How I got diabetes: I traded housework for exercise, didn’t go for a walk, cooked high-fat foods at home

Little did Sukhwinder Kaur know that women are 1.5 times more prone to diabetes and obesity because they view housework as exercise. Women who have had high blood glucose levels during pregnancy need to be extra cautious. They should get 150 minutes of physical activity a week. A good pace for walking is more than 5km in an hour and add some resistance training, says Dr Ashu Rastogi, associate professor, Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, PGIMER, Chandigarh

diabetesDue to his high sugar levels, Sukhwinder began experiencing anxiety, sweating heavily, unexplained pain in his legs, loss of appetite, extreme thirst, fatigue, shortness of breath, swollen feet, itching, and poor vision. (Source: Getty Images/ Thinkstock)

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Three years ago, life took a totally unexpected turn for Sukhwinder Kaur, 45, when her COVID-19 test came back negative, but her blood sugar test didn’t. In fact, her levels were an alarming 250 mg/dL, and the lab asked her to see a doctor at the time. She was mortified when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. For a long time, the Jalandhar businesswoman had taken comfort in the fact that she had no family history of her condition. Her busy day at work has convinced her that she is quite active. It was only after answering the doctor’s questions about her lifestyle and diet that she realized she couldn’t blame it on a cruel twist of fate. Her diabetes was not accidental; she had brought it on herself in long years of indulgence.

At 5 feet 4 inches, I weighed over 85kg, had abdominal obesity or belly fat, and except for housework, had no exercise regimen. Taking care of my business and family meant there was no time for a walk, yoga or any indoor exercise. But the biggest problem was in my diet. Like many Punjabi families, our diet consisted of mostly carbohydrate aloo parathas, chapatis made with ghee and rice for all three main meals. We cooked all the vegetables and curry in ghee or butter, with generous use of spices. Even though we didn’t eat out, we followed a high-calorie diet at home. Sweets were a must after every meal, whether it was besan or sooji halwa or our local khoya delicacies, recalls Sukhwinder, who had already developed prediabetes with his calorie overload.

It is representative of the growing burden of diabetes in India caused by poor management of lifestyle, diet and lack of exercise. Dr Ashu Rastogi, an associate professor at the diabetes clinic in the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, was not at all surprised by Sukhwinder’s case. He had conducted a study in 2019 in which he tested a group of people for blood sugar levels, many of whom were in the normal range. We followed them over the years and found that many of the regular group only became diabetic because of bad lifestyle choices, he says.

Due to his high sugar levels, Sukhwinder began experiencing anxiety, sweating heavily, unexplained pain in his legs, loss of appetite, extreme thirst, fatigue, shortness of breath, swollen feet, itching, and poor vision. Aside from his physical changes and discomfort, Sukhwinder felt stressed and out of control. I stopped keeping track of how many times I had to run to the bathroom, sometimes in the middle of work and household chores, and the situation was very limiting and awkward. I was constantly worried if this was the beginning of the end for me, she says.

After trying treatment at a local hospital, consulting private doctors and taking alternative medicines, Sukhwinder is now a regular customer of PGIMER. In addition to medications, the doctors here put her on a strict, low-calorie diet and exercise program. His sugar levels and her weight have decreased in recent months. This has meant changing everything she’s known up to now and while it hasn’t been easy, her effort is finally paying off. I was told to limit my calorie intake, cut back on carbs and sweets, measure each meal according to my daily carbohydrate allowance, and not sit for long hours. Instead of chapatis and rice, I now have besan rotis. I’ve reduced my portion size, eating two chapatis instead of four, and I’ve completely cut back on fats, fried foods, and sweets. Most of my meal includes greens, sprouts, protein, low-calorie, high-fiber fruits like papaya and guava. Instead of samosas and pakoras, I snack on roasted chanas. I take regular brisk walks for a minimum of 40 minutes, breath work to take care of my stress, and follow all the doctors suggestions, especially taking my meds on time and not missing a dose. I feel more positive now and make sure my whole family eats better, gets involved in physical activities, and we don’t ignore our health, she says. There was a time when Sukhwinder couldn’t resist mangoes. Now she only indulges in a small slice when she feels like a snack between meals.

Meanwhile Dr. Rastogi is racing against time to clear the backlog of OPD cards on his desk as he struggles to get a patient to take insulin injections as her sugar levels hit 350. In 2010, we had 150 to 200 new patients in our OPD. Now we see 500 to 600. The latest study from the ICMR states that India has about 101 million people living with diabetes and another 136 million people in stages of prediabetes. In addition to diabetes, there is also a high prevalence of metabolic disorders such as obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol levels, and this situation needs to be addressed immediately with policy changes, such as screening for diabetes after age 40, even if not is there a family history or symptoms, she says. We are seeing obesity in all age groups, which is a major cause of metabolic disorders. The abdominal circumference must not exceed 90 cm for a man and 80 cm for a woman. A random blood glucose reading above 140 mg/dL indicates prediabetes, and if the random reading is above 200, a person is likely diabetic. An HbA1c test of 5.7 to 6.4 is prediabetes, adds Dr. Rastogi.

Lifestyle changes, such as losing five percent of your body weight, can reduce your risk of diabetes by 60 percent, says a doctor. Type 2 may be reversible if a person has had diabetes for less than five years. Do not stop medications until tests show normal blood glucose levels for one year. Fasting sugar should be less than 100 mg/dL and less than 140 mg/dL after a meal. Women are 1.5 times more prone to diabetes and obesity, as they view housework as exercise, and women who have had high blood glucose levels during pregnancy need to be extra cautious. It is crucial to do some type of aerobic activity, 150 minutes a week. A good pace for walking is more than 5km in an hour and add some resistance training. Simple lifestyle changes, regular screenings, and adhering to doctors’ advice are the best ways to prevent and manage diabetes, says Dr. Rastogi. That’s why Sukhwinder travels 150km to reach PGI at 4am for an initial consultation. He doesn’t want to slip again.

First published on: 2023-06-25 at 06:00 AM IST



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