Updated 20 February 2017

Young, beautiful and pre-diabetic

Thought only overweight and unhealthy people suffered from diabetes? Think again.

Magda van Rooyen, a fit 25-year-old attorney from Durbanville, Cape Town, was diagnosed with glucose intolerance two years ago.

This condition, also known as pre-diabetes, occurs when your glucose reading/blood sugar level is above normal, but still below the number that is needed to identify diabetes. It means that although her pancreas still produces insulin, her body doesn't absorb the sugar which then gathers in the blood.

How it happened

Magda has always been a moderately active person with no weight issues, in fact, she did modelling when she was younger.

While studying towards her LL.B at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth (formerly known as UPE), Magda developed some alarming symptoms.

"I started gaining weight, so I ate less, but I just gained more and more weight," she says. "I was always tired and it felt like I had flu all the time… my eyes also felt funny, but being a student I thought I may just be partying too much."

She finally went to see a doctor who did a blood glucose test, and at age 22 Magda was diagnosed as being insulin resistant.

Why it happened

The impression exists that only overweight people, or those with an unhealthy lifestyle suffer from diabetes. So why did it happen to Magda?

It is commonly known that diabetes is passed on through the genes. Magda was prone to diabetes because her grandmother suffered from type 1 diabetes – that's when your body stops producing insulin altogether and a person has to inject themselves with insulin. This genetic disposition, combined with some other factors lead to this healthy young woman suffering from insulin resistance.

Another contributing factor was Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Once she was informed of the insulin resistance, her doctor also referred her to a gynaecologist who found this condition, commonly associated with insulin resistance and diabetes.

Doctor's orders

In order to control her above normal blood sugar levels, her doctor prescribed an oral diabetes medicine called Glucophage.

Because blood sugar levels go hand in hand with food intake, she also saw a dietician who prescribed a low GI diet - which is high in slow energy-releasing carbohydrate foods. "She told me not to look at it as a diet, but a lifestyle. It's not something you do to lose weight and then go on with your regular lifestyle."

In addition to the low GI diet, she also started taking daily walks.

Adapting to a new lifestyle

"Initially it (the new diet) was a very big adjustment. I had to eat six times a day, so I had to start planning my meals. I had to get up early, have breakfast, prepare lunch and two snacks – it took a lot of my time."

The first thing she did was to throw out all the food she was not supposed to eat. "I cleaned out my cupboards and bought everything new," tells Magda.

Adapting to living with insulin resistance also affected her socially. "You can't just go and grab a bite with friends." She had to consider when she ate and of course also what she ate.

With the medication, diet and exercise she immediately started losing weight. Now she has shaken off all the extra kilos and her weight is under control.

Her life two years down the line

Now, two years after being diagnosed with glucose intolerance, Magda has completely embraced this new, healthier lifestyle – and it shows.

She is still on the low GI diet, and still does weekly exercise. "I feel good and my energy levels are high," she says. "If I don't eat right, my body lets me know."

But is it fun to be on a permanent diet?

"Do you know how much food you have to eat to have six meals a day? I'm never hungry – in fact I'm always full."

She admits that there are a few things she has had to cut from her diet that she craves from time to time.

"I miss chocolate a lot," she admits. But low GI food can be very tasty. One Christmas she made a low GI dessert and without knowing it was a healthier dessert, everybody loved it.

She also used to love her wine, but it contains a lot of sugar. Luckily Drosdy Hof has a range of Weighless-endorsed wines that are suitable for diabetics.

The secret to her success

She admits that you have to put some effort into this lifestyle. "I'm very attentive when I go shopping. None of the first three ingredients of a product should contain sugar – anything ending in the letters "ose" – glucose, fructose, etc."

She advises people with a similar condition to be attentive to food labels – "often advertising gimmicks on labels say 'no sugar added', but if you look at the ingredients it actually contains a lot of glucose".

Advice: "Avoid the stuff you're not supposed to eat. If you have it in the house, throw it out. If it's not there, you can't eat it."

(Wilma Stassen, Health24, February 2008)



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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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