World Health Day is here. It kind of snuck up on me. I received an email this morning for a wellness day happening locally as part of World Health Day.

World Health Day is sponsored by World Health Organization. This year’s focus is beating diabetes. This is something that is close to my heart. It is one of the main reasons I got back into living a healthier lifestyle.

What is Diabetes? Most people know it as the sugar disease. You have to eat sugar-free this, and sugar-free that. Restrictive diet, no sweets. Whilst there is truth in that – there is much more involved. It is when your blood sugar is high because either there is no insulin being produced in your body or not enough insulin is produced. Insulin helps our body transform blood sugar into energy. Without insulin, the blood sugar just stays in the blood and the body does not function properly. It can lead to serious health complications such as blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure, and stroke. It took me a while to fully understand what diabetes really is and the damage it can cause to your body. For those who have diabetes, they may find it hard to get life insurance due to this illness, especially if it is Type 1. In cases such as this, people may be able to apply for critical illness insurance, if they are not sure they can look at articles that provide background such as – “find out if you need critical illness insurance“, as well as others that are relevant.

There are a few different types of diabetes.

  • Type 1 Diabetes – This is the type of diabetes that you can develop as a child. It can not be prevented.
  • Type 2 Diabetes – which can be developed at any age to those who have a sedentary lifestyle and are overweight.
  • Gestational Diabetes – developed during pregnancy which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes later in life.

I am going to talk a little bit about the last one. During my pregnancies, I developed Gestational Diabetes. With my first child – it was the first time I ever was put on a restrictive diet – which totally sucked. Especially when those pregnancy cravings kicked in. What do you mean I can’t have orange juice and cheesecake for breakfast? Cheesecake is made with egg. It’s practically a quiche.

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You don’t know what to expect during your first pregnancy. Your body is changing which you do expect is normal until the doctor looks at you and says, “You’ve put on too much weight!’ That is what I am supposed to do, right? At the time I was working a desk job, not exercising much except for walks to the canteen to get my daily coffee and cake (don’t judge).

I had put on weight before my pregnancy (something in this region known as the Dubai Stone*) but really didn’t see myself as sedentary. I mean, c’mon I ran the London Marathon….two years earlier. I should have known something was not right when I was only 5 months along and people at work were pointing to my belly saying, “Hey, not much longer,” incorrectly assuming I was due any day; or the Filipina ladies who would just say, “Wow, Ma’am, soooo big!” Swollen feet, puffy hands, poor circulation, constant trips to bathroom. Symptons that I just chalked down to being pregnant.

Once the Gestational Diabetes was diagnosed, I had to keep a blood sugar diary. A process which involved me testing my blood when I woke, before I ate, two hours after I ate and before I went to sleep. Although tedious, I could see the effect that certain types of food had on my body. If I snuck in a cravings meal from KFC (digusting, I know. Now the thought makes me cringe but at the time it was quick, easy and located right down the street from me) my blood sugar was high for more than 2 hours. I would have to go for a walk just to get my blood sugar down. When I ate a well proportioned meal with protein, healthier carbs, and vegetables my blood sugar was normal. Once I understood the risks it posed to my unborn child I cut out the cake, no more orange juice, no more late night snacks. This went on for the last few weeks of my pregnancy. It was my weekly challenge to not put on any more weight than what was expected for the baby’s growth. After my 9 lb son’s birth, my blood sugar went back to normal and the gestational diabetes became a memory.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I thought it was all going a bit better than the first pregnancy. At the 27 week point I was given Metformin (an oral medication to control blood sugar). I wasn’t really told anything about this medication except that I should take it after I eat. I didn’t inquire as I just trusted the doctors with what they were giving me. Of course, the healthcare industry has improved since then. Nowadays, they would probably consider using pharmacogenetic testing to check that the medication is safe. To learn more about this method, find here. Anyway, I had to do the same process with a blood sugar diary. I was working during my second pregnancy but in a more active role which didn’t require much desk time. I was often on my feet which I think helped me stay active. I did eat healthier, however, I was often tempted daily with treats of homemade Luqaimat and karak which was hard to resist, often brought in by my local coworkers – it would be just rude to resist – but I had to most times.

I didn’t put on as much weight as the first pregnancy – which I think happens to alot of women. Second time around, you have a better idea of what is going on with your body. Still I had gestational diabetes. When my daughter was born, she was smaller than the first baby which was good, but she did get jaundice a day later.

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By the time my 3rd pregnancy rolled around – since my history with Gestational Diabetes, I was sent to a Diabetes Center to see a proper specialist (who informed me that Metformin should not be used unless extreme cases of super high blood sugar) which I was not. I had a basic understanding of what I should and should not be eating. I also incorporated a lot more exercise into my 3rd pregnancy – mainly because I didn’t want swollen feet. The exercise consisted of light jogging (ran my last 10k at 5 months), after which I just stuck to walking.

My 3rd pregnancy was the healthiest and the benefits were evident. I ate a healthier of a diet that consisted of lean proteins, fresh fruit and vegetable. I cut out all juices (as they tend to be high in sugar) unless they were freshly made. I reduced my starchy carb intake – no bread, rice or potato (except for the occasional Nando’s Peri Peri chips). I did keep a blood sugar diary for only a few weeks but it only confirmed that I was eating properly and getting enough exercise. Well I had two other little ones that I was always chasing after, so that kept me very active. Happy to report – no high blood sugar and most importantly NO swollen feet 3rd time around.

Gestational diabetes is something that should not be taken lightly. It is something that can be avoided. If not avoided it, it is something that can be controlled. I can’t believe how easy it was to control in my 3rd pregnancy once I put a little bit of effort in. I felt better, didn’t feel sluggish, and felt happier overall compared to my previous pregnancies.

Statistics show that women who’ve had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. My natural instinct of It won’t happen to me now changed to I don’t want it to happen to me! I have 3 little ones to think about and I want to be healthy for them. I was in my mid 30’s before starting a family and I don’t want age or health complications to impede on any activity I want to do with them when they are older. The best advice the doctor gave to me was this: “Active people don’t get diabetes.” I have always kept that in the back of my mind. Type 2 Diabetes is completely preventable. Since that pregnancy, I have aimed to live a healthier and more active lifestyle.

So for my small part in World Health Day – I am sharing my story. Remember that active people don’t get diabetes. Stay active, stay healthy and Beat Diabetes. For further reading on World Health Day: Beat Diabetes please check out www.who.int.

Did you ever have Gestational Diabetes during any of your pregnancies? How was your experience?

*Stone is equal to 14 lbs. When people first arrive in UAE, they tend to put on the extra weight because of all the glorious food, brunches and 5 star buffets.