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A Diabetic Athlete Shares How She Minimizes High And Low Blood Sugar

Ginger's book, "Your Diabetes Science Experiment," explains the science behind "mystery high blood sugars" and "unexpected low blood sugars" and how to minimize their occurrence.
06/03/2011 09:35am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Ginger Vieira is only 25 years old. Yet she has set 15 national records in power lifting, is an avid video blogger, health coach, former yoga instructor, Community Leader and Social Media Manager for dLife -- and has written and published a novel diabetes management book. Ginger has lived with Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease for 12 years.

Ginger's book, "Your Diabetes Science Experiment," explains the science behind "mystery high blood sugars" and "unexpected low blood sugars" and how to minimize their occurrence.

This is my second BookView: an interview with an author and brief review of a book that offers an intriguing proposition.

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Q: Who is your book meant for and what do you want people to learn?

Ginger Vieira: The book is for anyone with diabetes. There's particular information if you use insulin, but even if you don't you'll learn how nutrition and exercise affect a diabetic body. The biggest thing I want people to take away is that when your blood sugars are high or low there is a logical reason. And in many cases there is something you can do to prevent those fluctuations from happening. People need more information than they're getting from a hospital class or their doctor.

Specifically, I discuss in the book how proteins, fats and carbohydrates impact a human body with diabetes and ways to increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin resistance. With this information you can more finely adjust your insulin doses for meals, activity and weight loss.

Q: What does "experiment" mean in your book title?

GV: Giving yourself room for trial-and-error. Our bodies are different and we each have to find our insulin requirements, and under different circumstances. That means trial-and-error, experimenting, but experimenting safely. Like making very small adjustments, determining if it was the right adjustment, and re-adjusting as needed. There are simple templates in the book that allow readers to focus on one or two variables at a time as they work to fine-tune their management.

Q: Why did you write the book?

GV: I had learned so much incredibly useful information adjusting my insulin for power lifting that I felt I had to share it. I was also reading exercise and human physiology medical textbooks at the time and discovering information that was so pertinent to living with diabetes.

For instance, as a person with diabetes, we're taught to think that our body has different needs when it comes to sports than people without diabetes. But while I was training I realized something that changed my entire approach to being an athlete with diabetes: Your body has the exact same needs as a non-diabetic! You need more glucose (simple carbohydrate) while you're doing aerobic exercise like running or playing basketball, but you need more insulin while you're doing anaerobic exercise like weight lifting. And, you need more good carbohydrates after both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. This is the kind of information people don't usually get.

Q: That level of detail is hardly ever taught to a patient.

GV: Exactly because health care providers don't have the time or don't know this themselves. But by experimenting you begin to learn how your body responds and what it needs. Then controlling your blood sugar becomes a million times easier.

Your goal as someone with diabetes should be to imitate as closely as possible what a non-diabetic's body does during exercise instead of treating your body like it's sick.

Q: You've set 15 records in power lifting. Is that what got you to first experiment with your blood sugar and insulin requirements?

GV: I joined a gym just to get in better shape. After a year of basic weight training I'd gotten pretty strong and was interested in power lifting. When I told my doctor I wanted to do power lifting, he rolled his eyes like I was crazy and dismissed it. I was so angry I wanted to prove him wrong so I began experimenting with my regimen, food and insulin.

I had to understand critical aspects about insulin sensitivity, hormone production and other parts of human physiology. I started studying exercise physiology to understand how heart rate, aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise impact the human body. If I was going to keep up with the "non-diabetics," I couldn't afford to have a low or a high blood sugar in the middle of a workout or a competition.

Q: Can you give me an example of how you manage your insulin for power lifting?

GV: I have to titrate my insulin doses very specifically at very specific times. When I'm cutting water weight the week before a competition, I'm also eating zero carbs, so I reduce all my insulin doses. When I'm competing, my adrenaline on the day of the meet is so immense, that my blood sugar spikes all day long. I learned that I have to raise both my short- and long-acting insulin.

Q: In general, you see living with diabetes as you call your business "Living in Progress" and you've produced a number of inspiring videos. Where does your optimism come from?

GV: I don't feel sorry for myself because I have diabetes; I see it as a challenge. Every day it's like, "Okay diabetes, let's see what I can do with you today!" It sounds cliché, but I really have grown the most after going through really rough challenges. I have great people in my life to spend time with and I've come to a place where I know what I am worth. I'm not going to let diabetes get in the way of that.

Q: How have you managed to do all you've done, some would say, in spite of living with a chronic illness?

GV: My mother would tell you I won't do anything that I don't think is worthwhile and my father would tell you I'm a "bulldog." When passion, integrity and enthusiasm are the driving forces behind your actions, it's hard to go wrong. I think I just really know what I believe in and what I care about. I care about people living with diabetes and I want to help them make life with this disease easier.

Q: What one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

GV: I have an all-powerful sweet tooth. I'm always trying to maintain a balance in my life and marshmallows covered in chocolate with rainbow sprinkles are an important part of that balance!

Q: What last thing would you like people to know about diabetes or your book?

GV: People who don't have diabetes think taking shots and pricking your finger is the hardest thing, but actually it's the easiest thing about diabetes. It's your blood sugar going too high and too low that makes this disease so incredibly complicated and hard to live with.

Simple things like going for a long walk and sleeping in and missing breakfast can throw your blood sugar. And when your blood sugar's too high or too low, trying to concentrate on a test or having energy to work is impossible. Diabetes impacts every single thing in your life, exercise, food, friends, relationships. Learning how to manage your blood sugar makes life so much easier and better.

Ginger's best power lifts include a 308 pound deadlift, 190 pound bench press and a 265 pound squat. For an expanded version of this interview, click here.

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Book Review: "Your Diabetes Science Experiment," written by Ginger Vieira, a patient with Type 1 diabetes and athlete, conveys how the body works and what it needs to have less frequent high and low blood sugars. As an athlete, Vieira describes in-depth the impact of activity on blood sugar and how to stay in balance with proper insulin dosing. Readers are encouraged to conduct small experiments to learn for themselves how to balance food, exercise and medicine, and templates are provided in the book to record results. Vieira also explains the impact of nutrients, stress and sickness on blood sugar.

What I like most: Ginger's friendly and conversational voice, and sharing of what she's learned through her own experiments. I also like Ginger's down-to-earth, matter-of-fact optimistic, don't-beat-yourself-up attitude.

Quick book tip: ... there are some awesome benefits of exercising first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, when it comes to balancing your blood sugar ... When you wake up your glycogen stores are empty because your body used that fuel while you were sleeping to keep you and your brain running well all night long. There isn't a large quantity of short-acting insulin left over in your bloodstream for any meal boluses, because it's probably been at least six hours since you last ate. And, your body is producing tons of hormones around this time that blunt your sensitivity to insulin and therefore make it much more difficult to drop low.

If you were to go on a very long power-walk first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, you should not need any extra carbohydrates to maintain your blood sugar ... Simply going for a 30-minute walk first thing in the morning will have a huge impact on your overall diabetes management. You won't need to worry about prepping your blood sugar. You'll burn calories. You'll burn fat. You'll ignite your metabolism for the day ... No major experiments necessary. Page 182.