Diabetes and Obesity

I am just home from our annual vacation in Maine. I’ve been going to Maine ever since I was a baby. My dad’s side of the family has seven cottages along Lake Keoka, which is in the middle, southern part of Maine, about an hour in from the coast. Keoka is beautiful and the boys and I look forward to our trip every summer because we get to spend time with my dad and escape the heat of summer in the South. At Keoka, we climb mountains, canoe across the lake, fish and swim from the dock, and explore along the pine needle strewn trails. On rainy days we read, play card games and do puzzles, and the boys watch a movie only when it is too dark or wet to play outside. When we get restless, we drive over a mountain to Storyland, an amusement park that has been around since the 1950’s. On Keoka, there is no cell phone service or wireless connection; there are dinners on the deck, s’mores and ghost stories before bed. In a few years, it will be the one hundredth anniversary of our family’s arrival in Maine. My great-grandmother came to Maine by steamship, train and stage-coach, and the trip took her three days. Every morning in the summer, Gigi walked around the lake, a distance of almost five, steep miles. I thought about Gigi the few times I completed the distance on my morning runs, and told myself that if Gigi could do it, so could I.

I thought about Gigi and wondered what happened between 1910 and now when I stood in the lines with my children at Storyland. Gone was the quiet seclusion of the lake and in its place were the typical noises, food and crowds of an amusement park less than an hour away from our lake. My boys and I were in the minority. Everywhere I looked was another obese mother, father or child and I couldn’t help wondering what Gigi would have thought.

I run every day to stay thin and because on most days, it makes me feel good. I also like to think that maybe I run because I am Gigi’s granddaughter. But I wonder if I would be a runner if I wasn’t diabetic first. I started running soon after I was diagnosed at fourteen years old. Exercise was a way to keep my blood sugars down. Like Gigi, I spend every morning outside, moving my legs, pumping my heart, pushing my body forward. As someone with type one diabetes, I was taught at an early age that exercise and diet were tools to keep the complications (heart disease, blindness, amputation) of diabetes at bay. What teenager wouldn’t be terrified by the idea of going blind, losing a foot or having a heart attack? (Ever since Mary went blind on Little House on the Prairie, I was scared to death of going blind.) If running would help save my eyesight, then get out of my way.

I don’t know if Gigi walked because she liked it, or because she was a typical, rugged New Englander who believed in moderation. She lived in good health and passed away when she was eighty-two years old. As I ran the steep, paved road around the lake, I imagined Gigi walking on a dirt trail and wondered if she stopped to smell the honeysuckle flowers or peek between the pine trees at the white, blue of the lake when she reached the highest point, or if she kept walking, focusing on completing her goal. As I ran, I thought about the crowds of obese people at Storyland and wondered what Gigi would think about the newly discovered “coach potato pill,” which is being touted as a future solution for people with type two diabetes.

I resent that the words diabetes and obesity are intertwined like a pretzel because of type twos. I resent that scientists and doctors are spending time and money working on the “coach potato pill” for people who share my disease. It makes me angry that I have been running for more than twenty years and instead of a cure, doctors have created an exercise pill. It feels like cheating. It feels like I’ve been training for a marathon and suddenly, someone has jumped out of the bushes and stepped across the finish line before me. It’s not fair. If diet and exercise are the, “pillars of diabetes treatment”……where does a pill fit in? Go to the back of the line, every morning, and start walking. Put the money for the “Couch potato pill” towards a cure for diabetes. Gigi would be proud.

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