Decide and Conquer: From Diagnosis at 7 to Diabetic Health Coach Today
Editor’s Note: Lauren Bongiorno will be leading yoga sessions + wellness conversations at the Slipstream Camp Series this summer. Grab a spot in Maine, Southern California, or Ontario to hang + learn with Lauren!
I was 7 years old on November 1 when I was newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In a matter of minutes I went from living a carefree childhood running around on the soccer field, swimming at the beach and sleeping over friend’s houses without a worry on my mind, to laying in a hospital bed forced to grow up faster than most kids. Yet, although we can all agree that living with diabetes is no walk in the park, I wake up everyday with a grateful heart. Not only because diabetes has made me a stronger person mentally and emotionally, but also because it has given me the opportunity to help other people with diabetes conquer the relentless day-to-day challenges that this disease poses as well.
Today I am a diabetic health coach, yoga instructor, boot camp instructor, Institute for Integrative Nutrition graduate and the co-creator of the Keep Healthy Inc. Low Glycemic snack bars—the only low glycemic bar on the market that does not contain any sugar alcohols or other artificial ingredients.
My journey to where I am today, as an advocate for strengthening both mind and body to conquer your challenges—whatever they may be—largely stems from overcoming an unhealthy obsession I used to have around controlling my diabetes, food and exercise.
My senior year of high school I was recruited to play Division 1 soccer at UNCW and had worked my butt off in the years prior to reach that goal. My freshman year I played in the fall season, but mid-way into spring season I made the decision to stop playing. I wasn’t getting the full “college experience” I desired, wasn’t bonding with my teammates the way I had in the past and realized the only reason I was staying on the team was because I didn’t want to let my parents, friends and coaches down.
When I decided to leave the team, I felt an instant weight lifted off my shoulders, but at the same time I felt the whole world spinning out of my hands. For the entirety of my life, soccer was a huge part of my identity. When I no longer had that, I turned to areas of my life I could control: my diabetes. As an innocent coping mechanism, I quickly became obsessed with eating what I thought to be the best for blood sugar control—low carb/high protein, exercising obsessively seven days a week and restricting myself from any activities or food that was not aligned with the control I desired. Ironically enough, my energy during this time was at it’s all time low, I was scared of many foods, didn’t know what the “right” answers were, my hormones were all out of whack, and I started to realize I wasn’t as healthy as I thought I was.
Over the next few years, I stumbled across Netflix documentaries like Hungry for Change and became interested in reading articles that encouraged eating to nourish and fuel your body (not just limit your carbs and eat less calories)—a conversation around health that was new to me. I started seriously practicing yoga at a studio near my college campus and fell in love with the “mental” release I experienced in each class.
What these outlets taught me was that conquering my diabetes did not have to mean restriction, and did not have to mean perfection 100 percent of the time. Rather, conquering my diabetes would come from having a healthy relationship with food and this disease. It would come from realizing that we must control the things we can, and let go of the things we can’t. It would come from thinking about myself in the healthiest, happiest state and fulfilling ALL areas of my life to get to that place—fitness, nutrition, home environment, diabetes management, relationships, social life, joy, spirituality and career. Finding balance was key.
Today I maintain a 5.7 A1C, but out of an empowered mindset rather than a restrictive, fearful one. I’ve found what works best for my body through a lot of trial and error—I eat around 200 carbs a day, fill up my plate with a ton of plant based foods, but make sure to always leave room for some chocolate after dinner. I have off the chart energy levels, rarely get sick anymore and have an insane love for the body I am in. I am stronger today mentally, physically and emotionally because of the relentless challenges diabetes has given me. Sure I get frustrated time to time when I wake up in the middle of the night high because my pump wires got twisted, or when I go low unexpectedly during a run. But I don’t harp on it too long because of my strong desire to keep my mind strong, and the space in my heart a positive one.
My passion for health lead me to attend the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I now work with people with diabetes all around the world in helping them feel their best through food and lifestyle changes. Together we work to lower A1C, increase insulin sensitivity for weight loss, achieve stable and predictable blood sugar levels, control sugar cravings/ binge eating and establish a healthy nutrition and exercise routine. If I have learned anything through my own journey, and those of my clients, it’s that once you decide to make having a healthy and empowered relationship with your diabetes a priority, you can conquer any challenge that comes your way.
Read Secrets to Lowering your A1C—a diabetes Health Coach Gives Us the Scoop by Lauren Bongiorno.