A (Gestational Diabetes) Wake Up Call


During my 27th week of pregnancy, I had an (unwanted) revelation: Being fit doesn’t mean being healthy.

I didn’t think twice about taking the mandated glucose tolerance test in my second trimester. I was thin and young, exercised regularly and had no family history of diabetes. So when my doctor called with a diagnosis of gestational diabetes, my emotions spiraled from surprise, terror for my baby and anxiety about what this would mean for my future.  It didn’t make sense and didn’t seem fair. I had already experienced hyperemesis Gravidarum—severe ‘morning sickness’ made famous by Princess Kate—and bleeding due to placenta previa (a low lying placenta), and I felt like my world was crumbling around me.  How could this much go wrong in one pregnancy?

After I spoke with my doctor, I made the critical mistake of searching Google and instead of focusing on treatment and management,  I focused on risks. These risks included type 2 diabetes following pregnancy; a baby with a greater likelihood of being stillborn or developing type 1 diabetes; a large baby that would complicate labor.

Several sleepless nights and anxiety ridden days later, I met a nutritionist to discuss my dietary plan.  I began checking my blood sugars 4x a day (once after waking and one hour after every meal) keeping a food journal, and reading about living with diabetes.  I quickly understood that the biggest risk with gestational diabetes is not managing your sugars actively.  This was empowering.  I could control my body by eating right and finding connections between my food and my post meal blood glucose levels, adjusting as needed.  I became obsessed with my ‘scores’ and motivated when they were particularly good. My father, a retinal surgeon who treats diabetic patients for macular degeneration, encouraged me:  “Case, this disease is made for a type A control freak like you!”

I was lucky that my fasting levels were always low and I was able to regulate my blood glucose levels without needing to inject insulin.  When I was later hospitalized for my placenta previa and put on bed rest, it put the diabetes into perspective. While serious and demanding of attention, it was, unlike previa, something I could control .  I was, however, surprised that during my hospital stay nurses would tell me to eat sugar free substitutes like ketchup or jam with splenda or even ‘low carb’ muffins, rather than focus on reducing my body’s addiction to all things sweet.  Instead, I decided to limit sweets to moderate portions of fruit and carbs to whole grains and vegetables.

DSC_2955My Greek yogurt tasted better with just fruit, rather than swimming in honey. Whole grain breads were tastier and more filling than white.  I became incredibly passionate about real food and cooking meals that both tasted and made me feel great. I started blogging my recipes (pinkbrandywine.tumblr.com), devoted to the idea that the best tasting food was also the best for my body. My sugar tolerance dramatically decreased.

After I delivered a beautiful, healthy baby boy, my attitude towards food and health was irrevocably altered.  I purged the house of sugar and refined or processed carbohydrates. Exercise continued to be a huge part of my life, with the added importance of blOOglucose management.  My new son benefited (as did my husband) from these changes and we are all healthier for it.

When I got pregnant again last year, I knew I would likely have gestational diabetes again.  But it didn’t scare me like it did the first time.  I was confident in my diet and knew my baby would be healthy.  When friends now come to me after a gestational diabetic diagnosis, nervous and scared, I tell them the truth—this is an important wake up call.  You’ll no longer benchmark your health on your weight, but start to honor your body in a way you never thought to before.  You will be healthier for it.  And, most importantly, so will your baby.

Editor’s note: From Casey’s Pink BrandyWine try the “Light and Healthy Bolognese with Zucchini Noodles” They’re delicious.

For more information about gestational diabetes, visit our overview HERE.

WRITTEN BY Casey Tunguz, POSTED 07/29/15, UPDATED 09/18/22

Casey works at Google, managing the Ad Grants program which supports thousands of nonprofits in 50 countries. She is the mom of two boys and an avid yogi, chef, food blogger and francophile. She learned about type 1 diabetes (T1D) through friends, and immediately want to get involved. Her commitment to healthy living was catalyzed by her diagnosis of gestational diabetes, and managing her sugars and learning more about diabetes has become an every day theme and passion in her life.