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THIS MONTH: We're interviewing Drew Harrisberg, an accredited Exercise Physiologist, Sport Scientist, and Diabetes Educator over at Drew's Daily Dose. He dives into the hardships, do's and don'ts and how he survives thrives in life while managing diabetes.

healthy and happy with diabetes

We are excited to share your story with the Mylk Labs community. Can you tell us a bit of background on Drew's Daily Dose?

My background as a qualified health professional and my own personal triumph with managing diabetes has ignited a passion to share everything I know, which is why I started Drew’s Daily Dose - a home that inspires, empowers and enables people to thrive, rather than simply survive. Everything I share is a combination of science-based evidence and personal experience. My mission is to equip people with the tools required to take control of their health so that like me, they can live their best life!

When you were first diagnosed with diabetes type 1 at age 22, what were the hardest things you had to overcome? Biggest changes you had to make in your life?

There were many hurdles that I had to overcome after being diagnosed. From social, to psychological, physical, and mental. I had to rediscover my self-identity. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would forever have to manage a lifelong chronic disease. I also had to accept monitoring my blood glucose levels and administering insulin in public.

If I was out at a restaurant I would go to the bathroom to hide my disease. I had to learn how to count carbs and calculate my insulin dose appropriately. I’d wake up every hour during the night to prick my finger and check my glucose levels. I lost 13 kgs before being diagnosed. I was weak, unfit, and exhausted. I felt sick and looked sick. I had to rebuild my physique which took months. My personality even changed. I lost my sense of humor. I barely saw my friends or met new people. I kept to myself and suffered in silence. My confidence had been shattered into a million pieces and it took me years to slowly pick up the pieces one by one until I had rebuilt myself into the guy I am today. 

On your website, you state "I’ve developed a holistic five-pillar approach to help you to prevent, manage and reverse disease." Can you tell us a bit about this approach and how this allows you to manage your diabetes on a day to day basis?  

My 5 pillar approach goes beyond successfully managing diabetes. It’s a unique, holistic, life-changing approach to life that lays the foundation for health and happiness – whether you are living with diabetes or not.

After being diagnosed with diabetes, I became the lead scientist and the subject of my own self-experiment. Along the way I discovered a range of lifestyle variables that have a direct impact on my insulin and blood glucose control, and ultimately my overall health and wellbeing. After years of combining my personal experience with the scientific evidence, I came up with a 5 pillar approach that enables me to thrive with diabetes.
drew's daily dose 5 pillars
  1. Exercise - this allows me to administer less insulin and control my glucose levels more easily
  2. Nutritiona partner that you can trust and rely on. I’ve tried a number of different dietary approaches from paleo, to keto and currently whole food plant-based. They have all had very unique effects on my management and overall health.
  3. Daily Living - what I like to call my 6 S’s: sleep, stress, steps, sun, smile, socialize.
  4. Mindfulness - this has allowed me to extract the most out of each and every moment. It has enabled me to be conscious, present and ultimately bridge the gap between knowledge and action.
  5. Insulin and Blood Sugar Control - vitally important to not only avoid the frightening short- and long-term complications of diabetes, but to prevent, manage and reverse other chronic co-morbidities associated with diabetes.
    As an exercise physiologist and sports scientist, would you say there are certain types of workouts that are better for people living with diabetes?

    When it comes to exercise, the opportunities to move are endless. I’m a huge proponent of walking after meals to stabilize blood glucose levels. Cardio is wonderful for diabetes management as well as cardiovascular health. Resistance training is a very effective way to improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. HIIT and sprinting is a great way to increase mitochondrial functionality which can assist with body composition. Full body circuit training is wonderful for getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to optimizing insulin sensitivity and opening the glucose gateways to the muscle cells. All of the different modes of exercise have their own unique benefits. I say try them all!

    The best exercise you can do is the one that you’ll do consistently with maximal joy and minimal fear and resentment. It needs to be sustainable. Any movement is good movement for people with diabetes.

    What do you do when you have low blood sugar? Are there certain types of foods you avoid? If so, what are they?

    Having a low blood sugar is very dangerous in the short term. Most people with diabetes reach for jelly beans or other confectionary but I refuse to use diabetes as an excuse to snack on junk food all day. I prefer real food. Sometimes I’ll eat dates, ripe bananas or natural fruit juice. If it is an urgent low ill take glucose gel. 

    A lot of people suffering from diabetes avoid carbs and sugar (even unrefined/natural), which I'm sure is tough! Do you agree with this way of thinking or do you think it can be incorporated into your diet in a healthy way? 

    Carbohydrates can definitely be incorporated into one’s diet. When I was keto I was an efficient fat burner but an inefficient carb burner which is why even small amounts of carbs would spike my glucose levels. Since transitioning to a low-fat, whole food plant-based diet I can easily tolerate carbs in abundance without a glucose spike.

    People have a fear of carbs because they can cause a glucose spike, but if you are insulin sensitive and your insulin signaling is optimized, you should be able to tolerate carbs without a glucose spike. When carbs are eaten in combination with high fat intake, that’s when they can become problematic (think fried chips, pizza, ice cream, etc). We should be focusing on macronutrient combinations on a meal to meal basis. If you want to eat carbs, keep fat intake low. If you want to eat fats, keep carb intake low. If you reduce your fat intake you can certainly incorporate healthful carbs in the form of whole foods without concern.

    coconut sugar instant oatmeal

    At Mylk Labs, we sweeten our whole grain oats with a small amount of unrefined, organic coconut sugar. What are your thoughts on sugar alternatives?

    I think they’re perfectly fine to include in one’s diet, just like carbohydrates. People should not fear natural sugars if they are consumed in minimal amounts in the context of a healthy, balanced, whole food plant-based diet. 

    What does "Living Healthy with Diabetes" mean to you?  

    I believe that diabetes has provided me with a blueprint for healthy living which applies to everyone whether they have diabetes or not. Move your body everyday, eat whole foods, practice mindfulness, take control of your insulin and blood glucose levels, get some sun, manage stress, focus on sleep quality and quantity, seek the things in life that put a smile on your face, walk as many steps per day as possible and avoid sitting for long periods, and don’t forget to socialize because human connection has been shown to lead to longterm health and happiness.

    I know it sounds crazy, but I can honestly say that I’m happier and healthier today with diabetes than I was before being diagnosed. In a way, diabetes gave me the gift of health.

    Follow Drew Harriberg on Instagram: @drews.daily.dose

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