6 areas the Buddha would pay attention to if he had diabetes

The Buddha was a list maker. His teachings were passed down for over 500 years through the oral tradition. In order for them to be easily memorized, he summarized them via lists – the 4 noble truths, the 8-fold path, the 5 hindrances, the 3 poisons etc.

It works! Think of it as mnemonics, techniques for helping you to remember.

Learning from this method, I focus on the 6 ways to keep my glucose levels within a non-diabetic range, insulin-free. I say range, because when living with this condition, no matter how carefully, sometimes the body just does unexpected things.

It’s important to be OK with that. Not to the point to of “who cares”, but coming from a perspective of acceptance, kindness, and self-compassion.

Do what you can to manage your health, and accept whatever the result is.

If you accept how things are, there’s a better chance for improvement because you start from a place of feeling OK about yourself.

If you don’t accept what’s happening, you’ll often end up feeling bad. That’s not a great position from which to launch into your next step.

In managing Type 2 insulin-free, there are 6 main areas I pay serious attention to…diet, exercise, stress management, sleep, medication/supplements, and…

 mindfulness.

Most of you will have heard or read about the first five. The odd one out is the last one, mindfulness. This rarely shows up in relation to any of them!

Yet, I’ve found it the most important, the foundation that any success in the other five areas rests upon.

There’s no shortage of places to find information on what to do about the first five topics. Indeed, they’re recommended as areas to focus on by experts in the field of diabetes management.

What’s often missing is how to make these changes.

Where they end, I begin…I’ll explain how to, not just what to.

Most likely, the experts and medical personal advised you, when newly diagnosed, to make certain lifestyle changes. They probably even mentioned the ones above.

 

Change is hard

Easier said than done, especially if you received that advice, tried and failed.

If you didn’t succeed, it’s because you were told to change ingrained long-term habits.

 

If so, don’t worry, you’re in the majority! It simply doesn’t work that way…it’s often not the problem knowng what to do, it’s how to make and keep what you change.

The 6 areas the Buddha would have paid attention to;

1. Diet. As this is central to keeping diabetes under control, it is probably the most important. Ignore it and no matter what else you do, it’ll be either difficult to maintain BG levels or you’ll end up taking higher doses of medication/insulin.

2. Exercise. The muscles are the biggest users of glucose in the body, with the brain using the most. When we become resistant to insulin it is no longer able to open the cells for the glucose to enter where it’s converted to energy. Instead the glucose circulates in the bloodstream. This isn’t a good idea. Working out increases muscle tone, allowing the muscles to vacuum up the glucose circulating in the bloodstream and is a major player in avoiding serious, nasty complications.

3. Stress management. Under stress, the body releases cortisol, which spikes blood glucose. To minimize spikes, it’s helpful to manage your stress. One common response to stress is by eating for comfort or reward. Often this means carbohydrate-rich foods, a habit that can also lead to weight gain. Weight gain further increases insulin resistance, and so the vicious circle continues.

4. Sleep. Sleep impairment is an under-reported medical condition that exacerbates many physical and emotional conditions. Getting less than an optimal amount can be detrimental to your health. It can make you more prone to mistakes or accidents. It can also increase your appetite, and therefore your risk for eating more food than you need.

5. Medications/Supplements. Take medications and supplements suggested by your physician. However, don’t be passive about it. Question them to be clear what the prescription is for.

Some of the pertinent questions I ask; Any side effects? How long before it takes effect? What should I do if I miss a dose? Is it safe to simply stop or do I need to titrate it down slowly? Taken with a meal or not? Any other supplements, medications or food that can have either a positive or negative effect on it?

This isn’t a complete list, but you get the gist. I don’t just go with what they tell me, but question further until I feel I know enough to understand.

6. Mindfulness. Being mindful, paying bare attention to every moment, equally receiving whatever it has to offer, neither pushing away or clinging to it. An alert wake mind catches any variations in these major areas, adjusting them when needed before they get out of hand. Being aware permits you to tweak any trends heading in the wrong direction before it’s too late.

Catch 22 Type 2

Unless you’ve just returned from the last decade on top of a mountain, or the middle of a desert, you are probably aware of the ubiquitous message that exercise is good for us all. And as muscles are the largest users in the body of glucose, it’s especially true for those with Type 2. Work those muscles, and they’ll vacuum up the glucose swirling through your blood!

Perhaps you’ve tried to increase your favorite activities, or begin visiting the gym where you have already paid more than the price of your house in unused membership dues. Many of you likely have great intentions to work-out, but the reality of creating a practice that is sustainable defeats all but the more determined ones.

Of course, if you focus on the actual activity itself, it’s not exactly enticing for most of us. I’ll post more later about how to start or stay with a workout.

 

There aren’t many people I know who are motivated to go and workout merely by thinking ahead of time in detail about each exercise they’ll do. Maybe there are a few somewhere who, merely by mentally walking through a bicep curl, feel motivated.

I can imagine their inner monologue, especially if trained by a fitness instructor. ‘I’ll walk over to the rack of free weights, pick a five pound heavier than last weeks heavy weight, that’ll win extra brownie points…wrestle it out of its support, probably need two hands for that if it’s the twenty pounder…stagger over lopsidedly ‘cos I can’t carry two at once…plunk my butt down on a large, T-mobile pink plastic blow-up medicine ball to work my core muscles simultaneously…plant my feet slightly wider than my hips for balance, and agonizingly slowly, curl the hand grasping this dumb-bell towards my shoulder…bending the elbow on its hinge…until this dumb dumb-bell virtually crashes into my aching shoulder…before gravity helps it back down to rest on my quads. I can’t wait to repeat that eleven more times, and then switch hands, and do it all over again with my other arm. Few sips of water, then whoo-hoo, I get to start all over again! Must remember to breathe in going up, and out on the way down, otherwise I’ll get hemorrhoids’.

 

A better alternative I find for keeping motivation high is choosing to recall how I feel after a work-out. If I check in, I notice greater mental alertness, sharper cognitive connections, quicker associations, calmer emotions, less stress or anxiety. All my senses vibrate, awaken, are sharper, pulsating. I’m kinder, less impatient or critical, softer. I’m better motivated by inclining myself toward a healthy state of being.

 

Religiously testing my blood glucose before, during and after working out, the first few months post-diagnosis showed rewarding, steadily decreasing numbers. Some months in though, a different trend emerged. Testing my glucose level midway as usual, sandwiched between strength training and cardio, typically it might be 60-90 mg/dl or more lower than when I began my workout. Now, my glucose level began to be consistently higher by the same amount.

 

Feeling disturbed by this reversal, I was baffled as to how to interpret it. After my customary research online, an answer presents itself. The stress on my body from the intense workouts caused my adrenals to release cortisol, causing higher readings. When I lowered the workout intensity, doing a moderate rather than fierce workout, sure enough my glucose levels fell.

 

A gentle reminder of avoiding extremes as demonstrated by my body, and I grimly set the intention that both Goldilocks and the Buddha would perpetually guide and keep me towards the middle path, the path of not too much or not too little. It turns out helpful for me to perceive the managing of this disease as the Middle Path, a concept I was very familiar with from my study of Buddhism, and my own natural inclination for balance and moderation. I make a mental note, that experience proves to be the best teacher!

3:01 a.m…3:24 a.m…3:47 a.m…

Anyone else out there awake at 3:00 a.m. thinking you’re the only one in your hemisphere who is?

Guess what, you’re not!

I hear it most days from at least one of my psychotherapy clients, but it became personal when I started to experience it regularly. I was never one to function on 4-5 hours sleep as some claim they can. But like many other woman of ‘a certain age’, out the window went my easy, without-trying full nights sleep! And instead, came a pattern of sleep-wake, sleep-wake that left me wondering what is it about the 3:00 a.m. awakening thing?

Given how alert my mind would be at that time led me to research our natural sleep-wake cycles. An interesting piece of information popped up. Historically during agrarian times, people slept in 2 distinct cycles. The first came about after an exhausting day laboring in the fields. After eating, with no energy left, people just fell asleep. After 3-4 hours, they’d naturally wake up, and engage in sex, contemplation, writing by candlelight or even visiting neighbors. After an hour or so, they’d retire for the second cycle of sleep. This could partially explain this common pattern for interrupted sleep.

From the ancient Indian health system of Ayurvedic medicine, the 3:00-4:00 a.m. period is when the liver begins it’s work of detoxifying the body. So physiologically, the body’s systems are doing their job on their own cycle. Could this biological and hormonal firing up be another piece of the puzzle?

It seems our bodies are evolutionarily programmed to awake at times the differing physiological systems clock-in. Given our stressed, busy, over-scheduled lives, being wired to monitors, buzzed and beeped continuously prompting us to react like a pavlovian dog, disturbed sleep is not a good idea.

I know what a huge struggle it was for me to function the next day if my sleep was interrupted.

Sleep hygiene experts tell us to ensure the bedroom is cool-64 degrees or less, totally dark, and the bed and pillow are comfortable, and well supportive. Remove the TV and all other electronic devices, save an alarm clock if used. Avoid staring into any monitor at least 1 hour before bedtime. Cell-phones off, laptops put away, iPads left in the living room. E-readers, using a different built-in LED lighting system don’t have the same effect upon our brains as do other devices, which disturb meletonin (a sleep hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm) production.

Oh, and they advise us to use the bed solely for sex or sleep!

Maybe you’ve done all the above, and still wake up.

Try mindfulness. Next time it happens, make a point of noticing what’s happening in your mind. Is it alert, thoughts very active, jumping restlessly around from topic to topic? Or even worse, obsessively stuck in the hamster wheel of the same thought. Be mindful, without judgement or trying to control your thoughts or empty out your mind, simply notice that you’re thinking, that thinking is happening, then release the thought and let your awareness rest gently on an object like your breath. See if you can follow the in and out breath with your awareness. If it’s helpful, silently note “in” “out” internally to help your mind focus.

It’s unlikely you’ll attain enlightenment from this, although you never know! But what it’ll do is help to calm your mind down by steadying it. If your mind is calmer, so is your body. Yes they are connected!

Sleep comes easier with a calmer, less alert mind and body.

Leave a comment about what you’ve found to be helpful or effective in returning to sleep. I’d love to know what works for you!