Monthly Archives: July 2013

Orchestra

Hubby and I went to a mandolin orchestra performance this afternoon. We went primarily because the mother of a friend was a member of the orchestra, but also because we’ve never been to one. I didn’t even know that mandolin orchestras existed. Today’s exposure to a new musical experience, as well as new composers and music, was such a satisfying experience.

During the performance, I was struck at how tight an orchestra had to be. This particular orchestra, for instance, had about 60 members. Yet, they played like one fluid organism. Of course you can differentiate the instruments, but not one particular performer or instrument stood out, as none should. The conductor keeps everything together. I’m a great admirer of conductors. No matter how good each musician is, when you have 60 or more people together, like too many cooks in the same kitchen, things will go wrong unless someone coordinates and takes control.

I’ve never been a member of an orchestra, but I’ve been part of a chorus. In both an orchestra and a chorus, there are very few opportunities to stand out – being one of the few selected soloists for instance. But you do not want to stand out for the wrong reasons – being out of tune, or too loud, or playing or singing out of sync, or forgetting the notes or lyrics. If you’ve been to a performance where something went wrong, then you know that you can hear the mistake clearly.

When everything goes well, no one really notices any specific member’s performance. It’s quite like the human body. When our body functions well, we don’t notice anything. Usually, we become aware of our bodies or our health only when something is wrong because, like that singular voice that is out of tune, whatever is wrong with us sticks out like that proverbial sore thumb. Sure, we have some slight health hiccups, like a cold or a flu, that throw us out of sync every now and then, but once that disturbance is past, we return to our well-coordinated selves. But it may not always be a temporary disturbance, as we can be beset by a mortal condition such as cancer, or by a chronic condition such as diabetes. Achieving that balance and coordination in our bodies becomes a constant challenge. But it’s a challenge that we must face and overcome; otherwise, we deteriorate into a mass of discordant functions.

Our bodies need a conductor, much like an orchestra needs a conductor who is on top of things. Some say that the brain fulfills that function. But I think that we, not just our brains, are the true conductors. Although the brain orchestrates a lot of functions we take for granted, such as breathing, digestion or blood circulation, we make the conscious decisions that matter the most.

Take diabetes (whatever the type). Our body is out of sync because we can’t properly and efficiently make use of our blood glucose. Sooner or later, diabetics become acquainted with specific aspects of their bodies that they have most likely never considered before their diagnosis. We become more attuned to our bodies than most healthy individuals. To address our chronic diabetic state, we must gain control of our bodies, much like a conductor takes control when his orchestra goes awry. While a conductor cannot completely control how his members train and prepare for a performance, when things go wrong, he must make the decisions and take the helm to set things right. In the same vein, we, as the ultimate controllers of our bodies, must decide how we are to regain as much control as we could from diabetes. And, without a doubt, we can control our diabetes. Our control may not be perfect. It definitely differs from one individual to the other. We may not always agree with each other as to how that control takes shape or is to be exercised. But each of us does what we need to do so that our bodies can function as normally as they could. Apart from our bodies, we also take control of our medical team, and our family, friends and other support system, since no one knows ourselves, our needs, our capabilities better than us. For instance, while I respect my endocrinologist’s opinion, I, not he, make the decisions on my treatment. I cannot even fathom giving up that control to him, no matter how many degrees he may hold or how much medical experience he may have.

My treatment does not have to be perfect. An orchestra does not have to be perfect. I’ve seen more than my fair share of imperfect performances. But what I remember the most are not the mistakes, but the second attempts to get it right, and when they get it right, you can’t help but admire them just because they tried. The only thing that we can really ask ourselves to do is try – whether we are dealing with a chronic condition, or building a career, or establishing a family, or doing a job, or just trying to get by. And if we do not succeed, we keep trying. Because the worst that we can do for ourselves and our loved ones is to give up. As long as we keep trying, we will make good music and make the very best of our situation. Maybe we’ll live long enough to see the cure.

Delta’s diabetic meal

(#dblogcheck)

I recently took a Delta flight where I decided to try its diabetic meals (DBMLs). I had tried Delta’s DBML before and I wanted to know if it has improved.

First meal

This was the first Delta DBML meal I received.

My diabetic meal

My diabetic meal

My DBML consisted of chicken breast with some sort of sauce (still not sure what it was) on a bed of a lot of rice, with carrots and snap peas, bread, vegetable oil spread, green salad consisting mainly of lettuce and cucumber, balsamic vinaigrette, and pineapple, cantaloupe and honeydew for dessert. My jaw dropped when I saw my tray. Delta should fire its dietitian for serving a DBML that will crank up any diabetic’s blood sugar level. Rice, bread, pineapple, cantaloupe and honeydew?! And vegetable oil spread?! Was Delta trying to kill me?

In addition, the meal was bland and unappetizing. The chicken breast was tasteless and dry, although it was served really wet as if someone poured water over it. The salad was in such a state that only a famished rabbit would have touched it. Delta was obviously also trying to starve me.

Compare my food tray to my husband’s.

My husband's regular meal

My husband’s meal

He also had chicken breast but with ale sauce, cheddar mashed potatoes and broccoli, shrimp cocktail, green salad (that looked better than mine), bread and dessert (cookie or brownie). I tasted the chicken, and it was so, so much tastier and juicier than mine. He had shrimp cocktail, which was absent from my tray. He had butter! I never thought I’d say this, but I looked at his airline meal with blatant, unconcealed, obvious, make-no-mistake-about-it envy.

Second meal

Before we landed, we had a smaller meal. Mine consisted of a cold zucchini with onion sandwich (yes, bread!), green salad (thankfully, no lettuce), and grapes and pineapple (yup, high sugar fruits again). Again, whoever designed this meal should be sacked pronto. The only redeeming thing I can say about that meal was that it was marginally better than my husband’s egg, tomato and cheddar cheese breakfast croissant (trust me, it sounds better than it tasted or looked). That’s small consolation though.

My requests to Delta

Based on this enlightening experience, as well as similar experiences reported by fellow diabetics online, I ask Delta (and all other airlines which offer DBMLs similar to Delta’s) to please just stop serving diabetic meals. Just give us regular airline chow, which may be as high-carb as a DBML but at least tastes better. We’ll just pick what we can eat.

But if airlines insist on offering DBMLs, then these are my requests – please:

  1. Serve a low carb meal. Regardless of a diabetic’s everyday diet, a low carb meal is the best bet on a long haul international flight. If a traveler is crossing several time zones, his body and hormones will most likely be out of whack and stressed out, both of which contribute to an elevated blood glucose level for diabetic travelers. Help us minimize this elevation by not stuffing us with a high carb meal that is guaranteed to drive our blood glucose even higher. We diabetic travelers, like other passengers, are strapped to our seats and are in a confined space that severely limits our physical activity.  This means that we cannot lower our elevated blood glucose levels through exercise.
  2. Serve us delicious food. All right, it may be too much to ask for delicious food since even regular passengers do not get delicious meals on Delta (or many other airlines for that matter). But, don’t serve us something worse than your regular meal. We may have diabetes, but our taste buds work just fine and can tell the difference between bad food and really bad food. We do not deserve the really bad food.
  3. Give us butter. Why would you give regular passengers butter and us vegetable oil spread? Yuck! Many diabetics do not need to avoid butter. At least, give us the choice.
  4. Do Not Announce to Everyone that We Are Being Served a “Diabetic Meal.” No one needs to know what special meal diabetics are having. In fact, no one needs to know that we are diabetic. Please tell your attendants to just give us our DBMLs quietly, or at least use a low voice. Plus, you do not have to serve us way ahead of other passengers. There is no reason for that. The flight attendants have an idea which seats they are serving – come on, it’s not as if 4 people are serving the entire plane. Hence, there should be no reason why my DBML cannot be served at the same time as the other passengers’ meals.

To my fellow diabetic travelers

Skip DBMLs. You are better off with regular meals. The carb contents of a DBML are not that different from a regular meal, but at least regular meal has some semblance of taste. DBML just means bland, no-salt, no-fat, high carb meal. It seems to me that the airlines’ idea of a DBML is just to serve a lot of carbs albeit in smaller portions. But there is no doubt in my mind that a meal of bread, rice, grapes and pineapple, even at small portions, will drive our BGs up, especially with limited physical activity during the flight.

Also bring your own snacks. On the way to the US, I had eggs with me in case I became hungry. On my way back to Japan, I had cheese which kept me from starving after being served untouchable DBMLs. My own snacks also made it easier for me to say no to mid-flight snacks of brownies and ice cream.

I also usually eat before getting on the plane, so I’m not that hungry. If I there is a menu of flight meals, and I decided to skip a meal, I sleep through meal time. These may help you avoid (or eat only a little of) high-carb airline meals.

Final thoughts

Traveling is fun, but traversing several time zones can be harsh on the body, especially for diabetics. If an airline claims to have the interest of diabetics in mind, then it should do more to serve true diabetic friendly meals.  On the other hand, for us people with diabetes, if we want airlines to serve us food that our body can process during the flight, then we should be more vocal in letting them know what we need to eat, because no food expert will know our bodies and our needs better than us.

Exchange of pleasantries

My husband and I just came from a short trip visiting friends in the US. We spent a few days in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a few days in Liberty Lake near Spokane, Washington, and a few hours in Montana. We had such a wonderful time. Hence, expect a number of my next posts to be about our recent visit.

Dear Lady in Pink,

I don’t know if you remember me, but I definitely remember you. We met briefly on the street Saturday, a week ago, somewhere in Liberty Lake. My run that morning was my last run before my husband and I headed back to Tokyo the next day after a short wonderful visit to the US. You were brisk walking in your bright pink shirt. You were across the road when I walked out of my friends’ front door. We were heading in the same direction although you were a few meters behind me. I started with a slow walk and you soon caught up.

“Good morning,” you said in a chirpy voice.

“Good morning,” I replied.

As you walked energetically past me, you said “You look like an athlete.”

I thanked you, but I don’t think my thanks conveyed how your words tickled me pink. I was so energized to run. In fact, this past week after coming back to Tokyo, I was able to run through jet lag because of what you said. My body wanted to prove you right.

I’m sure you have no idea what it means for someone who was once overweight, who once was not active in any sports, and who is now living with Type 2 diabetes, to be told that she looks like an athlete. I previously thought that I did not need any affirmation, especially from a stranger. But I was so wrong. Your affirmative observation made feel so good about myself.

I also felt that you did not greet me only out of politeness. You took the time to say something personal and meaningful to me, like you actually saw me and was glad with what you saw. I still replay your words in my mind.

My regret is that I did not return the favor. All I could think of was that I really liked your bright pink shirt, and that I was thinking of buying one for myself. I thought that sounded so petty next to your beautiful statement so I never voiced it out.

Your kind gesture touched me so much that I’m starting a new trend in my running community here. I resolve to greet other exercisers I meet during my runs, and hope that such a simple gesture can brighten up their day as your kind words brightened up mine.

Thank you.

Kind regards,

RunningWithoutSugar

About a 13-year old girl

I am very sad today. A 13-year old girl who has been battling an aggressive form of cancer for the past 6-7 years has died. Her name is Talia Castellano.

If you guys haven’t heard of this girl, search the Internet, especially youtube. You just have to meet her.

I was hoping she’d make it, but all of us have a short stint in this life, and Talia’s was much shorter than most people’s. She has made the most of her short stay despite her health issues. I can say for certain that she has inspired a lot of people. She has certainly inspired me.

My type 2 D is nothing compared to her cancer, chemo treatments and constant struggle to be healthy. She was upbeat, positive and happy. She may only have been a young girl, but she certainly taught middle-aged me how to live.

The hedonist in me

I love food. I love the different textures, aromas, flavors, tastes and presentations of food. Food is sensual, seductive, warming, comforting and satisfying. It is a source of enormous pleasure. Thus, it saddens me to hear people say that to them food is just fuel.

I am a gourmand. By gourmand, I mean someone who enjoys eating and drinking, and appreciates good food and good wine, without the pretense and elitism that I associate with a gourmet or a foodie. Maybe it is more accurate to say that I’m a gastronomic hedonist, maybe not in a philosophical sense, but in a real, day-to-day dining and imbibing sense. My love for food is matched only by my love for wine and spirits. I’m not talking about overpriced dishes in expensive restaurants. Good food does not have to be high-priced, and inexpensive dishes do not have to rotate only among three tastes (bland, too sweet or too salty). I’ve had excellent meals in fine restaurants as well as in rundown dim sum houses, makeshift street-side eateries, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and people’s homes. I love to try new places, new recipes and new dishes. I don’t just eat to live, I live to eat.

Appreciation of food came late to me. I’m from a country the cuisine of which, despite having Spanish, American, Chinese and Southeast Asian influences, is sadly eclipsed by the spicy, exciting and visually pleasing cuisines of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Although my mother made sure her children had fresh meat, fish and produce, I did not grow up on exceptional cooking. It was after I moved to Tokyo, at the age of 31, that I came to discover and fully appreciate the pleasures of good food. I felt that I had a lot of catching up to do, and tried my best to make up for lost time.

Just in case you are speculating that I became obese with all this good eating, it was in fact the other way around. Before I took up food appreciation as a serious pursuit, my life revolved around work, and the pressures of building a career steered me towards junk food, soda and rice, noodles and pasta. At that time, food was indeed no more than fuel to me. Naturally, my weight started piling up. But, when I started eating for the sheer pleasure of it, I lost weight (at the same time, I quit smoking and returned to running). I found that really good, fresh, whole food does not have to be eaten in heaps to be satisfying and filling, is best eaten slowly and is definitely best when shared with good and equally appreciative company. Not only did I lose weight, I was also enjoying myself immensely.

Thus, I was devastated, depressed and angry, when, a few years later, my doctor diagnosed me with Type 2 diabetes. I researched and visited online diabetes boards and forums to learn about my condition and how to live with it. A few months after my diagnosis and research, I became convinced that I had to adopt the diet that everyone promised will save me from becoming blind, hooked to a dialysis machine and legless, and from taking medication for the rest of my life. That also meant turning my back on many types of food and dishes. My blood glucose numbers were to die for, and my A1c even plunged below 5% a couple of times. But instead of rejoicing, I was extremely unhappy.

This diet is boring and restrictive. I feel deprived.

I’m sluggish and always sick. I’m no longer enjoying running and socializing. Where’s the boundless energy that everyone on this diet is talking about?

I have lost my appetite. I don’t enjoy food and eating anymore.

I can’t stop thinking about food and eating. 

I’m turning into a cantankerous food cop. I detest people who can eat anything they want.

Heck, that fake low-carb margarita mix looks tempting.

After more than half a year of trying to make this diet work for me, I had enough. Although that diet was effective for many people (especially diabetics), it was clearly not the diet for me. I realized that I was looking at things the wrong way. The question I should have been asking was not “what do I eat” but “how do I want to live and die,” and the latter question leads to the bigger question of “who and what am I.”

I’m a hedonist and a diabetic. I cannot choose between them, and neither takes precedence over the other. I am a gastronomic hedonist to the core. Eating and drinking well are a big part of me. I draw immense pleasure from them. At the same time, I am also diabetic and there is no use denying it. I know that I need to find a way of eating while minimizing the risk of complications. But I do not have to allow the fear and paranoia of diabetes complications to hang over my head like the Sword of Damocles and run my life. Yes, the risk of complications is real, but I cannot spend my days as if I were already afflicted with these complications. What was it that Benjamin Franklin said? “Many people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until they are seventy-five.” I have no desire to live that way.

Instead of ditching certain foods, I experimented with portion control, timing and food combinations. Exercise became an even more important part of my life. I have accepted that I would need medication, and that being medication-free was not the right goal for me to begin with. My A1c, though still in the 5% range, will never dip to 4%, but that’s ok. It has taken a lot of experimentation, testing and introspection to find that delicate balance between an acceptable BG level and my love for eating and drinking, and this is and will be an ongoing process. But that is all right, because I regained my energy, my interest and zest for life, and my old self back. I was happy again.