Receiving a diagnosis of diabetes can be shocking under ordinary circumstances. For Alli, the woman behind the popular Instagram account LowCarbDiabetic, the prognosis came right before she started medical school.
“I’m a career changer, and had some routine lab work done before leaving for medical school,” Alli, tells Yahoo Life. “My lab results showed dangerously high glucose levels.” Glucose, aka sugar, is your body’s main source of energy, MedlinePlus explains. High glucose levels can be a sign of diabetes.
“My doctor and I thought it might be an error because I’ve been a runner and health nut for years,” Alli says. But, after she did another glucose test, the diagnosis was official: She had diabetes.
“It was a shocking diagnosis, but [it] made sense looking back at how I’d been feeling over the last year,” says Alli. She originally thought the fatigue she experienced and the fact that she was running slower than usual were due to school burnout. Alli also didn’t pay a lot of attention to classic signs of diabetes, like having an increased appetite without gaining weight and being thirstier than usual.
“It’s my personality to take my diagnosis and crush it.”
Having diabetes “is not for the faint-hearted,” Alli says. “If you’re going to have good control, you have to find your inner warrior,” she adds.
Alli now takes between four to six insulin injections a day and is “very strict” with her diet. She was already on a “fairly” low-carb diet at the time of her diagnosis, and she’s maintained that.
But Alli admits she was “confused” when her doctor handed her a pamphlet from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) after her diagnosis that recommended she eat carbohydrates. “It called for eating more carbs than I had in years.”
Alli still gets carbs from fruits and vegetables, but she’s cut out things like bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. Along with running regularly, she says that sticking to a low-carb diet has helped her reduce her insulin doses and helps keep her glucose levels within her target range.
Can a low-carb diet help people with diabetes?
Currently the ADA, notes on its website that “eating too many carbs can raise your blood glucose too high.” However, the organization adds, “Eating too little carbohydrates can also be harmful because your blood glucose may drop too low, especially if you take medicines to help manage your blood sugar.”
The ADA specifically recommends that patients with diabetes get their carbohydrates the most from whole, unprocessed, non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes and green beans, and less from refined, highly-processed carbohydrate foods and foods with added sugar, like soda, white bread and cake. The ADA advises that minimally-processed carbs like brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta and oatmeal are also OK.
While a low-carb diet may work for some patients with diabetes, it’s hard to say that it’s the right fit for all diabetic patients, according to Katherine Araque, MD, an endocrinologist and director of endocrinology of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. “It’s not one size fits all,” says Araque.
Leigh Tracy, RD, a dietitian and diabetes educator at The Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, agrees, telling Yahoo Life, that diabetics don’t need to swear off carbs if they don’t want to. “Carbohydrates are not bad. They actually give your body necessary energy,” she explains.
But Alli says a low-carb lifestyle works best for her.
“My physicians support my low-carb lifestyle and, honestly, they are impressed with my tight control in less than a year out from my diagnosis,” she says.
Despite her controlled diabetes, Alli says her condition is “always on my mind.” “I just have to deal with it,” she says. “There are people with much more severe illnesses. I got a bad deal, but it’s really not that bad at the end of the day. I’ve taken as much control as I can.”