was younger. I didn’t learn how to cook until college, and it was a lot of trial and error. And then when I found out I had type 2 diabetes, I made the decision to delve more into it and try and understand nutrition more,” she said.
In addition to practical help, Buckley hopes her blog helps break the stigma associated with type 2 diabetes.
She says many people don’t talk about the condition because they don’t want to be judged. She hopes her blog encourages people to ask their doctors and specialists questions.
Buckley also hopes the blog encourages people to lean on their friends and family and to educate them about the condition, too.
Her biggest goal, though, is to show people that you can live happily with type 2 diabetes.
“You get this bomb dropped on you that you have to change your entire life, but it doesn’t have to be this really heavy thing. I think I’ve made incredible strides and vast improvements on my health, and I think the biggest reason is that I decided to make my health and self-care a priority instead of putting it on the back burner,” she said. “I’m so much happier about where I am than where I was two years ago.”
She adds that part of feeling good about her health comes from recognizing the small changes she’s made along the way.
One tool that helps her do this is the OneTouch Verio Flex and OneTouch Reveal app, which tracks blood sugar levels over time.
“With me being techy and health-conscious, I love that the app takes my readings from my meter to my phone,” she said. “It gives me an understanding of what I might be able to eat. For instance, if I have a lower blood sugar one morning, I know it’s OK to eat, say, half a pastry and some protein. Having numbers to reference helps make good decisions about how I want to manage myself during the day.”
Healthy decisions during the holidays can be hard to navigate, Buckley says.
“The holidays are my favorite time of year. The first year I had diabetes and the holidays came around, I thought it was going to be the worst,” she said.
However, Buckley turned to the following strategies to help make the season a merry one.
Contribute your own dish
While many holiday foods are heavy and carb-rich, Buckley says they don’t have to be.
“People are always surprised at how blood sugar-friendly dishes can be just as good but a little lighter, so you don’t feel guilty eating them,” she said.
“I always bring a dessert that is blood sugar-friendly and my friends are always like, ‘Are you kidding me? This is healthy?’ When you create that reaction, you also create an opportunity to educate your friends and family about how and why you eat the way you do,” she said.
Use smaller plates
There’s nothing more tempting than grazing tables full of delicious food.
To keep her in check, Buckley uses a smaller plate rather than a dinner plate.
“I really try to make that plate look like something I would eat on a normal day. I balance it and look at it almost like a pie chart. I make sure half of it is veggies and the other half is split into half again with one-half carbs and one-half protein,” she said.
“It’s OK to indulge once or twice if you find something on the table that looks so good and you have to have it,” Buckley said. “Considering all the things on your plate can help you make room for that treat.”
Get some exercise
Taking time off from exercising during the holidays may seem enticing, but if you know you’re going to have a big meal, Buckley says take a walk before or after you eat.
“Ask family and friends to walk around with you to burn off those calories and use those carbs as energy to get a little bit of lower blood sugar levels,” she said.
Give yourself a break
Even people with the strongest will can fall victim to holiday overeating. If it happens to you, Buckley says don’t beat yourself up over it.
“Just do something better the [next meal], and continue on from there,” she advised.