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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
26 Oct

Type 1 Diabetes No Match for Primal Lifestyle!

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

My name is Shawn and I am 28 years old. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes about a year ago. I haven’t seen many stories or articles related to diabetes on the MDA website so I thought I would share how going Primal has helped me take back control over my health and wellbeing.

First of all, I have actually been very healthy most of my life (or so I thought). In college I lifted weights, ran, and did pushups and sit-ups in my dorm room on a regular basis. I despised salad and fresh veggies, and loaded up on Hamburger Helper, cereal, and PB&J because it was convenient and I “worked it all off” during my workouts. I am 6’ tall and my weight maxed out at about 205 lbs (92 kgs) during my last year of college (2007)…perfectly healthy I thought.

Fast forward several years (during which I managed to drop about 10 lbs thanks to army basic training) to September of 2011. I started losing weight…lots of weight…about 25 lbs in 3 weeks to be exact, I drank water by the gallons, and I could no longer exercise without getting severe cramping in my legs. Something was obviously wrong, so I made an appointment with my doctor who I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. I had a fasting blood sugar level of 350 (normal is 70-99 mg/dL). The last several months of 2011 were very challenging. There was no explanation why I got this disease (no family history) and trying to come to terms with the fact that I would have to deal with this every day for the rest of my life was a bit overwhelming. I started working with diabetes educators and nutritionists at the local hospital and was told that I should take in about 320 CARBS/DAY(!!) based on my activity level. And they call themselves nutritionists?? Even my endocrinologist said I could eat whatever I wanted because the disease “sucks enough the way it is” and I just needed to shoot up with enough insulin to cover the food I was eating. At this point I still did not know any better so I bought into their conventional wisdom.

Needless to say, my blood sugar control was not good. I would go up to 250 right after meals, but since I dropped down to normal again after a few hours my doctor was fine with it. Being all too aware of the side effects of uncontrolled blood sugar, I decided to educate myself and become my own “nutritionist/doctor.”

Around January of this year a friend exposed me to the paleo diet. I checked it out and was intrigued. I started doing extensive reading and research (during which I came across this website) and decided to give it a try. I slowly started purging out the sugars/carbs/processed foods that were poisoning my body (especially cereal which was a staple of my diet at the time), and whaddya know…my blood sugars and overall health improved drastically, and my insulin requirements dropped like a rock!!!

Fast forward another 8 months to today and life has never been better! Through my faith, support of my wonderful wife and family, and a little help from the Primal Blueprint, I have been able to cope with my diabetes to the point that it is a mere afterthought in my everyday life. My diet includes massive amounts of meat/eggs/veggies/salad/nuts to fuel my active lifestyle, ~120 carbs worth/day with virtually no SAD food (if I do slip up, my blood sugar pays the price!). I do still indulge in some diabetic friendly, Primally questionable foods (quite a bit of cheese, a few peanuts, and the occasional artificially sweetened drink). I guess there is always room for improvement? I still work out quite often, but in Primal fashion: biking in to work as often as possible (~16 miles, 50 minutes each way), sprint sessions when I can’t get on the bike, and circuit-type training with pushups/pullups/core exercises/any other bodyweight exercise I can think up 4-5 days/week . The results: My weight has stabilized at 187 lbs (slightly less than pre-diabetes weight) while also managing to drop a couple pants sizes. I have tons of energy, especially compared to some of my type 2 diabetic relatives who always feel run-down due to their poor diets. (I’m trying to convert them, but no luck as of yet). And of course, combined with the omnipod insulin pump that I am now on (which I would strongly recommend to all insulin-dependent diabetics) I find it quite easy to tightly control my blood sugars (i.e. less than 100 AT ALL TIMES with very few hypoglycemic episodes, i.e. low blood sugar). And possibly the best part, my family/friends/coworkers are noticing these changes and starting to question their own diets and lifestyle habits…it’s like a contagious disease (the good kind)!

A few stats for the diabetics out there (or non-diabetics) who may be interested:

  • A1C – September 2011=13.0 (newly diagnosed), January 2012=5.7 (pre-Primal), May 2012=5.4 (partially Primal), November 2012=?? (should be under 5).
  • Average total insulin use per day (bolus+basal)=13-14 units (doctor thinks I’m still in the honeymoon phase after 1 year. Possibly, but I think it’s more a result of my diet and fitness level.)
  • Cholesterol levels at diagnosis: HDL=35, LDL=90, Tri=sky high because of high BS. Next test in November, the real indicator of the effectiveness of my new lifestyle!

I look forward to a long and healthy life (in spite of the diabetes) as my Primal lifestyle continues to evolve, and hopefully I can get more people on board! Thanks for reading and I hope this can provide some motivation for the diabetics out there who may need a little extra motivation once in a while!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Yay first positive story I have read about T1 and Paleo. I have Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood .. like a cross between type 1 and 2 .. I am really struggling with my weight and finally the ball has dropped that its the carbs/insulin thing.. I am now going to the gym and cleaning up my diet slowly. My HbA1c is good as Im on a pump but my LDL/HDL is crap ..
    What Im struggling with is hypos after the gym .. any suggestions of a Paleoish snack that gets it back up quick?
    You look awesome sounds like you feel awesome too?

    Liss wrote on January 14th, 2014
    • I always tend to drop low towards the end of my bike rides too, but find that my bgs usually will rebound on their own without even eating anything. I will often times drink some whey protein after strenuous exercise(1 serving whey ptotein, 8oz almond milk, 8 oz water or coconut milk), the protein will slowly digest and raise bgs over a length of time. I also find sweet potatoes are great for this type of thing, they dont spike me but will raise my blood sugar slowly over the course of several hrs. If you need to raise it real quick, glucose tabs are the best ive found. they are pretty much just plain sugar with no other additives and are about as close as we will get to primal for treating lows!
      i have never felt better in my whole life than i do now, i think diabetes has made me healthier if that makes any sense.

      Shawn wrote on January 18th, 2014
  2. awesome…..u inspired me…..i am in a similar situation as u..

    Fiasta Tracy wrote on January 17th, 2014
  3. Hi
    You are inspiring. I got type 1 5 years ago on my 30th birthday. Instead of doing the sensible thing and getting my life sorted and focusing on health, food, exercise etc. I hid from it continued smoking, eating rubbish food, forgetting to take my insulin. I have also only one kidney that works pre diabetes. I continued to not drink regularily and then binge out at parties.
    Basically I’ve been doing nothing right. I
    In 2014 my primary focus is finally me, my health and my diabetes.
    I’ve quit smoking (On an e cig at the moment), I made the decision to have my old dead kidney removed (5 days ago) and I am going paleo.
    I stumbled across your story whilst surfing for advice on paleo and type 1 diabetes.
    Thank you for being the thing that made me wake up and realise that I have been living in excuses and hiding from my diagnosis for five years. Its a hard thing to realise. However it is the thing that I needed to realise in order to get another 35 years of living my dreams.
    Good luck with your life :)

    Emma wrote on January 21st, 2014
  4. Great story and gives me a lot of hope, diagnosed two days ago after losing 40 lb in weight over 6 months, I’ll actually for the first time in 15 years am happy that I have a genuine motivation to get healthy, fit and control whatever I have coming my way over the next 50 or so years. Every dark cloud has a silver lining.

    Scott wrote on January 23rd, 2014
  5. As a fellow T1 within a couple years of you (on the omnipod aswell) I can totally relate and revel in your story. Congratulations on finding a way past the conventional wisdom killing diabetics daily.How are those pods doing on your abdomen anyhow?

    Richard wrote on January 24th, 2014
  6. Is that an insulin pump on his ab? That would tend to aid control. Just curious.

    Leo wrote on March 30th, 2014
  7. I was diagnosed 4 years ago with type 1 and I am SOO GLAD to have read your story. It is just the motivation I was looking for. I couldn’t agree with you more that the “doctors” and diabetes “experts” give HORRIBLE advice. The amount of insulin I was told to take in a day was insanely high (unless I’m looking to become a blue whale which I’m NOT). And my endocrinologist also told me that I literally could eat whatever I want. I even asked if I could go to mcdonalds and get a large fry and large coke (specifically) and she said YES…after living with diabetes for 4 years now I have learned the hard way what horrible advice all that was. And they ALSO specifically tell you NOT to go on a low carb diet. CRAZY!!! They have NO IDEA WHAT THEYRE SAYING!!! Eating low carb, 100 a day or so for me (29 years old now) seriously made me feel like a different person. I wish I wouldn’t have listened to the “experts” and started the low carb thing sooner. My blood sugar levels and my energy levels are actually normal with a low carb diet.

    Stacey wrote on April 25th, 2014
    • Oh wow Stacey! My son has type 1 and he was also told by a diabetic dietitian that he could eat anything he wants, even McDonalds. Do your own research I always say. Low carbing is essential if you have diabetes. Everything you say is a common theme amongst diabetes “experts”. I was yelled at when I told my son’s educator that I had started low carbing.

      Lisa wrote on June 22nd, 2014
  8. Great story. I am a long term diabetic, now on an OmniPod pump. I to am on the 280-350 gms of carbs a day diet. My A1C has been under 5.8 for 30 years. Then another autoimmune disease. Microscopic colitis. I have struggled with this for 10 years. I now have a new diabetic Dr and a new gastroenterologist. They have suggested the Paleo diet. Being a good daibetic I research everything. I am always fighting lows and this diet sounds like a way out. I have been cutting back on carbs and more protein but still eating grains. A trip to the market and Monday I am starting on breakfast for a week then lunch. I am excited but afraid how to raise my BG when low. Guess it will be glucose tabs and fruit. Any help would be appreciated

    Dennis Burkholder wrote on June 22nd, 2014
    • Hi Dennis,

      I strongly recommend that you immediately stop eating grains. The gliadin protein in wheat is a known cause of type 1 and celiac disease and can instigate other autoimmune diseases. You need to stop your immune system from attacking your body. Grains are basically glucose so diabetics should not eat them (nor anyone else for that matter) Grains are grasses and grass should only be eaten by animals with a rumen in their digestive system such as cow. Humans are not ruminant animals. If you are on a pump, you can instantly change your basal rate. You should have LESS lows on a low carb diet because you will be injecting less insulin for boluses and therefore the chance of injecting too much is greatly reduced. Glucose tablets are good for lows, but I really think your BGs will be much more stable on low carb. My son has type 1 and is on a pump. He eats low carb and has excellent control and HbA1c of 5.5 with normal blood lipids. Don’t eat too much protein, as it can be converted to glucose. You can eat lots of healthy fats (not margarine or canola etc) and your body can convert to a fat burner rather than a sugar burner. Have you read Diabetes Solution by Dr Richard Bernstein? I highly recommend it as he will tell you so many things about diabetes control that no mainstream doctor knows about, such as blousing for protein and fiber. Good luck – you will do great!

      Lisa wrote on June 22nd, 2014
  9. Great story, Shawn.
    Have you thought of adding homemade Sauerkraut to your fair? ‘Tis easy to make and everything goes. Veg, fruit, berries, ground up nuts (not peanuts-more walnuts etc ground up), chia and flax seed, fresh herbs (I do add some raw silver smelts to some of my art-more Korean like Kimchi). Fermented foods feed the healthy bacteria, flora from gut to good-bye.

    I add a few TBS yoghourt whey, kombucha and kefir water to support or introduce even more great little critters. (I also add the innards from a broken open probiotic capsule but haven’t a clue if that works or not.) Also can add a few TBS of previous kraut nectar. Never sterilise by boiling. Let it ferment to a little sweeter than you like and then move to the fridge in 1L bottles. It will still ferment but much more slowly. (I use 4L pickle bottles to make mine.)

    Within three days I was yodelling the pretty tune like never before. By a month I was so regular clocks stood proud as I walked by. I eat about a quarter to a third cup at each of my two paleo meals. You can also try adding some silver smelts to one of your concoctions to see if you like the flavour. If not and you have a dog, Sauerkraut is good for them too. (I pestle and mortar my dog’s kraut).

    A gal did what you are doing and loved it but after a year said she wasn’t doing so well and went off her Paleo. Strange thing is that she reintroduced milk products which she had said gave her problems. Why would she add back what she knew to be a problem food? Strange bird. Maybe there just is adjustments a diabetic must do to perfect their paleo. Maybe had she had the specs? (that she said tested poorly on) done more often and then adjusted the Paleo diet to see if she was missing something she would have done better. My belief is that our body is our personal laboratory and that is where we tinker to fine tune our living engine.

    Namaste and care,

    mhikl wrote on September 8th, 2014
  10. Hello, my fiance is type 1 diabetic. We don’t follow the paleo diet specifically, but more so wfpb (whole foods plant based) because we are gearing up to go on the GAPS diet. GAPS is gut and psychology syndrome diet that reverses a whole range of ailments that has a main focus on healing “leaky gut” and will also put his candida under control (big concern for diabetics). He has improved significantly in the past 10 months that we have made healthier choices but still suffers from IBS (the purge that comes with diabetes). Do you have any advice to type 1 diabetics in this area? He wakes up with IBS every night, and also wakes up sweating. I am getting scared because he is like this every day.

    Miranda Duckworth wrote on September 9th, 2014
  11. Shawn I am so glad you wrote about how this affected your Type 1 diabetes. My oldest son was diagnosed at age 5. I followed the diet plan they gave him by the book and every time I took him in for an appointment his A1C was still out of control. Every time I was told I must be doing something wrong. They always made me feel like a bad mother. My son is now 26 and is not doing well. I have been reading everything on this site for 3 straight days now and I’m pretty sure what I was doing wrong was following their diet plan. I am planning on doing this for myself (hypoglycemic) and hopefully with some luck my son will follow me and start helping himself with this lifestyle. Thank you for your story :)

    Michelle wrote on October 19th, 2014
  12. Fellow type 1 since age 6 – I’m now 44.

    Unfortunately 35 years of the UK’s NHS diet (plus some gross negligence) left me overweight and with long term damage to my eyes. Blood sugars were permanently out of control despite genuine OCD level best efforts to keep it well controlled. Got patronising unhelpful ‘eating-too-many-sweeties-naughty-boy’ comments every time I went to the useless British National Health Service. Discovered Paleo off a mate at ju-jitsu club. Tried it on a bit of a whim on a month challenge to myself, mainly to lose weight, nothing to do with diabetes. 9 months in? Blood sugar levels mostly now very good, dropped 10 kilos very rapidly, I’m -not- suffering what was basically manic depression for first time in my life – my head is sorted (gluten?). I’m probably more ‘keto’ than purist paleo, but am concentrating on removing rapeseed oil, upping omega 3s and cutting back on additives a lot too. Now middle aged, I feel better than I ever have and being type 1 diabetic is somewhat of an afterthought now – i wouldn’t go back even if I could wolf down the junkfood. MDA was the first paleo website I came across and is still the most level headed and useful so a huge heartfelt thanks to Mark Sissen and the staff at MDA.

    Rob irwin wrote on November 6th, 2014
  13. Can you give an example of your daily meal menu’s? Do you get caught up with a lot of baked paleo goods? I do and am also a type 1, that follows the paleo diet. I have celiac disease for 20 years now, type 1 for only 8 years and my A1C can use some improving….


    Karen wrote on November 6th, 2014
  14. I’ve been type one for ten years and I’m already seeing side effects of not taking care of myself I’m nineteen and I already have retinopathy kidney and liver problems and nerve issues and my last a1c was 11.1 I’m ready for a change I don’t want this to be what kills me at 30 you’ve inspired me a lot thank you

    Sarah wrote on November 22nd, 2014
  15. I’m a type one diabetic for seven years. I am so sick of hearing about how diets have helped people that were diagnosed 1-3 years ago. You people are still in your honey moon phase! You don’t apply to most of the diabetics that have been suffering for years! I want to hear from someone who has tried this diet and has been a diabetic for more than just a couple of years!

    Ugh. The struggle. Of course this diet changed your life. Most people before 3 years are still producing some insulin and have little signs of insulin resistance.

    Oh well, I’ll keep searching the bowels of the internet.

    Kris wrote on March 3rd, 2015
    • Hi Kris, thanks for the response and I appreciate the skepticism. I would probably think the same thing.
      I actually am not in the honeymoon phase anymore, and don’t know if I ever was. I had the c-peptide test done a year ago and it confirmed I make very little of my own insulin. so even though I am only 3 years in, my body is in the same boat as those who have had it for decades. Insulin resistance is largely a factor of diet and not getting enough exercise. If you are careful with your lifestyle(diet, exercise,etc) so that you don’t need to dose large amounts of insulin, you should never become insulin resistant. endogenous vs synthetic insulin does not affect insulin resistance.
      its about 1 1/2 yrs after I wrote this story and nothing has changed a bit other than I take about 5 more units of insulin per day. latest A1c of 5.1. However when I do try ‘cheating’ on my diet I am quickly reminded that I am diabetic as my bgs start to soar. I would encourage you to try the diet if you are not already. I guarantee it works.

      Shawn wrote on March 3rd, 2015
    • This is a bit of a late reply for Kris but as this thread won’t die I thought to chip in.

      I’ve been a type-1 diabetic for 25 years. Eating paleo foods and sticking to <50 carb per day WORKS.

      I eat a lot of good fats for my calories. Heaps of nuts, eggs, fish, chili (I eat so much chili sometimes the thought makes me weep), bulletproof coffees, bacon (see chili).

      I'm allergic to dairy too, if you aren't- rejoice! You can enjoy cheese!

      Short story- insulin has dropped from 14u per meal to 3u. HbA1c was 5.6 at last check, from 6.7 the year before.

      Just try it, what have you got to lose?

      John wrote on July 7th, 2015
  16. first of all I want to say Thank you for sharing this. This weekend my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He’s 8 yrs old. We were in the Pediatric intensive care unit for 4 days. It was intense and heartbreaking.
    After reading your story, my husband and I decided our whole family (3 boys) will be transitioning to Paleo. It’s what our bodies need. Thank you for making this decision easier.
    God Bless you and your family

    Bekah wrote on August 12th, 2015

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