How wearing a CGM changed Este Haim’s life

Being a rock star with Type 1 diabetes has never been easy, but seeing her glucose levels in real-time helped Este learn sometimes you just have to stop the show and have a candy bar

Written By

Mike Haney

Este Haim is one of those rare people who has always known what she wanted to do … and then did it.

The crystallizing moment came at an Eagles concert as a kid. “My parents knew the musical director, so we went backstage,” Este says. “I saw a row of 75 guitars and just thought, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do. I want to be a rock-and-roll musician.’”

Today, her band Haim—comprised of Este and her two younger sisters, Danielle and Alana—has released three critically-acclaimed albums, including 2020’s Women in Music, Pt III. They’ve also collaborated with some of the biggest names in music, opening for Rihanna and appearing on Taylor Swift’s latest surprise album, Evermore.

Este is the group’s bassist and ring-leader on stage, famous for her high-energy playing. “That’s my body showing that I’m experiencing pure joy,” she says.

Este knows better than most what her body is experiencing: At 14, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The diagnosis was devastating because, according to her well-meaning doctor, it wasn’t compatible with being a rock star. “Fortunately,” she says, “when we walked out, my parents told me, ‘Your doctor gives you health advice, don’t listen to him for life advice.’”

But after navigating her diabetes as a rebellious teen, a poor college student, and a professional touring musician, Este appreciates his point: Prioritizing her health hasn’t been easy. “I definitely went through bouts of falling off the wagon,” she says. “I’ve been truly all over the place when it comes to managing my blood sugar.”

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Last year, Este proudly showed off her CGM in a photoshoot for the first time. Photo originally by Drew Escriva for NME.

What changed her life was finally getting a continuous glucose monitor in 2018. “I couldn’t argue when the data is staring me right in the face,” she says. “I finally realized health is wealth.”

Now, she’s an outspoken advocate for diabetes and CGMs, wearing hers visibly on her arm on stage and in the band’s videos. “I want people to see that I’m wearing it because I don’t want it to be stigmatized,” she says.

“It’s not like this is rocket science. It’s just that once you have the data, you make the best-informed decisions you possibly can. That’s all it is.”

We talked to Este, who recently became a Levels investor, about how a rock star learns to live with diabetes and why she thinks everyone could benefit from a CGM.

Levels: What was it like getting the Type 1 diagnosis at that age?

Este: Getting diagnosed at 14 might be the worst time, especially as a female. It was my first week of high school. All I wanted was for a boy to look at me and say I was pretty. Before I got diagnosed, I had lost all this weight [because I was sick]. And I grew up in LA—at that time, thin was in.

Then I started insulin shots, and I gained weight and thought, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. No thanks.” And so I fell into this really scary trap of rationing insulin. My doctor would see my numbers and say, “Este, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but this isn’t good.” So I thought, “Fine, I’m just not going to test, so then my doctor can’t see the numbers.”

As a rebellious 15-year-old, it was “You can’t tell me what to do, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

Did you get more disciplined as you got older?

Not really. In college, the challenge was that I worked at a coffee house, and at the end of the night, we could take home the food we didn’t sell. That was great because I was poor, but it was all bagels and almond croissants—these carb-heavy, sugary things. My blood sugar was all over the place.

And then you became a professional touring musician—not much easier.

I would get off stage and have all this adrenaline, and that would make me want to eat. And, at 11 p.m., what’s available to you? Pizza, bar food, burgers. Have a salad after the show? That was not my journey.

Then you get on the bus, adrenaline going, and everyone wants to watch movies. And so, you’re up until 3 a.m. Then the next day it’s like, breakfast time, eight o’clock, here we go. So, sleep isn’t really a thing, either.

So did you just get accustomed to feeling bad?

Absolutely. When I was in my 20s, I didn’t want to burden the people around me by being like, “Oh, I don’t feel like I can go on stage tonight.” So [my sugar] could be in the 300s, and I’d be like, “Rock-and-roll, let’s go.” I got used to the lethargy. I thought, “My health is on the back burner. I’m concentrating on living my dream.”

So when did continuous glucose monitoring come into the scene?

I heard about CGM in college, but it was way too expensive for a student, and insurance didn’t cover it. I finally got one in 2018, and the reason was, I finally had good insurance. I was a signed artist.

My doctor was looking at my A1C and said, “Listen, Este, I love that you’re a touring musician. But I know what goes along with that, so we need to make this easier for you because your numbers are all over the place.” In fact, because my numbers were all over the show, I was having kidney problems. That was the real catalyst for him saying, “We can’t fuck around with this. We’re getting you on a CGM, and it’s going to save your life.”

And, he wasn’t wrong. I got on a CGM, and my A1C went down 2% within the first month and a half. For a diabetic, that’s huge. That kind of change usually takes six months. It was night and day.

Why do you think a CGM worked so well for you?

Food is hard because the last thing that you want to hear is you can’t eat this or that. The rebellious Este Haim thought, “You can’t tell me what to do.”

After I had my CGM, when I saw the numbers in front of me and had to confront them, that changed everything for me. Even I can’t argue when the data is staring me right in the face.

It’s not like this is rocket science. It’s just that once you have the data, you make the best-informed decisions you possibly can, and that’s all it is.

Then I started using the Tandem Control-IQ system, which works in conjunction with my [Dexcom] G6 CGM and my insulin pump, so it’s a closed-loop system. My numbers transmit to my phone and then to my sisters and boyfriend, so we’re all connected.

You’ve been a real evangelist for CGM; what kind of feedback have you gotten?

It’s been great because I’ll see other people wearing one, and we have this connection: “What’s your number? How long have you had your CGM?” I look at it as something that brings the community together.

And outside the diabetic community, I get people all the time that say, “What’s that?” “It’s my continuous glucose monitor.” And then it becomes a dialogue: “I’m diabetic and it does X, Y, and Z for me.”

Even on stage, if my blood sugar goes low, I feel shaky. So I’ll stop the show, explain to the audience, “Your girl’s diabetic, she’s going to eat a Snickers, she’ll tell you some stories about being diabetic, and then we’ll go on with the concert.”

What do you think about people without diabetes wearing CGMs as a health tool?

I don’t think that [non-diabetics] wearing a CGM takes anything away from Type 1 diabetics’ journey. I totally understand why some people would feel that way, but I don’t. I think for non-diabetics, as a preventative measure, it’s so integral to see what your blood sugars are doing, so people don’t have to get Type 2 diabetes and go through the stuff we have to go through.

When I first got my CGM, my boyfriend wanted one too. First, it was just to experience what I was experiencing. And I hear that from other people in the diabetic community: I wish other people could understand what it’s like to wear this.

But then he realized he wanted to know the data. Type 2 diabetes runs in his family. He thought, “What if I’m pre-diabetic? How am I supposed to know?”

Everyone wants to be healthy, and everyone wants to have longevity, so I think this information is something that everyone should have access to.

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What are you excited about this year?

Well, with diabetes, there’s such a psychological component to it, and I’m part of that statistic. I have depression, and the pandemic has not helped. I talk a lot about community, and not feeling connected has been hard. And I know among a lot of my diabetic friends that there’s a lot of fear around COVID.

So, I’m really excited for there to be a vaccine and to be around people again. And paramount is touring again. Honestly, being on a stage and playing music and hearing the words that I wrote in a living room with my sisters sung back to me—nothing brings me pure joy like that.

Este wore her CGM for last year’s “Summer Girl” video.