Ginger Vieira – Thriving Despite Diabetes
Thriving Despite Diabetes
Jonathan: Hey, everybody, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. We have a delightful show for you today. We have a wonderful woman who is just doing so much to help so many with a so-common condition today – that is, diabetes. We have the editor and primary writer at the very high traffic diabetes website, DiabetesDaily.com. She is also the proprietor of Living-in-Progress.com and she is just an awesome lady. Her name is Ginger Vieira. Ginger, welcome to the show.
Ginger: Jonathan, thanks for having me.
Jonathan: My pleasure. Ginger, let’s just start – you’ve got so many hot topics that you deal with. You deal with emotional eating. You deal with diabetes. You deal with emotional eating when you have diabetes. But before we get into all that, how did you get started on this path to helping people to eat smarter and live better?
Ginger: Oh, it was totally an accident actually. When I was a junior in college, I had definitely – I have type 1 diabetes – not to be confused with type 2 diabetes – and I also have celiac disease and I had definitely kind of let things slip during my junior year of college. I was drinking – not really like a classic college student – but enough when you add that to diabetes that it was showing in my blood sugars and just showing in my energy and my health and I just felt lousy by the end of that year. So I spent that summer kind of self-studying weightlifting and I had always loved Arnold Schwarzenegger and I watched a lot of action movies with my brothers, so I always had a thing for meatheads and muscle and I had always loved doing push-ups to keep up with my brothers, so when I started looking to weightlifting, I was like, “Oh my gosh! I really, really love this!”
By the end of that summer, I realized that I wanted to learn more. So I hired a trainer during my senior year of college and I also started studying Ashtanga Yoga, which is power yoga basically in America, and six months later, while I was finishing college for writing, I was getting certified as a personal trainer and Ashtanga Yoga instructor and then I spent that next several years after college writing and working as a personal trainer. That’s kind of where it all started – getting into a whole world I’d never anticipated before that.
Jonathan: What kept you going? A lot of people have dappled in this area, but you’ve really made a life out of it, so what kept you motivated and really made you take off that runway and make a life out of this?
Ginger: Well, it was actually a really frustrating thing and non-frustrating things that I kept getting stronger and stronger and somebody said, “Hey, you should get into powerlifting” because I was significantly stronger in a short period of time and I was really good at moving a lot of weight just a few times. When I told my doctor, my new endocrinologist – as an adult with diabetes, I had transitioned to an adult endocrinologist – and I said, “I’m thinking about going into weightlifting and powerlifting. I’ve gotten really strong.” He just rolled his eyes at me and was so rude and didn’t take it seriously at all and so I never went back to that guy and I started studying more exercise physiology so that I could understand how to manage my blood sugars as closely as possible while training in something so intense. Six months later, I set about seven records at my first competition. I had learned things about the body that impacts Type 1 diabetes so much that no doctor had ever taken the time to teach me or maybe even didn’t know was useful information for a Type 1 diabetic, so that just propelled everything further and I realized that there’s a lot of information out there that is so easy to explain if you take the time to understand how it really applies to life with diabetes.
Jonathan: Ginger, I love it. We’ve got the – ‘conflation’ would maybe the wrong word – of so many just awesome interesting topics here. We’ve got living with Type 1 diabetes; we’ve got a female who has embraced and completely dominated weightlifting, which just makes me want to stand up on my chair and say, “Awesome”; and then we’ve got – So, let’s deconstruct a little bit of this. First, tell us about your record-setting weightlifting achievements.
Ginger: Well, I went into weightlifting because I wanted to look better but it was totally a vanity thing and I wanted to feel better about my body, but I remember the first 3-4 months, thinking, “I don’t really feel like I look different and the scale doesn’t really look different, but I really love doing this.” So I kept buying more training sessions and my trainer was awesome and he didn’t know a ton about diabetes, but he knew enough that he was really willing to help learn with me. So that was really important to me and I felt really inspired by that and I just stuck with it even though that first 3-4 months, I didn’t get the visual benefits I really was wanting.
Gosh, the next six months, the next two years was what turned into phenomenal powerlifting things that I’d never anticipated. I set those first seven records and then I won the Vermont State Bench Press that summer, I then set a few records in another competition that fall, and then I won the next Vermont State Bench Press contest and I qualified for a Raw Unity Powerlifting
Jonathan: Ginger, give me some numbers. I want some numbers. What would you list as your personal bests?
Ginger: Okay, my very best bench press was 190 pounds and I was in the 148 weight class and I’m 5’1½”.
Jonathan: I love it, I love it.
Ginger: I was meaty. I’m not powerlifting now, so I’m not nearly as meaty, but I wasn’t super-lean but I had lots of muscle on there. Really, it was not hard for me to build muscle. I focused every part of my energy; I stopped drinking because somebody explained that alcohol interferes with your recovery and your muscles recovering and getting stronger and I focused everything around getting enough protein and getting enough sleep and getting my cardio. It was all I thought about and I had a great group of friends and that’s all they thought about it, too, but more on the bodybuilding side. My best squat was 265 – that was always really my weakest squat. I didn’t really figure out the technique in my own body until kind of later when I was getting to a point where I actually had to stop powerlifting. I feel like if I had learned that sooner, I could have gotten my squat stronger. My best deadlift was 315. Deadlift and bench were my favorites, especially the deadlift, I guess.
Jonathan: How much were you weighing when you did 315 deadlift?
Ginger: I was always in the 148-weight class.
Jonathan: Ooh, folks, soak that in for a second. You have a 5’1” female, 140 pounds, deadlifting – with folks who aren’t familiar with it, it basically just means picking something off the ground – over 300 pounds. I love that! I love it. Strength is beautiful. I love that. That makes me happy.
Ginger: That was one of the coolest – I love training other women who weren’t interested in powerlifting, but who just wanted to learn weightlifting and get in shape. I loved teaching them how to deadlift because once you get over that fear of the barbell and heavier weight, it’s just so empowering. The movement itself is so cool.
Jonathan: Ginger, I got a funny story for you involving deadlifts. I don’t know what it is about my physiology, but doing a straight bar deadlift just does not work for me – I continuously hurt my back; but trap bar deadlifts, like the hex bar, where you grip it on the sides – for individuals not familiar, for people who aren’t as geeky as Ginger and myself; also known as, 99.9% of the population – imagine lifting up a wheelbarrow with handles on the side of you and you can lift them up – it’s similar to that. I was like, “Oh, I can do this. This works.” I’m actually pretty good at it, but the gym I go to didn’t have one of these things, so I went on the internet and I bought one and I would carry my 65 pound strap bar into the gym and these people were like – Eventually they said, “You’ve got to stop bringing your own equipment in for legal purposes”; but they were like, “Man, you are dedicated. You’re carrying that.” I put it in the trunk of my car; it weighed my car down – it’s so funny.
Ginger: That’s not easy to carry. That thing is awkward.
Jonathan: No, it’s super-awkward. Ginger, tell me a bit about your experience of living with Type 1 diabetes and weightlifting. What were the unique challenges that that put upon you?
Ginger: Yeah. Well, what a lot of people don’t understand about Type 1 diabetes is it’s so different than Type 2 diabetes, which is what you see in the media and the news. Type 1 diabetes – I don’t make any insulin. My body does not make insulin because it’s destroyed of the aspect of my pancreas that is responsible for that very important duty. Now, we all need insulin to live. We need it for energy. If your blood sugar is constantly high, you get a lot of problems. If you’re low, you end up having a seizure pretty quickly.
So exercise obviously utilizes a lot of energy and some types of exercise make your blood sugar drop and other types make it rise. So, learning exactly how much I need to adjust my insulin dose and how much I need to adjust the insulin dose for any food I eat before I workout and then the food I eat after I workout and then competition day is a whole different issue because you have adrenaline and you’re excited and even though I wasn’t noticeably nervous, from the moment I woke up at my first competition on the day of my first competition, my blood sugar was through the roof because of all the adrenaline.
It took me two or three competitions to figure out exactly what I had to do with my insulin to prevent that from happening because you don’t want to be competing at 300 blood sugar when all these non-diabetics are at 104 and they’re their prime and I’ve got to add 300 blood sugar on top of also competing like they are, so you don’t want to be at a disadvantage.
Jonathan: Ginger, I love that you called out just how different Type 1 diabetes is from Type 2 diabetes because they are really different and I think an understanding of Type 1 diabetes, at least for me when I was doing all of my research, it really provides an amazing example of just how smart the body can be and then when the body loses its ability to do things, how much of a pain in the butt that can be. I’m sure you can empathize what this is. For most people, the body automatically regulates blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes is a terrible disease. It’s a pain in the butt. It’s potentially fatal if you don’t have access to insulin and I salute you for living with it because it’s not easy.
Normally when we eat properly, the body is going to automatically regulate our blood sugar within a range and it’s only if we are faced with the condition which is Type 1 diabetes that we have to take over that otherwise unconscious function in our body by manually regulating – for lack of better terms – our blood sugar with insulin. That’s got to be such a pain. You’ve got to do that all day every day; it’s always on your mind. How does that work?
Ginger: Well said. Do you have diabetes? How do you know this? Usually it takes a parent of a kid with diabetes or someone who has it to be able to articulate what you just said. I often wonder – I feel like I could have invented an amazing rocket ship with all the energy that I have spent thinking about my blood sugar if I didn’t have diabetes because it’s endless. The problem is that even though there is a lot of science to it, there are a lot of things that happen in your body that your body takes care of with glycogen and insulin and hormones and all this stuff that I don’t know what’s happening in my body all the time and I can’t always respond until it’s already happened.
Like, the adrenaline response – you don’t have to deal with that; you just get the benefit of the adrenaline pumping up. I have to be like, “Oh, geez! I’ve got adrenaline happening in this situation. I didn’t even know it. I just woke up and I’m eating breakfast.” So, like you said, you’re constantly thinking about it and even though there is a lot of medication and there’s insulin pumps and there’s this and that, it’s still not perfect and we still have to work at it all day long.
Jonathan: Ginger, the reason you mentioned, “Jonathan, do you have Type 1 diabetes?” I don’t but the thing that I learned about Type 1 diabetes and I learned about the homeostatic regulation of mission critical functions in our body, which in my work, I talk to as the set point but has much more technical terms in the actual medical literature, is this idea of counting calories and the idea that we need to manually regulate ‘calories in, calories out’.
One of the reasons this gets me so amped up is it’s basically like taking people and making everyone a Type 1 diabetic. It’s like saying, “You need to consciously regulate 24 hours a day/7 days a week/365 days a year how your body regulates energy balance.” That is absurd. It stinks. Ginger, you could say from experience. Having to manually control otherwise automatic functions in your body is not fun. Would you agree with that?
Ginger: Yeah, and it’s not even really possible.
Jonathan: Exactly. So I think Type 1 diabetes is such an amazing example of the body. Blood sugar – perfect example – is designed to be homeostatically regulated, meaning the body has all of this wisdom that works to keep it in a range – and that doesn’t mean our blood sugar can’t get out of whack. Certainly, Type 2 diabetes shows us that if we eat the wrong quality of food, we can break that system down and if we’re born with Type 1 diabetes, that system just doesn’t even exist.
Jonathan: So, we see that with blood sugar, we understand that with blood sugar, and we would never tell anyone who doesn’t have Type 1 diabetes that they need to manually inject themselves with insulin. So why are we preaching this calorie counting nonsense instead of just saying ‘don’t eat the foods that cause your body to break down in the first place. Let’s not make everyone have to carry the burden that you so nobly carry.’
Ginger: As a diabetic, something I encounter all the time is dieticians in the diabetes world that continue to emphasize calorie counting and refuse to acknowledge the importance of a whole lot of other things around nutrition that really are far more significant when it comes to your health.
Jonathan: Oh, absolutely.
Ginger: Yeah. I know that you’re already plenty aggravated about that but it’s just good to talk to somebody who understands that because you see it so often in diabetes dieticians and all that.
Jonathan: Ginger, so we’re talking here about diabetes and certainly another myth that Type 1 diabetes just so obviously debunks that I can’t even believe the myth still exists because there are quite a few people in the world who carry around the burden of being Type 1 diabetic and that’s the myth that a calorie is a calorie. Ginger, as a Type 1 diabetic, do all calories make your body act the same way?
Ginger: No. Period.
Jonathan: So, how does that myth even exist? Anyone who has even a basic understanding of biology knows that if you give a Type 1 diabetic certain kinds of calories and do not provide them with insulin, they could die; and if you give them other kinds of calories and – how does this myth continue?
Ginger: It’s crazy. I mean, all you have to do is actually have diabetes for a day and eat low carb and see how much easier it is to balance your blood sugar. It only takes a day. That’s what I want to say to the dieticians who I know don’t have diabetes and keep not wanting to acknowledge the low carb phenomenon because it maybe conflicts with a book they wrote or something. I know if they had it for a day, they would see it and they’d see the evidence.
A friend of mine has Type 1 and he is really into CrossFit and he’s really into Paleo and this kid has an A1c level that’s lower than most people who don’t even have diabetes. A1c is basically the average blood sugar over the course of three months. Because he is so hardcore about his super low-carb lifestyle, his A1c is phenomenal. That would never happen if he was eating super high carb. It wouldn’t even be possible because there are just too many variables with all the carbohydrates and the insulin dosing that just wouldn’t happen.
Jonathan: Ginger, one thing that I love – what you talked about here about how when we eliminate these inSANE starches and sweets and we replace them with these nutrient-dense hormonally-healthy whole natural foods is often times – this might sound like a silly example, but when something’s right, it’s like a bunch of things fit and it almost seems easy.
I think we’ve maybe all had the experience of a bad relationship versus a good relationship. When you’re in a good relationship, it’s just like stuff just works. It’s a bunch of things just work. Things just happen to all come together somehow and that’s because it’s right. Whereas when you’re in the wrong kind of relationship, nothing really – everything’s a struggle. When you eliminate these starches and sweets and you replace them with more nutrient-dense foods, it’s just like so many things just start working and it just takes care of itself.
Ginger: That’s a perfect analogy. That’s perfect.
Jonathan: So you’ve got to get in a healthy relationship with food.
Ginger: Yeah. That is hilarious. I mean, I have a sweet tooth. Absolutely. I’ve had a sweet tooth my whole life. It has nothing to do with my diabetes. It didn’t cause my diabetes; none of that constant kind of myth that people with Type 1 diabetes often face. It’s about learning how to make 80-95% of what you eat the whole day really, really good options and I don’t feel deprived because I make a little room for the not-perfect options.
For me, that’s what works right now in my life. There’s been other times where I didn’t need any sweets and blah, blah, blah. I really believe in creating some flexibility for people based on where they are and what they can handle, but the main focus is minimum 80% of what you’re eating in a day to be really good real food and then gradually increase it as you learn more about what you’re eating.
Jonathan: Ginger, as a fellow sweet toothed person – I have a total sweet tooth – what do you do to quench or to satisfy your sweet tooth?
Ginger: Well, the biggest thing for me is to just not – fake sugars, for example. I got rid of all that stuff a couple of years ago because I just realized that that was making my sweet tooth stronger and there’s all the other science behind it that people love to debate and argue about. I don’t even want to get into that. I just know that I feel better when it’s not in my body. The other thing is that if I fill myself with enough of the good stuff, I don’t crave the sugar nearly as much. Water, too. Water is huge. If I’m not well-hydrated, then I don’t eat as well and so if I keep my water bottle with me everywhere I go, I make brilliant choices around food. It’s that simple.
Jonathan: I love it. I love it. In fact, the point you made, Ginger, about just giving yourself sugar substitutes is certainly better. My father works in addictions counseling, as does my sister, and talks about if someone’s on heroin and you can get them to start smoking cigarettes instead of taking heroin, that is a win. Cigarettes are less bad for you. But certainly, it’s still not good; it doesn’t mean we should all go smoke cigarettes. The point that I have noticed – and tell me what you think about this in your own personal experience and also in your social circle and your professional circle – for the longest time for me when I went SANE, I totally was doing all kinds of sugar substitutes. I went first with the artificial sweeteners, like the Splendas and the Aspartames and all those kinds of things. Then I moved more towards the more sugar alcohol natural types – xylitol, erythritol – which I still think, for individuals who want to enjoy those kinds of things, you can’t even compare those to the neurotoxins that are aspartame.
Jonathan: So, you got those. Then further on the SANEity spectrum are things like stevia, which is a herb. It’s like cinnamon. It’s just a thing which happens to have a sweet taste. Ginger, what I have noticed – all of that being said – is a couple of things. One, as you start to remove sweets from your life, the amount of sweet you need to address that craving is so low. It’s just so dramatic. A carrot might be sweet to you now; whereas before, it wasn’t. The other thing I’ve noticed, Ginger – I’m curious of your thought – is when I’ve got that craving, I’ve noticed for me – I always crave chocolate; I love chocolate – if I eat cocoa – raw, un-Dutched cocoa – sweetened enough so it doesn’t taste terrible, because cocoa by itself is bitter, and you’ve got to mix it with something, like mixing it with nut butter or mixing it with low-sugar dairy. It’s getting that cocoa – that healthy, fiber-rich fat – that is like ‘whoo.’ That gives me what the sweets used to give me, but without any of the sweets. Is there anything you’ve experienced like that?
Ginger: Honestly, I still have a stash of candy in my house at all times – like, real old-fashioned Now & Later. Real candy. Genuine crap. It’s always in my house that I go weeks forgetting about it. It’s not a big deal to me because I haven’t created rules around it, I don’t blame myself for having some of it, I never over-eat it because it’s always there, and so I can have one or two pieces of that and I’m set. My sweet tooth is done and I had like 8 grams of sugar. For me, that’s what works really well. I love really good-quality 80% dark chocolate – really good quality.
What I don’t like are the fake desserts where you’re trying to substitute – I really hate the Weight Watchers-type bars and the – the stuff that isn’t real that you’re never going to actually feel satisfied from and you’re still trying to diet when you’re eating it and then you end up eating the whole box or something. I see that a lot with people. They’ll eat four of them; whereas if they just had some really good quality ice cream, they wouldn’t have needed so much of the ice cream.
Jonathan: I love that you brought up our different approaches here, Ginger, because this is one of those examples where people say, “Should I do this or should I do this?” And it’s actually, “Well, they both work for different people.” In the sense that, it sounds like you’re one of the individuals who can eat one or two ‘genuine crap’ and feel good about that and you’ll feel totally satisfied.
For me, the worst thing for me to do is to eat one of something I shouldn’t eat because that doesn’t make me feel better; that makes me feel worse because now I’m like – it’s like a tease – “Oh, well now, if you give me one, I want ten.” Certainly, neither approach is better. If you’re one of those people who ‘just give me a little bit of what I actually want, I feel good’ – Ginger’s approach is brilliant. If you’re one of those people that’s more of a volume eater, meaning if you’re going to eat something, you want to eat it for real – eat it, eat it, eat it – then you can make some SANE substitutions. Both approaches help you to not die and not feel terrible, so that’s good.
Ginger: Yeah. What doesn’t work for anybody is trying to be 100 perfect and say, “I’m never going to eat whatever it is” – maybe it’s french fries for someone instead of sugar. I could go the rest of my life without eating french fries; I could not care less about them, but I know I couldn’t go the rest of my life without some kind of candy every now and then. No way. I don’t feel like I need to. It’s not hurting my life. I take insulin for it, yada, yada, yada.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. That’s what we’ve all got to decide. It’s a conscious decision for you. My mother is a very, very smart woman and she used to always say – again, this is 80% true; the spirit of it is true – she’s a funny lady, too. We’d go out. It would be her birthday and she’d be eating and she’d say, “Well, my birthday – nothing has any calories.” Not that calories are the key thing here, but that was a little bit more funny. Another thing she’d say that definitely was more true – because certainly just because it’s her birthday doesn’t mean things don’t have calories in them – was, “If you’re going to eat something, make sure it’s worth it.” That’s the key thing. So often we see – I’ve got to get a little sentimental here, Ginger, because I saw something this weekend that really – I’d seen it, but it never really registered in my brain.
I was at Costco with my wife, making our weekly Costco run, and I saw this family who had this young child in their shopping cart and the child was just chilling – wasn’t screaming, was just hanging out –and on three separate occasions, there was a sample of just inSANE garbage like Go-Gurt, juice – and the kid wasn’t reaching for it, the kid wasn’t saying they wanted it, but the parent was almost forcing it upon the child. I was just thinking to myself, “That poor kid is getting set up for a life of….” Because you get conditions. You try these things in your youth and you develop these tastes. I just wonder what it would be like in a world where – you talk about you crave these certain substances – if you never knew what those things were, would you still crave them?
Ginger: That’s a good question. There was definitely always candy in my house growing up. None of my family was overweight. Nobody had a problem with the candy, probably because it was always there, but maybe that’s why I’ve got – who knows? The other part of that, too – you talked about choosing what’s worth it. When I’m coaching people with diabetes, I really love emphasizing that you don’t have to eliminate all carbs because people get a lot of pressure to eat the perfect diabetic diet, but pick the carbs that are worth it.
For me, I would rather eat really low carb dinner, lunch, and breakfast and save my carb count for the day for something sweet at the end of the night. I don’t need bread. I don’t need bagels. I would much rather make my carbs count by something sweet. I make a lot of gluten-free baked goods that are better quality than a Now & Later. That’s another option. It’s all about choosing something that’s worth it versus mindlessly just eating stuff because you’re not thinking twice about it.
Jonathan: I love that, Ginger. That just rings so much truth. In fact, I think it’s a great point to end on because being conscious and choosing that which we put in our body; there’s little else that is going to have a bigger impact on our day-to-day and our long term life.
Ginger: Yeah, yeah.
Jonathan: Well, Ginger, there’s so much you’re doing out there on the internet. You’re over here with Diabetes Daily just providing constant new information for the tens of millions of individuals who live with diabetes. You’ve got your website, Living-In-Progress.com. You’ve got your books. What’s next for you?
Ginger: I am working on a third book right now on diabetes burnout. It should be out in maybe February 2014 – February or March.
Jonathan: I love it. Well, we’ll both have new books coming out right around the same time so we might have to at least party together.
Ginger: Awesome. Congrats.
Jonathan: Ginger, thank you so much for joining us today, for sharing your insights, and for being an awesome example. Type 1 diabetic who is deadlifting more than twice her body weight and is smiling and empowering people all along the way. Heck, I wish we had more Gingers in the world.
Ginger: Thanks for having me, Jonathan.
Jonathan: My pleasure. Folks, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. Please remember – this week and every week afterwards, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Talk with you soon.
Jonathan: Wait, wait. Don’t stop listening yet.
Carrie: You can get fabulous free SANE recipes over at CarrieBrown.com.
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