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  • Writer's picture Bowie Matteson

Lessons from Diabetes: Part 1

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Diabetes is a disease that demands a lot of attention when it comes to managing the health and wellness of today’s youth. Type I diabetes (T1D) effects 1.25 million Americans with 200,000 of them being under the age of 20. Perhaps more startling, from 2001 to 2009 there was a 21% increase in T1D diagnoses among people under the age of 20 and this number continues to rise.

Ever since my T1D diagnosis in 2001, there has been a unanimous theme among each and every doctor and specialist of mine that my physical fitness plays a major role in how diabetes affects my life. Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity, decreases blood sugar levels, manages body weight and improves circulation: all things vital to living comfortably with the disease. Combine this with cleaner eating (more on this later) and diabetes becomes an incredibly livable disease.

Enter Type II diabetes (T2D). Physical fitness enters a completely new level of significance in not only the treatment but the prevention of the disease. T2D is a condition where the body loses sensitivity to the insulin it naturally produces. This loss of sensitivity is commonly associated with weight gain and obesity. Now, T2D effects far fewer children (about ¼ the number of T1D). But the rates of pre-diabetes and the ballooning rate of adults with T2D is enough to put the future generation on red alert.

Here are the stats:

· In 2015, 10% of the American population had diabetes. 10%!

· 25% of seniors (65 and older) have diabetes

· Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.

· The total cost of diagnosed diabetes sums to $327 billion

And while this blog is largely dedicated to getting rid of diabetes, it should not go without some important recognition for what it's done for me.

So in place of unsolicited medical advice, I’d rather share the most important things getting T1D taught me about staying active and eating right.

Lesson #1: Discipline is the way to control, control is the way to freedom

I was 8 years old when I was diagnosed. An unusually long stomach bug had blossomed into rushes to the doctor’s office and a 2-night stay at our local hospital. At that time, I had a new-found love in Little League baseball, a vicious sweet tooth and an unparalleled desire to do things on my own. My parents obliged and, after a good talk about the risks, gave me the reigns. I was the one reading the manuals, testing the equipment and asking the doctor what things would be like. My disease, my choices.

As empowered and independent as I felt, there was a lot to keep track of. This was not something I would be able to dip my toes in. There were rules to follow and severe consequences for not following. Finger-pricking, carb-logging and the ensuing highs and lows of trial and error plagued my first few years. But, looking back, it was that trial and error, that immediate, physical feedback, that showed the importance of sticking to a plan and taking control. I was forced to feel my mistakes and confront them head on.

Diabetes can be your downfall or your fuel

The control I gained was freedom for me. Once it came to doing the other things that 8 year olds do, like play baseball, I took the process of learning and applying myself very seriously. I celebrated the freedom to practice uninterrupted, to sleep over at teammates’ houses and be trusted to take care of myself on travel baseball trips. Diabetes was the medium through which I learned bodily cause and effect and turned it into liberation.

A passion for baseball eventually bloomed into weightlifting and sports performance. Learning a new lift meant going to the performance manuals, the YouTube videos and talking to trainers, a process I was all too familiar with. Just as the discipline of checking blood sugars and counting carbs gave me the gift of control over my disease, the long training sessions, hours of coaching and connecting with other professionals gave me power over my fitness.

So before you start your pity party for 8 year old me, I’ve moved on and made diabetes into a tool of mine. With it I forge habits and routines that continue to improve my mental and physical health.

My hope is that my experience can show others struggling to leverage this disease that it has the power to make you stronger than you knew possible.

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