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Currently (2020) my most updated blog is pinkfeldspar.

Spaz is a useful side blog for sorting other stuff out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the care of one's feet

I loved the simple passage in C.S. Lewis' book The Last Battle where Jewel the Unicorn is being kind to Puzzle the Donkey by discussing such mundane things as the care of one's hooves as opposed to putting on airs about being one of the King's war advisors. Feet are funny things. They take more punishment than just about anything else on our body, while they are furthest from the heart and lungs and last to get oxygen and nutrition circulating through the body. My daughter loved the Beetlejuice cartoon when she was young, and I remember one episode where his feet got upset and ran away because they were tired of taking abuse.

Many years ago I broke a bone in my foot and wore a cast for 6 weeks, and when the cast came off, my foot was yellow and very ugly. My heel especially had grown a very thick callus that seemed impermeable to any efforts to soften it up and make it disappear. It grew worse over the next few years to the point where my skin around the edges of my heels tried to develop hard knobs that resembled crocodile skin, and attempts to snip that away caused sores. No kind or amount of expensive fancy lotions and salves made a dent, and some even made my feet more sore.

How awful! And disgusting! And I've seen even worse on other people, especially diabetics- open sores that defy healing and look for the world like a picture you might have gotten in your mind of leprosy as a child sitting in bible class. And if those sores aren't carefully watched, they can develop into staph infections that literally dissolve bones in the feet once they penetrate into deeper tissues. Thankfully, I've never experienced that, but I've seen people like that walking in sandals because it hurt to wear shoes and socks, and it's especially riveting when you're shopping for food at an open air organic market. It's hard not to feel like all the food there is being contaminated by people with sores on them, and I can't even imagine being the person drawing that kind of negative attention.

I found out in 2010 that I am diabetic, after several years of a previous doctor telling me she wasn't going to worry about my higher than normal glucose readings despite making notes in my chart about ketone problems. By the time I got a new doctor I was already immobile and in so much pain that nothing was helping me with my quality of life. I needed assistance with everything, including bathing and dressing myself. It's interesting to note that my highest medically recorded glucose a year after I was finally diagnosed was 187, which happily coincided with a severe anxiety attack, and I was able to figure out from there (with a glucose meter) that most of my anxiety attacks happened during glucose spikes. Since my fasting glucose was still holding in the 120's at the time (which is considered borderline), doctors never connected my years of anxiety problem to diabetes. Thanks to someone in an ambulance thinking to get a glucose reading in the middle of one of my worst anxiety attacks, I know now that anxiety is one of my first key symptoms when my glucose is spiking.

So in 2010 a doctor caught my fasting glucose being 'borderline' (the standard 126 cutoff is such a joke, the note about my ketones showed up in my chart two years earlier) and grew very strict on me to change my diet, and from there everything else has changed as well. For one thing, I'm walking around taking care of myself ok now. I still have balance, strength, and fatigue issues, but I can dress myself and even shop for and carry groceries in now, and I have no doubt my health will continue to improve as long as I stick to this healthy diet.

One huge change I noticed was MY FEET. About four months after I changed my diet, I suddenly shed a whole bunch of old nasty skin all over my body and everything underneath was pretty again, and over time even my feet have changed back to what they used to look like years ago. I no longer wrestle with nasty callused heals that get sore if I try too hard to make them look nicer. I have a feeling this is something that might help other people, too, so I'm writing it down.

The first thing I learned is that medications for diabetes don't make it ok for you to keep slugging carbs down like there is no tomorrow. If anything, you keep steadily getting sicker and have to keep taking more and more medicine if you keep eating like that. The first thing a diabetic truly has to do is curb the carbs. It's called carb counting and it's actually pretty easy. Personally, I'm not able to eat as many carbs as the American Diabetes Association suggests, I have to stick to 10-15 carbs per meal or snack if I don't want to get nasty headaches, stomach aches, anxiety, and if I really break out and carb load, itchy skin and eyes. I am so sensitive to my poor carb response that I can tell pretty quickly that I'm going to have a bad day if I keep eating anything carby. Many people don't feel sick at all when they eat, or maybe take pills for the headaches and blame the stomach problems on something else, but I can tell you every bit of that goes away for me when I just simply hold down the amount of carbs I eat. I talk about how to get through holiday meals counting carbs at Holidays with Diabetes- Easier Than You Think.

The next thing I learned as I scoured the internet for more information and ran into sites like Blood Sugar 101 and the Rosedale diet is that American diets and grocery stores are so saturated with an overwhelming variety of carbs and bad fats that we forget we need more protein. A diabetic's biggest health problem is the inability to heal, and you can't heal without protein. Someone with an insulin response problem who is carb loading is forcing their body to spend an insane amount of time going through emergency protocols trying to save their life on a daily basis. Think about it- if you have a disease that doesn't allow you to process carbs properly, then dumping loads of carbs in actually turns into poison in your body because you can't properly use it up as energy, and there isn't much left to do with it but convert it to fat and store it away as quickly as possible while your body does flips trying to scrub the excess glucose out of your blood, because starches and sugars in your food ALL wind up being processed into simple glucose. You can believe you are eating healthy when you drink apple juice and eat a loaded baked potato, but if you are diabetic, processing goes all wonky and the danger outweighs the healthiness of it. So your body gets continually sidetracked into scrubbing glucose and storing it instead of rebuilding and replacing tissues, such as skin, muscles, and hair, and over time your body becomes so nutrition imbalanced that your hair starts thinning (women, too), your skin thickens up and gets gross, your muscles grow weaker and it's harder to exercise, and you just think you're getting old. Not long after that comes heart attacks and strokes, and for some people, blindness and amputations.

In the 'old days', if a dog's skin was looking flaky, standard remedy was feed the dog some butter. I had a couple of nutrition classes in college, along with anatomy and physiology, and one thing you find out about your body is that fat is used to line all your miles and miles of nerve sheaths and insulate all your many square feet of skin, plus it's part of many other systems and functions throughout the body. I have a hypothesis that one reason people crave carbs is because many prepared carby foods automatically come with some fats, like pastries, and the body is desperately trying to get some healthy fats to incorporate into healthy nerve, immune, and brain function. Healthy fats would include oils with omega-3's from fish, nuts, avocados, olives, etc, but people are so afraid of fats nowadays that they're afraid to eat too much of these healthy foods, yet they'll turn right around and eat a bag of cookies without much thought. I dare you to try eating some 'fatty' foods like olives and nuts. You get full a lot quicker, and you feel sick a lot more quickly if you go over a limit. You might feel a little sweetsick with carbs, but you can eat dangerously higher loads of carbs than you can fats any day. Cholesterol seems to be 'killing' people a lot more slowly than diabetes, in my mind (effects of high blood sugar are much more immediate on a daily basis and definitely add up into severe complications over time), and if you do your research, diabetics are actually higher risk for heart disease. Surely that correlation deserves more thought than 'cut down on ALL fats, including healthy fats', which is still the sort of diet handed out by my doctor. It's more sensible to not eat that bag of cookies, don't you think?

Fear of food is destroying us. Top 13 nutrition lies that made the world sick and fat. I'm watching myself get healthy again, my blood work coming back better than it has in years, and it's interesting that I'm eating all the bad ways listed on that site.

So let's talk protein now. If you are diabetic, you likely need more protein than a healthy person because you have a lot of tissue damage throughout your body that needs to be rebuilt, but chances are you're getting less than you need because you're obsessed with and filling up on all the wrong amounts of carbs and unhealthy fats. Then when you do go on a meat binge and then get a high cholesterol reading, you feel guilty for eating steak but not for eating all that dessert. This is a conundrum. You need protein every single day. Coffee and pastry for breakfast starves you of protein. Salad and pop for lunch starves you of protein. Take out for supper might give you a little protein, but by this time your body is so exhausted and deficit that even getting your whole day's worth of protein all at once becomes lost in the big load of carbs and fats that accompanied it because now you're starving and weak willed and just want some comfort food. It's ironic that people can feel so guilty about eating protein that they kill themselves eating everything else but that. When I first changed my diet and looked up my protein requirements, I literally had to double my protein intake. It was very surprising to find I wasn't getting nearly as much as I thought I was getting, especially when you do protein research as someone who is unhealthy to begin with. Standard protein charts assume you are healthy and don't take into account that you might be starting from a severe protein deficit and failing tissues.

Your icky diabetes skin and thinning hair and possibly organ dysfunction can't get better without protein. If you were an athlete you would be ingesting high quality protein every day, but you're not so you think you don't need it. But you know what? YOU'RE SICK, YOU NEED PROTEIN. You desperately need to rebuild tissues throughout your body that are vital to help you function properly every day. The longer you run on protein deficit, the more likely you will run into organ failure of some kind. Diabetics are notorious for having skin and vision problems, organ failures, and even losing limbs. Believe me, your body isn't getting the good nutrition you might think it's getting if you are still clogging the whole system down with scrubbing the glucose out of your blood every day.

Back to feet. Changed my diet, upped my protein, bing my feet are getting prettier again, but there is one more thing. My feet and legs still swell when I'm up on them too long or sit too much, so doctors tell me to elevate my legs. Years of poor nutrition and little exercise have left me with flabby anti-grav boosters in my leg tissues. Besides the blood vessels in my legs having to recover and rebuild, my lymphatic fluids that bathe my tissues have also slowed way down in my legs until toxins settle into pockets and create tiny hard little cysts in my tissues that feel like grains of rice, resulting in more fatigue and pain in my legs over very little effort, in spite of excellent hydration practices nowadays. The more glucose dumped into your body, the stickier all the fluids become trying to get a handle on the situation, and that makes all your body fluids less efficient. A diabetic drinking sweet tea and soda pop is a ridiculous irony. Where I pay most for these indulgences is in my legs and feet. If I had not changed my diet, there is no telling what shape my legs would be in now, because I was barely walking four years ago. I've met people who have lost legs with their diabetes. The idea that I can slow down that kind of inevitability, even halt and reverse it amazes me. Who knew I had this kind of power?

I've never had a pedicure done, not because I can't afford it, but because 1- I can't stand anyone touching my feet because I'm so ticklish, and 2- I come from people who for many years believed in showing love for our fellows with actual biblical foot washing, Anabaptist Mennonites. I've never experienced this for myself, but knowing your ancestors did this regularly lends to some thought. Ok, honestly, I can't imagine spending that kind of money on a pedicure, either. I think it's vain to think we might be better than someone else for having pretty feet because we can pay a person in a salon what might be a week's groceries to someone else. That being said, sometimes it helps to take a file to my feet. Literally. Years ago after the cast came off and I was at my wits' end, Scott came up with the idea to use his big file, like you might see a ferrier use on a fresh nailed horseshoe, and it worked pretty well getting the grodiest of the callused skin off. The problem back then was that the skin kept callusing back up worse and worse, and fighting it with that file made my feet sore. But now that the skin on my feet has healed properly, using a much smaller file is a good idea that works really well. When my feet are clean and still slightly damp after a shower, a once over with a 6-inch file is quick and easy, wipe my feet off and put on a little lotion, you can't tell I ever had grody diabetic feet. The file pic here clicks to a site if you want to see more information. Please don't file your feet real hard, these things do great work with very little effort.

One more word of encouragement. My husband's granny lived to 102 years old. You know what? She was diabetic. She didn't take the meds, either. How did she do it? She very carefully avoided or reduced carby foods, like breads, potatoes, and rice. She didn't make it to 102 eating candy bars and drinking pop, and you won't either, even if you take the meds. I asked her once what she thought contributed to her long life. After some thought she said, "Well, we ate a lot of radishes." (Sounds like my dad...) But it was true. They had some pretty lean years and back then you ate what you could grow. She remembered creamed radishes being a treat. If you are whining about having to cut back on your sweets because you are diabetic, imagine how long you might live if you ate like people did a hundred years ago when food was scarce.