I recently met Gina Angeloni at the gym where I work out. She is a 34-year-old medical laboratory technician at McMaster Children’s Hospital who uses diet, exercise and technology to manage her life as a diabetic. Here is her story.
“I had been really sick with different viruses for years leading up to my diagnosis at eight years old. My body was producing antibodies to fight infections and, in turn, starting attacking itself, destroying my pancreas in the process. This made me unable to produce insulin and lead to my diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes.”
What limitations have you had since then?
“As long as I maintain a good relationship with diet and exercise, I don’t really have any limitations. Having said that, a loss of control could lead to a variety of serious health problems like stroke, blindness, amputations, pregnancy complications and even anxiety and depression often referred to as diabetes distress.”
How have you managed it over the years?
“When I was younger, I never exercised and had poor eating habits. I didn’t think about my condition and my blood sugar levels would spike and crash if I neglected to take my insulin or took too much as a way to overcorrect.
As an adult, I had two miscarriages believed to be a result of poor diabetes management and was advised to make changes to my lifestyle before attempting to get pregnant again. I got better at controlling my glucose levels through consistently recording what I was eating and how much insulin I was taking. Ultimately, I had a healthy baby and when she was one, moved to Alberta to enrol in the Medical Laboratory Technology program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology where I learned about the dangers of not taking proper care of my diabetes and it scared the heck out of me.
My program lasted two years and when I graduated I weighed 256 pounds, I had hit rock bottom physically and mentally and knew that I had to change my life. I then signed up at Goodlife Fitness and in a year lost 100 pounds doing classes, working out with weights and building a positive relationship with food. I loved going to the gym, felt amazing and had even better control of my diabetes.
Up until last year I was checking my blood sugars with finger pokes using a glucometer and taking multiple daily injections. Now I’m using a Dexcom continuous glucose monitoring system which adjusts insulin delivery to prevent highs and lows, while allowing me to manually take insulin for meals. It is a small wearable sensor and transmitter that sends your glucose numbers to a smart device up to every five minutes. It’s like having a working pancreas again except that it clips to my pants.”
What about exercise?
“Exercise is one of the best ways to naturally lower blood sugar levels. Depending on the intensity of the workout, however, pre workout snacks may be necessary to avoid low blood sugar during or after your session. I have a spin bike at home that I use first thing in the morning, lift weights and enjoy high intensity interval style training, always making sure that I have glucose tablets on hand when doing any exercising in case I have hypoglycemia.”
Can you describe your nutrition?
“My diet consists of a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and low fats. I typically have about 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per meal, depending on the meal, time of day and if it is pre or post workout. My diet is high in fibre and I occasionally indulge in sweets. I’ve never really been someone to eat junk foods but as long as I know exactly how many carbohydrates and fats are in them, I can take insulin accordingly to cover the treat.”
Do have any advice for others living with diabetes?
“My advice is to assemble a great team of medical experts that can guide you to live a normal, healthy life. The team should consist of a CDE (certified diabetes educator), a registered dietitian, a physician and an exercise specialist since physical activity is essential for successfully living with diabetes. Learn how certain foods help control blood sugar levels and build healthy habits into your life so that you can treat yourself when you want to while not letting diabetes control your life. Learn to control it instead.
When I was diagnosed, it was very uncommon to be a Type 1 diabetic. I was the only student allowed to eat snacks in the middle of class at school and I was embarrassed to be using needles and poking my fingers to squeeze blood out of them every day. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have waited 25 years to switch to insulin pump. I’m excited to see what new gadgets there will soon be to make life even easier.”