How Diabetic Retinopathy Created A Fitness Queen

Meghan Bea
June 1, 2024

"We are all champions fighting diabetes" says fitness coach and Instagram star Vanessa Haydock.

Take a peek at health coach Vanessa Haydock’s Instagram and you’ll see pictures of a fit, toned, smiling fitness coach. But dive in deeper and you’ll see a woman who has lived with Type 1 most of her life and who is committed to helping others (including people with type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, pre-diabetes, and obesity) live their healthiest lives. Proudly displaying her continuous glucose monitor in most of her pictures, Vanessa describes diabetes as “an unpaid 24/7 full-time job." Vanessa’s popular Instagram has 28K followers and shows the raw, unfiltered side of diabetes— the times when you’ve done everything right and your glucose levels are too high or low, or the way you have to constantly count carbs. “We are all champions fighting diabetes, even when we feel we are losing,” she says. Virta sat down for an interview with Vanessa about fitness, diabetes, and living your healthiest life.

Virta: How did your diabetes diagnosis change your life?

VH: I was three years old when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I can’t remember what it was like back then as  I was so young. My mother and father had to try and control my diabetes as best they could, by monitoring my sugars and calculating my insulin requirements, so it changed their lives more than mine at first. I still did everything other kids did, but with some exceptions. I had to be more careful when it came to sugary foods. I couldn’t, for example, consume a lot of sweets on Halloween. Overall, it didn’t stop me from doing anything. I still played lots of sports as a young girl, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

When I was a teenager, I was in a lot of denial about my diabetes.... I just wanted to be like my friends.

I learned how to manage my diabetes myself as I got older—how to do my own insulin, how to check my own glucose levels. My parents started to teach me early on.

But when I became a teenager, I was in a lot of denial about my diabetes. That was when my control over my glucose levels was a lot worse than what they are now. I just wanted to be like my friends. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to look after myself; it was more that I struggled with the motivation to manage my glucose levels because it was so difficult.

Instagram influencer and fitness coach Vanessa Haydock displaying her continuous glucose monitor.

Virta: How did fitness become such a big part of your life?

VH: When I was eighteen years old, I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. This is a diabetes related eye condition, highly linked to poor diabetes management. This diagnosis was the shock tactic that made me completely change my habits for the better. I began to do a better job monitoring my glucose levels, and I also started to exercise more, especially using resistance training. This helped me to not only build up my strength but also my love of exercise. This was thirteen years ago, so I’ve been training for quite a long time now. It led me to want to help others take control of their overall health by building their fitness and by building healthy habits.

Virta: Have you had to change the way you workout because of your diabetes?

VH: It’s important for me to manage my glucose levels before, during, and after exercise. Different exercises affect glucose levels in different ways. A run, for example, makes my blood sugar drop. Resistance training sometimes makes my glucose level rise. There’s a lot of preparation and forward thinking when it comes to planning my workouts. I’ve found that having a good routine and being consistent with that routine helps a lot.

When it comes to healthy habits, it all depends on the individual. Everyone’s diabetes is different.

Virta: What advice would you give to those with diabetes who want to improve their health?

VH: When it comes to healthy habits, it all depends on the individual. Everyone’s diabetes is different. What works for me might not be what works for others. Always listen to your medical team. Keep a close eye on your glucose levels and find a routine that works for you. For example, I always keep close track of my glucose levels while working out [using my continuous glucose monitor]. Start with building small habits rather than trying to change too many things at once. 

Virta: What do you say to your clients to motivate them when they’re struggling to meet their fitness goals?

VH: Rather than focusing only on big goals, I try to get them to strip things back a bit and focus on small goals first. For example, if a client is trying to increase their movement throughout the day, they should add movement incrementally, not all at once. 

You can follow Vanessa Haydock on Instagram  @diabetic_health_coach.

If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, or obesity and want to live a healthier lifestyle, Virta Health may be able to help. By making healthy lifestyle changes in a medical setting with supportive resources like 1:1 virtual coaching, you can regain control of your health and feel like yourself again. See if you’re eligible for Virta Health here.

This publication is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any advice relating to your health. View full disclaimer

Meghan Bea has lived with lupus for over a decade and is still learning about her disease. She began writing as part of her rehabilitation from a severe brain flare in 2014 and simply never stopped. Her work has been published in Hippocampus, Ravishly, Folks at Pillpack, Al Jazeera, and the Huffington Post. When she's not writing, she can be found cuddling with her rescue dogs, drinking bubble tea, and teaching students ages three to eighty-nine how to play the violin and viola.