Hope is the only thing Stronger than Fear!
Christel Oerum has been living with Type 1 diabetes since 1997. Living with type 1 diabetes means that in order to stay alive and healthy, she had to inject insulin up to 8 times daily and test her blood sugars 10-12 times daily.
Early on, she decided that the diabetes diagnosis wasn’t going to stand in her way of doing all the things she wanted to. She travelled the world (including backpacking through India within a year of her diagnosis), married the man of her dreams, moved around the world (grew up in Denmark but lives in Santa Monica), gotten an MBA, had a successful corporate career, and now runs DiabetesStrong.com.
Diabetes Strong is a health and fitness website for people living with diabetes, and which has grown to be one of the largest privately owned diabetes websites in the world. Now an ISSA-certified personal trainer, Christel writes from her own experiences while living with diabetes.
Women Fitness is #CelebratingWomen this International Women’s Day, with a new story of an inspirational woman going out every day. Lets check out the second one of the strong-willed woman Christel Oerum.
How did you react when you first learned that you had Type 1 diabetes?
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a part of a routine visit to my general practitioner. My family had started noticing symptoms like constant tiredness and excessive thirst, but hey, I was 19 and a bit of a party animal so I didn’t really think too much about it.
In retrospect, I should have known that excess thirst and urination (plus being able to eat a box of ice cream every night without gaining a pound) was a little weird. When type 1 diabetes isn’t treated with insulin, the body can’t absorb the nutrients you eat and you’re basically starving, which is obviously very dangerous if left untreated.
My doctor did a poor job of explaining my diagnosis and I left the doctor’s office thinking I’d just been handed a death sentence. I knew nothing about diabetes, nothing of how to treat it or what it would mean for my life.
It wasn’t until I saw a specialist a few days later that things changed. The first diabetes nurse I talked to sat me down, looked me in the eyes, and told me that this diagnosis shouldn’t hold me back from achieving everything I wanted in life. I took that to heart and have been living by that mantra ever since.
I backpacked through remote areas of India for 3 months within a year of my diagnosis, married the man of my dreams, moved around the world (I grew up in Denmark but live in Santa Monica, CA), got my MBA, had a successful corporate career, competed in fitness competitions, and now run the diabetes website DiabetesStrong.com together with my husband.
How has fitness and nutrition helped you in living with diabetes?
Because I have to function as my own pancreas 24/7 (measuring my blood sugars every few hours and taking insulin up to 8 times daily), gaining a deep understanding of exercise and nutrition has made a huge difference.
Learning how different types of exercise impacts blood sugars (aerobic and anaerobic exercise will affect your blood sugar very differently) is essential for good diabetes management when you are as active as I am. It’s the same with nutrition, learning how different types of food impact my body and blood sugar has made it possible to reach both my fitness and diabetes management goals and reduced my risk of long-term diabetes-related complications.
Exercising on a regular basis (especially resistance training) is one of the most effective ways to improve your diabetes management. The more muscles you have, and the better shape you are in, the less insulin you need because your body becomes better at using insulin. This makes it MUCH easier to keep your blood sugar in the desired range.
Exercise is important for everyone, but it’s even more important for people living with diabetes!
When did you decide of putting all your experience out there on DiabetesStrong.com? How has it helped the other women?
Diabetes Strong started as a hobby project where I documented my experience as an active woman living with diabetes. I was preparing for my first bikini fitness show in 2014 and started to get really frustrated with how tricky it can be to manage insulin-dependent diabetes while exercising.
I had expected to find plenty of online resources discussing diabetes and exercise since approximately 30 million people live with diabetes in the US alone and around 10% of those live with type 1 diabetes, but that was not the case. I mostly found very complicated scientific journals or much too general advice that didn’t really help me. So I decided to create the resources myself.
Figuring out how to joggle exercise, healthy nutrition, and diabetes required a very structured approach and I started tracking everything I did and ate in great detail. To my surprise, I started seeing trend very quickly.
What I do on Diabetes Strong is teach others living with diabetes not only how to get started with a healthy lifestyle, but also the physiology of diabetes and exercise and how to apply the knowledge to their own lives.
I have women reaching out to me almost daily saying that they can’t exercise because of their diabetes. I try to turn that around to “they don’t know how to exercise with diabetes” and teach them the tools and techniques to get started. It’s amazing to see how the right knowledge and support can empower women to live the happy healthy lives they deserve!
Share with us your top 5 diabetic-friendly recipes.
We have more than 100 diabetes-friendly recipes on Diabetes Strong but I particularly like these five:
- Healthy Stuffed Chicken Breast
- Protein Pancakes
- Peanut Butter Protein Balls
- Ahi Tuna Poke
- Turkey Meatballs
This International Women’s Day, what advice would you like to give to the women out there?
We all face different obstacles in life. My advice would be to learn how to make peace with your obstacle and find a way to turn them into something positive. You never know how your positive energy can lift others up. I’ve found that being a living example of what “Strong With Diabetes” can look like has not only helped myself overcome my obstacles but also shown other women that they deserve to be happy and healthy as well, despite their diabetes!
For more such real inspiring stories on this Women’s Day, click here.
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