Interview with Adam Brown, Author of "Bright Spots and Landmines"

Morgan Kath, University of Rochester '16

Adam Brown, author of diaTribe’s Adam’s Corner, recently released a book of action-oriented items help with diabetes management and mental outlook of people living with diabetes. From his 15 years living and learning about what works – and what doesn’t – Bright Spots & Landmines is intended to help readers learn new, useful diabetes tips related to food, mindset, exercise, and sleep.

“I hope this book reminds readers that we all have moments of enormous diabetes frustration, self-sabotaging food decisions, negative thoughts and questions, busy days where exercise is hard to fit in, and nights without enough sleep,” Adam said in an email interview.

Written in the format of Diabetes Bright Spots (positive behaviors and choices that work well and should be done more often) versus Diabetes Landmines (mistakes that take blood glucose out of range, ruin your mood, or make life more difficult), the book is filled with advice Adam wishes he would have known when he was diagnosed. Through time reflecting on his own experience with diabetes, Adam learned what works best for him and provides the roadmap for readers to discover their own Bright Spots and Landmines.

Bright Spots & Landmines shares my toolkit for navigating the choppy, unpredictable waters of living with diabetes. I hope it puts some wind in readers’ sails,” Adam said.

Adam answered a some of my questions about "Bright Spots & Landmines", why he decided to write a book, and a few points young adults can take away from the book to easily incorporate into their lives.

Q: Why did you decide to write the book in the style of Bright Spots vs. Landmines as the guiding theme?

This is the crossroads we all face in every moment: choice. What do I focus on? What things work and what things don’t? How can I do more of what works and less of what doesn’t? And how do I make those changes easier?

The goal with "Bright Spots" is to identify what works and focus on doing those things more often.

Conversely, the point of “Diabetes” Landmines is to uncover what doesn’t work and find ways to do those things less often.

I always wanted this to be a book of immediately useful tactics that have helped me live better with diabetes. The theme, "Bright Spots & Landmines," is the scaffold on which those tactics hang. I hope readers will benefit from seeing their diabetes - and life! - through this lens.

Q: How did you decide that now was the right time to write a book?

My column, Adam’s Corner, started as a fun side project to share my personal learning in diaTribe. The positive response from the diabetes community has really surprised me, and this book is my way of bottling all that learning (and much more) into a single guide!

Writing a book is an enormous undertaking, but it was something I went into eyes wide open. I was extremely careful to do my homework, get a ton of feedback early, talk to many other authors, and read about the book writing and publishing process. 

I also had the tremendous support of diaTribe and our founder Kelly Close. Kelly really encouraged me to take on this project, even though I was nervous and daunted by it initially. I’m so glad I did! None of it would have happened without our incredible team believing in it. 

Last, I definitely thrive on challenge and I love learning, and this project was an awesome way to do both!

Q: Parts of the book sound like through years of trial and error, you have it pretty figured out how certain things affect your diabetes. Does anything unexpected ever happen?

Unexpected things happen every single day! This is the insanity of living with diabetes - the only predictable thing is unpredictability. I can eat the same thing today as yesterday, but get different results. 

I talk about this in the mindset chapter. There are 22 factors that affect blood sugar. Some are in my control, but many are not, and all of them combine in infinitely complicated ways. Clarifying my Bright Spots and Landmines helps keep things more predictable, but I still have moments where the unexpected happens.

I frequently remind myself that the number on the meter is a neutral data point to help me make a decision; it is not a judgement, grade, or “test” on how I’m doing. Seeing numbers as objective data points to change something makes a world of difference. 

Q: You write a few times about how you use friends and family to help you stay on track. When you first decided to make major changes, what were the conversations with these people like to garner their support? You write about having the bread placed on the other side of the table, and other actions, to resist temptation with the support of others. How well does this work? How could a young adult handle a situation where a friend says “Just have another piece of pizza, it won’t hurt you.”?

I think this all starts with shared understanding, honest/brave communication, and a bit of vulnerability. It helps when the people around you understand what living with diabetes is like, especially as it relates to food, blood sugars, and the related energy levels/mood/thinking. If loved ones understand how difficult diabetes is, where different foods fall on your Bright Spots-Landmines continuum, and how those foods make you feel, they might be less likely to make that pizza comment! (Or hopefully, less likely to encourage one MORE slice of pizza.)

I also try to give gentle feedback when something is helpful vs. unhelpful. This takes some bravery, but it’s worth it for more in-range blood sugars, more energy, and less diabetes burden and guilt. The people around me cannot read my mind!

I know this sounds great on paper, but the reality is we are social animals and heavily influenced by those around us - especially in college. I think friends and family can be powerful Bright Spots allies, but sometimes, they might not know how. We can coach them! And when they are not being helpful, be honest about what’s not working and what might change. It takes bravery, but most things worth doing are kind of that way

Q: What advice in this book could a college student integrate into their lifestyle to make small, easy changes?

Remember that you will be a better student, a better friend, and a better human being today if you keep your blood sugar in range. Thinking about these benefits of managing blood sugar provides an enormous motivation boost, especially in the college environment where there are so many Landmines waiting to derail you.

  • Try chia pudding for breakfast! Recipe here or in chapter 1 of Bright Spots & Landmines. You can make it in your dorm room without cooking, it costs ~$0.60 per meal, keeps your blood sugar level with barely insulin needed, and keeps you full for hours. It’s also great as a late-night snack. 
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables at meal times, particularly in buffet-style dining halls where there are so many tempting options. 
  • Keep Landmine junk food snacks out of your dorm room completely. If they are not easily accessible, you cannot eat them. 
  • Find an exercise partner so you have accountability to go to the gym, run, etc. 
  • Get 7+ hours of sleep, when possible: it makes a tremendous difference for next-day blood sugars, mealtime decision making, and the amount of insulin you need.
  • Walk after meals if your blood sugar is high. 
  • When eating a higher-carb meal (more than 30 grams at one time), take a bolus 20 minutes before you start eating. 

That’s just a handful! Almost every single Bright Spot and Landmine in the book includes a small, easy step that anyone can take. 

 

Adam's Note: Get your copy of "Bright Spots & Landmines" here as a free/name-your-own-price download. You can also purchase it on Amazon in paperback ($6.29) and Kindle ($1.99). The print book is priced at cost to ensure widespread access, and 100% of proceeds from digital downloads benefit The diaTribe Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

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