Working Out My Relationship with Exercise & T1D

This post was originally written for FTF Warrior. Check out the FTF Warrior blog here.

The most important thing I could say to someone recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes or going through a diabetic burnout is that you can do anything. Not very profound, I know, but it doesn’t need to be because this is a simple statement that can make a world of a difference for someone struggling with type 1 diabetes. I failed to tell myself this for years. Instead, I’d tell myself, you can’t do anything. I’d tell myself this when my blood glucose levels would drop in the middle of lacrosse practice or the time when my pump ran out of insulin before kickboxing so I left early when ketones got the best of me. It’s very easy to blame yourself in these types of situations, but it’s not your fault at all and it will never be your fault.

I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to work out and yet, I didn’t enjoy it. I would tell myself and the people around me that I liked it SO much and that’s why I’d frequent the gym sometimes two times a day. But really, I was just trying to make myself look a certain way. I needed a flat stomach and slim thighs, and even though I was pushing myself to the gym every day, I didn’t have either of those. So I was frustrated to the point that I had to blame it on myself, more specifically, the diabetes. Those trips to the gym cut short because my blood sugar would drop dangerously low had to be the reason I wasn’t asked to participate in the Victoria Secret Fashion Show. But it wasn’t the reason since with this disease I can do anything. I just didn’t know that yet.

This mindset that followed me through my last year of college, was exhausting. Physically, but mainly mentally. I’d beat myself up on the days when I couldn’t make it to the gym, and worry constantly about what I was going to eat as to not ruin my “progress.” I put progress in quotation marks because I really didn’t see much change in my body and I was completely fed up with this tiring mindset so I loosened my grip on my physical activity. This was the switch that flicked from I can’t do anything to I can do anything. By allowing my body to rest and only participate in workouts that bring me joy, the progress followed and I learned how my body was actually capable of so much. I tested out these different workouts, observing how my blood glucose levels reacted to the array of intensities. By doing this, I was listening to my body and by listening, I was able to learn.

I first started with cancelling my gym membership. I had been a part of a gym for as long as I could remember. But with having that gym membership, I had more of a reason to feel guilty on the days I didn’t go or didn’t have a satisfying workout. So when I cut ties with the worn down treadmills and intimidating weight rooms, I had the freedom to try new forms of activities, ones that I actually enjoyed. Finding peace in hot yoga classes, relief from kickboxing and strength from barre class, I was able to make friends and participate in these classes with people I could laugh and have fun with. Then I learned the importance of breaks. I didn’t feel I deserved breaks from going to the gym because I wasn’t seeing results. But when I found peace with my routine, I gave my body the rest it needed. I can’t explain it, but there was something so freeing in giving myself a choice to workout or not. I started working out every other day and replaced the feeling of dread towards working out with excitement.

When finding the right exercises and routine, I found the progress and enjoyment that I had been striving towards at the gym. Through this, I learned that my body had no limits. I felt baby biceps emerging and quadriceps strengthening. Type 1 diabetes can seem to strip you of a lot, you feel restricted at times and incapable at others, but this disease gives you a superpower that makes you unstoppable; you learn how to listen to your body. One might really enjoy the isolation of the gym and not the intensity of kickboxing, but what works for you can only be found through listening to your body’s response to the workouts. By listening to what my body wanted, I found that I was capable of doing anything.