My diabetes reversal journal: the first month on Virta
By Jeannie, a Virta patient
Day 30 on Virta
What a milestone day this is for me—a whole month of change I never thought possible and results I thought never could happen.
I have to get my A1c test done every 3 months, and I have always dreaded it as if it were a critical math test I’d neglected to study for. I would bargain with myself and find excuses to put off the test, thinking I’d just wait another month and really do better next time.
Three days ago, I got the results back. I saw the email from my doctor. “Great job!” she said. “Your A1c hasn’t been this low in years!”
I was gobsmacked. I hadn’t given it a second thought, and here were the best results I’ve seen in years. I’m down two whole percentage points, from 11.4% to 9.4% after just 1 month on Virta! I can’t even remember the last time my A1C was this low, but as I said to my husband tonight, “It’s still high, just not deadly.” He stopped his TV show, stood up with a huge smile, and gave me a big hug. We stood there holding each other, full of the awareness that this night brought a new kind of hope back into our lives. We no longer have to muster a positive outlook in the face of grim disease, burdened with the awfulness of reality. We can relax, just a little, knowing that these health gains are real and that for the first time in years, I’m beating diabetes.
I feel normal, in a way I didn’t know I was missing. Let me share how I got here.
I’m watching the introductory videos for Virta, and I really thought about my answer to the question that Virta asks in a video, "Finding Your Why." Our “why” is supposed to help us hang in there during a tough time. The video goes into some detail to get you past your first, possibly superficial answer, like "I want to fit better into my jeans."
My “why” is that I've been struggling for so many years and watched my determination and healthy efforts fail over and over in front of the tsunami of diabetes and metabolic-related health damage I'm now experiencing. I am horrified at the spectre of an ugly and profound disability and potential early death, with the paralyzing fear of leaving my husband to care for me as my body and mind fail in ways I had never imagined possible. The last two years have been especially painful and terrifying. I am so grateful and relieved to have this path and the support to make it work.
I feel an ever growing sense of relief, because I am so sure this is the right direction for me. I feel so comforted and prepared by the Virta on-boarding process. Every step is so well thought out and geared to my success! I have been happily surprised at the depth in the educational program and how well-engineered it is. And it's fun! I loved setting out all my healthy groceries to take a picture of them yesterday.
It seems kind of hokey, but I found the “Finding Your Why” exercise surprisingly helpful. I really tapped into the emotion of why I'm here, and days later, I'm drawing on it for inspiration because this has been a tough day.
I'm a little cranky, still recovering from a couple nights' short on sleep that started with a low-sodium (apparently) reaction. And I think I've been a little lazy with my water today. I need to step it up. I was just staring into the fridge looking for something to make me feel better. Thank God I had already cleaned out most of the not-allowed foods. I'm going to go cook a new dinner recipe and listen to a podcast that has nothing to do with food or health. "Pop Culture Happy Hour!" This podcast always makes me laugh.
One thing I’ve noticed is how good food is tasting, even a simple salad. It can't just be my imagination— food tastes better and my sense of smell is stronger. Flavors seem stronger, crisper, and sweeter. Water is sweeter! So is arugula. Red bell pepper is almost too sweet! Amazing.
I was surprised to see my blood sugar levels go up unexpectedly after dinner last night. I realized that while I meant to only eat one serving of brussels sprouts, I ate about three servings because I kept nibbling on them while I was cooking. Even if I'm eating healthy, low carb foods, if I eat too much of them, it can still push me past my personal carb tolerance and affect my blood sugar.
I had a lightbulb moment today when my health coach commented that it’s easier to do portion control if you add fat to your meal. Amazing how helpful the coaching is, even when you have a lot of knowledge; her probing after I had delayed taking my insulin yesterday morning led me to realize I was afraid to take it after having uncomfortable symptoms the previous night.
I’m a little on edge about traveling—I have an upcoming trip, and this will be my first trip on Virta. I don’t know how it’s going to feel. I feel an urgency to prepare as much as possible, but am worried it won’t be enough to deal with every scenario. I keep running through my snack choices, wanting to take no chance of being stranded on an airport runway or on my flight without food I know I can eat. Planning lots of nuts and cheese snacks. I’ll probably bring three times more than I can possibly eat.
And the bouillon! I seem to need more than two cups a day, and I’m terrified I’ll feel lightheaded and need it when I can’t get it, like during take-off. I’m picturing the flight attendant handing me my lukewarm cup of water and me trying to stab the bouillon cube with the coffee stirrer (this came true on my flight home … buy the powdered bouillon for travel!).
I had a wild thought that I’d bring a little glass jar, so I could shake the cube in the warm water. It feels like I’m planning a camping excursion to a remote mountain location, instead of a two hour flight to Seattle. I probably won’t even be due for bouillon until hours after we land!
The truth is, I am well able to take care of myself, I think we all can rise to the occasion when we need to, even if we’re not used to making ourselves a priority. I’ll be fine, even if I have extra nuts for lunch instead of one of my carefully measured salads with a freshly grilled juicy burger with melted cheese. And you can usually get a burger on a salad at the airport. But still, this is a little nerve wracking.
Visiting family will also be trickier than usual. They always seem to have plenty of sugar carbs on hand, lots of crackers and cookies and chips and an old foe: Pop-tarts. I wouldn’t choose to plan a trip right now, which will start on Day 14. I can tell my husband is a little nervous too. He says he’ll be able to relax if he knows I’ll concentrate on myself and my new routine, and forget everything else. This trip was planned before I ever heard of Virta, and life goes on, right? It’ll be a good time and I’m looking forward to it, no matter what pitfalls lie in wait.
This is a week of firsts. First time eating out at a restaurant on Virta, first airplane trip on Virta. I packed two days early to minimize the stress. I’ve been feeling some low sodium symptoms and have had to take more down time than expected. After my first week of feeling just great, this was a surprise.
It seems so strange to be encouraged to salt my food and to meet the 5 grams sodium requirement. I remember watching the videos and learning about it, but it’s almost like my mind simply could not believe this to be true, and kept rejecting this new reality. Some lightheadedness and a headache cured me of this, and I happily eat more salt and drink my bouillon.
So as I type this I’m hurtling up the Pacific coast at 30,000 feet, in a tin can, happy to relax after a stressful morning that started at 4:30am. I’m drinking what may be the most delicious cup of chamomile tea I’ve ever had (have I mentioned food tastes better?). The airport is full of cookies and pastries and candy and sweetened coffee sugar-bombs, none of which I can have and which I honestly don’t want (not that I want to be left alone with them on a desert island—if I had gotten hungry and tired enough, I’d have been in trouble).
I had carefully selected my snacks, not just for the flight but some for the whole week: foil packets of my favorite tuna because it is DELICIOUS and a real treat (not packed in seed oils but with sea salt, yummy), one ounce packets of almonds and these cool little individual wheels of Brie.
Unexpected point of vulnerability: I got a little carsick from the air freshener smell in our airport taxi. That, combined with a too-light breakfast and not-enough water, left me feeling a little low-energy and queasy.
I dug frantically in my backpack for a tuna or cheese packet and they were nowhere to be found! Somehow in my early morning tiredness and packing-stress, I had unthinkingly moved all the snacks to my suitcase, which we had just checked. The hubs and I exchanged looks of horror.
I bounced back amazingly, though, after a snack-bar Caesar salad of lettuce and Parmesan cheese. I scarfed it down like a gourmet meal and perked right up.
I had worried about my bouillon intake on the road, but it was easy to get a cup of quite hot water at the snack bar.
My husband said what would help him the most was if I would commit to taking care of myself FIRST before him or anybody, no matter what. “This has to work,'' he said of the Virta treatment. I’m taking him at his word.
This is where the rubber meets the road. I’m still on a determined kind of “high” where carbs cannot touch me. I just survived a week visiting family, staying in a busy home that was so filled with carbs I nicknamed their food storage closet the Nabisco Pantry. The smell was unbelievably overpowering, as if one had stuck one’s head all the way into a box of Nilla Wafers.
And now back at home, struggling with a couple of wearying, non-diabetes health issues, which require meds with some undesirable side effects, and unable to drink my beloved but caffeinated Golden Monkey black tea, I feel tired. (Okay, I’m mostly tired because of the time change, where we have “sprung ahead” into a week of thrown-off sleep cycles, but you get the idea). My resolve needs a boost.
I’m not in danger yet (of eating a cookie, or a slice of bread), but the future feels a little scary. I know they’re there, but I don’t yet see the next steps, which will help me build the coping skills I’ll need to live successfully in our Nabisco Pantry world. It’s early morning. I’m checking my biomarkers and then, back to bed for another hour of shut-eye.
Tonight was my first book club meeting since starting Virta. The hostess is a wonderful cook, and another member is a fabulous baker. I knew there’d be roast potatoes and a delicious cake. I offered to bring the salad, which helped me feel in control of my food.
More specifically, this was my first time sitting around a dinner table with everyone eating dessert together—everyone except me. I made a special point to enjoy my fresh-brewed decaf coffee while everyone ate the delicious-looking lemon ricotta cake with slices of blood orange baked into the top, ice cream, and a hearty mixed berry pie. I was still a bit hungry after dinner, even after an extra helping of chicken and salad, and I was tired, so I did notice the desserts.
Hmm. Let me correct this: I remember feeling over-full after my extra helping of salad, so I was not still hungry. But, I felt a little hungry watching everyone eat dessert. I didn’t exactly have a craving, but my resolve felt thin. My eyes kept being drawn to the desserts. Nobody teased me about it or commented on it. I had mentioned ahead of time, casually, that I was “off refined carbs.”
I was a little careless about measuring my food yesterday, and when I finished tracking my food at the end of the night (which I usually do at each meal or snack in the moment—even if I don’t record it right away I always had measured it) I was shocked to see I had overeaten a bunch of bell pepper and pumpkin seeds and carrots. The math showed I had eaten an extra 10 grams of carbs—40 instead of 30—and an extra ounce of protein. My ketones this morning show the setback.
The irony of overeating vegetables and seeds while I spent the evening smelling and watching that cake does not escape me.
I’m writing this just one hour into Day 28, amazed at the A1c results I just received. Ten short weeks ago I was too overwhelmed to seriously consider this intervention, or any program that required prolonged sacrifice and determination and grit. I felt I’d failed on “low sugar low carb” too many times. I had become so hopeless I fleetingly mused of a private insulin stockpile, in case I became so ill that I needed a way out. My life changed when I got a continuous glucose monitor and this started my journey to Virta.
Wearing a CGM helped me change my behavior in a profound way. I cut down on refined carbs; took my insulin on time and before meals, but I hated the side effects, despite my improved A1c. Still, it gave me the energy to consider a low carb approach. I thought a ketogenic intervention was super drastic and weird … but it sounded better and better the more I researched it. I actually found Virta through a low-carb podcast. I hesitantly reached out, and my husband and I were both so impressed. He said; “this program is not a rickety ladder, but solid stair steps you can rely on”. I felt having the daily connection to a team could really make the difference for me. After I applied, I found out it would be a covered benefit through my husband’s employer - this is an amazing employee benefit! It will save lives. It’s certainly saving mine.