My profile was a 34 year old man, newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He had just lost his job and only had time on the weekend for physical activity, his week being filled with any work he could find to get ends to meet. He ate out mostly and lived alone. So, for two weeks I tried my best to simulate some of the lifestyle changes that come with type 2 diabetes. I changed my diet, took placebo oral medication and added 150 minutes of moderate exercise on the weekends.
To say that it started poorly would be an understatement. My initial reaction was to do a ton of research. What I learned was that there were a lot less answers than I wanted. I wanted a secure answer on what my diet should be, I wanted rules to follow, a step by step instruction for how to go about my life. All I learned was that diabetes means that carbs hurt me, and that I needed to not have high blood sugar for too long or I’d go blind.
Even with the knowledge that my pancreas was still functional I was more than a little anxious to get the first week started. I knew carbs were bad for my blood sugar so I decided to keep carbs as low as I could. The Diabetes Educators told me that I could have around 70 carbs a meal, I decided to shoot for less than 70 for each day. This started a streak of 6 days where I ate less than 30 carbs per day. No bread, no pasta, no sugar; lots of salads (pray for my soul) and lots of protein. I found out that fast food restaurants will wrap chicken or beef in lettuce. I also found that some restaurants specialize in salads, some of which are edible. I’ve always been the type to play the safe side, and i really enjoyed having the peace of mind that my carb count was always lower than it needed to be. But holy cow, those 6 days tested my resolve.
I had headaches, got anxious and had almost no energy for the first two days. My schedule was thrown out of whack and it took me twice as long to prepare each meal.
Each day got a bit easier in some ways, I can tell you the carb count of almost everything in my usual diet now, however at the same time the mental burden seemed to slowly add up. I missed the convenience of quick, mindless snacks, I missed the peace of mind, and honestly I missed soda. At times I didn’t like meals that I put together for myself and didn’t finish them, leaving my calorie count too low and by dinner I was just about ready to eat a cow. (Which unfortunately seemed like the only way I could get calories)
Then Amanda and I went to see a Diabetes Educator who told me that she would never prescribe someone to try and cut carbs completely. She said that her work mostly focuses on teaching people the merits of a healthy diet. So for the next week I made sure my meals stayed under 70 carbs and ate my veggies.
The whole switch was a bit embarrassing. I know a good amount about diabetes; I should have been able to find the perfect plan to best fight the disease. The problem is that chronic illness isn’t something you fight. Some cases of diabetes are reversible if the patient is very overweight, but the others are just due to your body not processing insulin quite right anymore. Eating less carbs doesn’t necessarily bring back your health, it just might give you headaches.
I learned a lot through the entire experience. I know that carbs are a nutrition of convenience for me. My normal diet consists of carb-loaded snacks and quick carb-based meals. I learned that taking oral medications with meals works a lot better when you eat at the same time every morning and late every night. I learned that peanut butter is still my life-saver, and probably was single-handedly the reason I got to acceptable carb levels some days. Most of all I learned that diabetes is a burden. It weighs on you at each meal, it demands time and thought throughout the day, and the worst part is that in the end you are fighting your own body.
I'm not quite sure how this simulation is going to help me be a better designer yet. But I do see diabetes through an entirely new lens. The things I learned will inform me going forwards and hopefully help me build some empathy, because empathy is the root of all good design.