When Lele Jaro received a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in 2006, she didn’t leave the doctor’s office with a complete understanding of how the condition would influence the rest of her life, or fully equipped with the tools she’d need to manage it.
Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person’s story.
“When I found out I had type 2, I didn’t really know how to feel about it. I was so young and, to put it bluntly, naïve about the whole diagnosis,” she recalls. “They gave me medication, some information [on] what to eat if you have diabetes, and that was it.”
Her doctor told her that she’d probably been living with the condition since she was in her teens. “The symptoms of type 2 diabetes creep up slowly without you really knowing the damage that it’s already doing to your body,” she says.
“I thought it was something I could eventually overcome. It wasn’t until I got pregnant at 29 when I realized that type 2 diabetes is a serious, chronic disease,” she says.
After working out and following her doctor’s diet recommendations, she managed to lose about 60 pounds by 2008.
But when it came to actually managing her diabetes, relying on weight loss simply wasn’t cutting it. Though she followed her doctor’s advice, it became increasingly clear to Lele that she’d need to take matters into her own hands and develop a means by which to manage her diabetes that didn’t leave her reliant on medication.
“The most common misconception about type 2 [diabetes] is that it’s easy to manage it by just losing weight,” she says. “While I understand that losing weight can definitely help you manage it, there are other factors that come into play, and losing weight is not the ‘end all’ solution to this issue.”
“I knew how to lose weight. But managing my blood sugars were another issue,” says Lele. “Even though I had lost weight, my blood sugars were very high. I was taking around 100 to 110 units of insulin every day to manage my type 2 diabetes.”
Eventually, she came to realize that when it comes to diabetes management, how much you eat is important, but what you’re eating is highly impactful as well.
Realizing that her eating plan and medication weren’t enough to get her health to where it needed to be, Lele turned to the internet. On a Reddit channel, she learned all about the potential benefits of transitioning to a keto diet.
Though hesitant, her doctors allowed her to try the keto diet out — and Lele hasn’t looked back since.
The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat dietary regimen which has been linked to improvements in insulin sensitivity and higher rates of weight loss — both positive factors in managing type 2 diabetes. Lowering carb intake induces a metabolic state known as ketosis, through which the body produces ketones which burn fat — rather than carbohydrates — for energy.
“The transition… to keto was difficult… But I wanted to really give keto a shot, especially if it helped with my type 2,” Lele recalls.
“After a month or two, my blood sugars improved. I cut my units down to 75 and that was a big deal for me. After showing my results to my doctors, they agreed that I should stick with keto,” she says.
When she started the keto diet, Lele’s A1C levels were at 10 percent. Six months later, she had cut them down to 6 percent. Now no longer needing to inject herself four times per day — and deal with the resulting bruises — she says she feels liberated by the experience.
“I’m no longer on insulin, and I have cut down my medications due to keto. I never had to deal with trying to find a spot to inject or having to deal with bruises on my belly,” she says. “I know this may sound silly, but I have a picture of my old insulin syringes in my wallet. I look at it to remind me of what I had to do before keto. It grounds me, and when I have days of self-doubt, I remind myself how far I’ve come.”
That said, it hasn’t been all easy.
“The hardest part about living with type 2 is knowing that you have a serious chronic disease that’s always following you,” says Lele. “There has never been a day when I don’t think about my type 2 diabetes.”
From monitoring symptoms of hyper- and hypoglycemia and dealing with a weakened immune system to trying to enjoy a regular meal, she says that there’s always a constant reminder: “When it comes to social gatherings, it’s almost depressing because you’re obsessing about what you should, and can, eat. It’s a constant battle in your head.”
Lele’s relationship with food is also something that she’s had to reevaluate and learn to control in order to manage her diabetes. “I’ve suffered with binge eating for a long time — and I’m proud to say that I haven’t binged in more than a year. But sometimes bad food choices can lead into something bigger,” she says.
“I’ve gained some of my weight back due to letting myself have cheats here and there — especially during the holidays and being with friends and family! Right now, I’m going back to keto basics, and losing the weight that I had gained and, hopefully, I’ll be much more successful this time around,” Lele explains.
“Success doesn’t happen overnight, and I know that working hard will eventually get me to my goals,” says Lele. And when it comes to finding motivation, being a mother certainly helps: “My son helps me stay on track. I need to get healthier for my son to make sure I’m always here for him,” she says.
If you’re interested in trying out the keto diet, or are already following the regimen, Lele suggests keeping the following in mind:
1. Keep it simple
“Definitely try to stick with a ‘whole foods’ concept on keto,” says Lele. “Try your best to avoid convenience food. I understand that life can be busy, and that a protein bar or processed food is really tempting at first. But I would highly suggest to try keto with more whole foods so you can get a better grip of it.”
2. You don’t necessarily need to add more fat
Lele says that it’s important to remember that, while keto is a “high fat” diet, the goal is to use your body fat as an energy source, not the fat that’s on your plate. “You don’t need to necessarily add more fats to your diet to adhere to keto. For instance, if your dinner consists of avocado, bacon, and eggs, you really don’t need to add butter to that to make it ‘more keto’,” she says.
3. Prep your meals
“If you have the time, meal prepping can really help you! Knowing that you know exactly what you’re going to eat that day or week is going to make it easier for you to stick to keto and your goals,” she says.
4. Bring your own food
Finding keto-friendly foods can be difficult at social gatherings — so consider bringing your own snacks. “If I know the restaurant where I’m meeting my family or friends, I usually look through the menu in advance and see if there’s something I can eat,” says Lele. “Salads are generally safe, with ranch or another low-carb dressing and a non-marinated protein. There are a lot of hidden carbs in restaurant food!”
5. Remember that it takes time
“At first with keto, you’ll lose a significant amount of water weight, and this can be really exciting. After a while, you’ll notice that it tapers off and you may get demotivated,” says Lele. “Don’t worry about it — just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Lele is the first to admit that adjusting to a new dietary regimen and making the considerations she needed to in order for it to work took time.
“I knew that not injecting insulin meant that I had to really be careful about what I eat from now on,” she says. “The mentality of, ‘Oh, I guess I’ll inject myself extra insulin to cover that carb-loaded food’—that way of thinking was gone for me. It was great not having to do that anymore, but at the same time it took a while to get used to.”
“If you’re living with type 2 and you want to try keto, I would highly suggest talking to your doctor and seeing if they can work with you,” suggests Lele. “Keto has been life-saving for me, in more ways than one.”
“It’s never too late to change your life.”
Lele Jaro has been on a ketogenic diet for over two years to help with her type 2 diabetes, and has successfully got off insulin. She’s been documenting her health journey on Instagram with keto-friendly food ideas, keto tips, and workout motivation. She’s lost over 80 pounds on her journey, and inspires others to try keto to improve their health. Connect with her on her YouTube channel or Facebook.