Thu | Jan 18, 2018

The Judith Allen story: Diabetes changed my life

Published:Monday | April 4, 2016 | 12:00 AMKrysta Anderson
Judith Allen today, three months after her diagnosis.
Judith Allen before her diagnosis

Thursday, April 7 is World Health Day. Each year, the annual global campaign brings focus to a single health challenge that has worldwide impact. For 2016, the emphasis is on diabetes. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, today we bring you one woman's story of dealing with the illness. #beatdiabetes

Author and lecturer Karen Lamb once said, "A year from now you may wish you had started today." No one can relate to this more than Judith Allen, who got a dose of this reality just a few months ago.

Last year November, the 61-year-old realised that she had been losing a significant amount of weight, despite not engaging in any extra physical activities or changing her eating habits. She also felt tired and recalled many nights of passing out on the couch. She had also become very thirsty and consequently would make regular trips to the bathroom - all of which were standard symptoms for what she later found out was diabetes.

Trying to get some answers, she did an executive profile on December 7, and the following day got a call that would change her life completely. "My doctor called and said to me, 'You have out-of-control diabetes.' She also informed me that my numbers were off the charts, so high that the lab had to run the test twice, just to be sure," Allen told Flair.


The big revelation


She continued, "Doc called me into the office and revealed that my body clearly was strong since, based on the reading, I should have been on my very last." Allen had just wrapped up her very active involvement in a conference. "I didn't realise how bad I was until I downloaded a chart and I couldn't find my numbers. I could have gone into a diabetic coma."

Her doctor immediately gave her firm orders: from then on, she would be on medication, should consume three cooked meals per day, and given strict instructions to stay away from rice, flour, pasta or sugar. Talk about life-changing!

Allen was never one to wallow in sorrow. "Feeling sorry for myself is not my make-up. I didn't ask much questions: just did what was needed to be done." So, she went home and immediately cleaned out her refrigerator and went to straight to work. "In 14 days, I had brought my numbers back to normal. How did I do this? I went cold turkey." She had to get more involved with food, preparing all her meals so she could control her intake and snacking two hours after each meal. Her daily intake included only complex carbs, vegetables, fruits, lean protein and natural spices. "I am a foodie so I had to ensure that my food was attractive and tasty. I'm eating more than I have ever had in my life but it is what I am eating that is important," she explained.


Glucose meter machine


She had also brought her glucose meter machine three days after being diagnosed, and emailed her doctor every day until the end of February. Her doctor is very happy with her. She is currently down to 158 pounds from 210, and has never felt better. "Self awareness is critical: the nexus between mind and body is very real to me, and for me, consistency is key." She is currently working on building back the muscle tone she had lost through exercise.

But it wasn't always a walk in the park. She would get dizzy spells for the first two hours after taking her medication. Her eyes had also changed in shape and took about 12 weeks to adjust and stabilise in vision. Some days her numbers would go up too, either because she had too much complex carb, or due to stress hormones which would increase it. She learnt to cope, and indulged in St Mary's Banana Chips, recommended by her doctor. "It has no preservatives so on a good day, I would have one and on a bad day I would have two."

Overall, the journey has been a revealing yet fulfilling one. "Your body will react but you have to ride it through, and I rode it through," she highlighted. "You can't cheat those numbers. You cannot negotiate your way out of it. Just get to it. And if this can help someone make a lifestyle change or help someone with diabetes to kick-start their way to good health, then I am happy."