T1D and Exercise: It's All Trial And Error

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Jiggy Yoon, Emotional Intelligence / Mental Strategy Coach + T1D Athlete
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I grew up as an athlete. I had danced, played sports, and trained in martial arts throughout childhood. In high school, I devoted my life to softball. In college, I joined a hip-hop dance crew, and I was also introduced to bodybuilding, powerlifting, and Crossfit. So, when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) my freshman year of college, I had a lot of questions.

What do you mean I have diabetes?!

Will my life be changed forever? Will my life never be the same ever again? Will I not have my physical freedom anymore? Do I have to stop dancing? Do I have to stop lifting? Do I have to let go of everything I’ve known as a part of my identity?

Once I experienced my first low, I developed a fear of being alone. I was afraid of dancing alone, training alone, and lifting alone. Everything I had always been able to do on my own, I was afraid that I would pass out and no one would be there to save me. I feared being active.

Back then (2011), there was no ‘Type 1 Diabetic Athletes Group’ on Facebook and there was no CDN Chapter near me. I didn’t know anyone at all who had T1D, let alone a T1D athlete. I went through some time where I felt hopeless and lonely, but I didn’t want to believe in the stigma that having T1D could hold me back, so I became my own inspiration and my own guinea pig. I started pushing my body more than ever because of T1D.

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Today, through much trial and error in every new adventure I take on, I thrive off of physical challenges. Just when I think I can’t do something or when I feel fear, that’s when I say, “Okay, now I have to do it”.

As I gained more confidence in my relationship with T1D with the help of my insulin pump and CGM, I have been able to do some cool stuff. I still weight train regularly as it is a part of my life, and I’ve also become devoted to training in Muay Thai. I’ve done a few 5Ks and also completed a Mudd Run, which is really the one thing I never thought I’d be able to do.

I really can’t and won’t say that I would have been able to achieve these things without the help of my friends, teammates, coaches, and community. So, here’s what I believe helps when I’m active with T1D:

1.  Care. You have to care first because I know what it’s like to neglect T1D. I know what it’s like to not accept it as a part of life. I know what it’s like to be in denial. I know what it’s like to hate it and wish it would leave you alone. T1D really is a lot of work. It’s a full-time job. It’s 24/7. But not only is it a part of my life now, it IS my life. My life depends on its well-being, so I might as well embrace the journey, and become the master of it.

2. Adrenaline matters. Rule of thumb (for me): high intensity training may spike your blood glucose (BG). Steady pace training may drop your BG. For me, I know that a lifting session, a workout of the day (WOD), or a sparring session will raise my BG. I also know that caffeine from coffee, energy drinks, and pre-workout will also cause a spike. Calculate and learn whether doing a small bolus before a training session works for you. I know that a steady jog, rowing, and light shadowboxing will lower my BG or keep my BG at a steady line. Always, always have sugar on you.

3. Drink water. Drinking at least a gallon of water a day has helped me tremendously with keeping a steady BG.

4. Know what’s in your food. Learning how to measure my food and getting in the habit of counting my macros have been a game-changer for me. Because I know exactly how much fat, protein, and carbs I’m putting into my body, I can then more accurately calculate how much I should bolus and extend bolus.

5. Be a part of the community. Aside from joining a CDN Chapter and becoming part of the network, Joining Facebook groups and following Instagram profiles with other T1Ds has made this journey a lot more enjoyable and a lot less lonely. Not only does the community offer friendship and empathy, it also provides helpful resources and education.

The ‘Type 1 Diabetic Athletes Group’ on Facebook is now hitting over 8k members of all different backgrounds: Crossfit, powerlifting, bodybuilding, strongman, marathon, triathlon, Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, yoga, etc. This group is awesome for T1D athletes because members ask questions and talk about everything and anything related to training, diet, BG control before/during/after a training session, and lifestyle. Not only that, a lot of the members in this group have become real-life friends thanks to Rodney Miller (T1D strongman) who has started an amazing movement called Bolus and Barbells.

At B&B, T1D athletes from all around the world come together for a weekend to train and to hang out. It’s a weekend where you are reminded what it feels like to be ‘normal’ again… because there’s always someone at some point who is beeping. Not only that, but being surrounded by other T1D beasts reminds you that this chronic illness isn’t so bad after all.

6. Be patient. It’s all trial and error. Pay attention to when you tend to spike and when you tend to drop during your training. Be mindful of what you eat and what your BG is before and after your workout. What works for someone else might not work for you. What worked for you one day might not work the next. It seems tedious and it can get frustrating, but you’ll get the hang of it!

“Dead pancreas, double the heart,” I always say. T1D is a journey of perseverance, of strength, of community, and of never-ending growth. This life is hard. Sometimes, it’s REALLY hard. Sometimes, it’s really, REALLY hard. However, one thing we know for sure about T1Ds is that we don’t give up. We are absolutely capable of living life in any way that we wish to. If things ever get so hard to a point where you want to give up, turn to our community. I truly believe our T1D community has some of the most good-hearted people with an immensely high level of empathy in the world. You’re never alone. We’re in this together. Ask questions, be curious, and educate yourself.

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Na Eun “Jiggy” Yoon graduated from The Pennsylvania State University in 2014 where she was part of the Penn State CDN Chapter. Jiggy now works as an emotional intellegence/mental health strategy coach and T1D athlete. She was also a panelist on CDN's Mental Health and T1D Facebook Live Event in 2017. Visit her website at www.JiggyYoon.com, and follow her @jiggy_yoon.