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Who: Natalie Vanderpump, 59
Where: Seattle, Wash.
Time with Levels: Six months
Most Useful Takeaway: When I catch myself choosing a food I know isn’t good for my blood sugar, I mindfully sit and think about the root cause of that decision.
1. What were your health habits like before using Levels?
I was born and raised in Jamaica, and we almost never ate anything from a package (short of tinned sardines). Everything we ate growing up was freshly prepared for every meal.
That’s why in 2013 being diagnosed with prediabetes at age 51 was a huge wake-up call. I never thought that I could be on the verge of having diabetes since I was such a healthy eater. Then, when I told a couple of people in the family on my mom’s side about the diagnosis, they said something like ‘oh yeah, so-and-so had diabetes.’ I thought, Well, how come no one talked about it? I had no idea diabetes ran in my family.
At the time, my A1c was 6.0% [normal is considered below 5.7%; 5.8%-6.4% is prediabetic] and my body fat 42%. My doctor told me to cut out all fruit except for berries. Well, tell an island girl that she can’t have pineapple, mango, and banana and see what happens! I was also told to eat protein, fat, and carbohydrates together every time I ate and do weight training. I did make those changes, and luckily, I was able to lose 38 pounds and bring my body fat down to 28%.
2. If you had so much success on your own, what made you want to put a CGM on your arm?
Last year, a close friend ended up in the ER, and she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes with an A1c of 12%. She got a CGM and told me all about it. That made me want to get one. Over the years, I still couldn’t get my A1c to stay steady. I think that’s because I travel a lot to see family, and every time I travel, I eat a lot of food. I was also in a car accident in 2017, and the limited mobility during recovery impacted how active I could be, and I gained about 20 pounds. So, over the years I watched my A1c go up to 5.9 and then down to 5.7 and back up to 6.0. I was curious if I could keep my A1c normal for an entire 12-month period.
3. What have you learned about foods that spike your blood sugar and the meals that keep your glucose steady?
Right away, I learned the smoothie that I drank every morning was spiking my blood sugar and contributing to a glucose roller coaster throughout the rest of the day. And this smoothie—made with coconut water, spinach, collagen powder, almond butter, and flax seeds—was really healthy. Through experimentation, I learned to adjust the ratios by decreasing the amount of coconut water and adding chia seeds. Now, I use almond milk instead of coconut water. Making those changes means that instead of a large rise in blood sugar (+31 mg/dL), it’s a tiny bump (+8 mg/dL).
By two weeks into using Levels, I was able to keep my blood sugar in a healthy range of 70 mg/dL to 110 mg/dL. In March, we did my blood work and my A1c was 5.5%—down from 5.7% in December. I thought: Let’s do the CGM for a year and really challenge myself to find out what works for me so that I can maintain these changes. Six months in, I haven’t lost any additional weight, but I have tons of energy and feel pretty amazing right now. Speaking of energy, one thing that I also really like is that I can work out every morning completely fasted, something that feels better to me compared to exercising after I eat. After the gym, then I have my smoothie.
4. How are you challenging yourself this month?
I read an article on the Levels blog about a dozen glucose-lowering strategies. One was to aim for 51 grams of fiber per day. That’s a lot, who the heck does that? I was barely getting 20 to 25 grams per day. But, I’m working on it, and this is how I’m challenging myself right now. My smoothie this morning had 16 grams of fiber. Lunch today—a grilled chicken salad with greens, avocado, and jicama (plus some high-fiber chocolate)—will have 18 grams.
When I first started with Levels, my blood sugar was like a roller coaster. I played around with different things and started eating more foods high in fat, like nuts, to keep those numbers low. But that was not good for my gut and caused constipation. Now that I am eating balanced high-fiber meals, I’m getting daily high metabolic scores and my GI problems have gone away.
5. What are some surprising ways wearing the CGM has changed your approach to health?
I’m big on mindfulness and being present. What I love about the CGM is that it keeps me accountable. When I go to eat, I check my blood sugar. If it’s at a normal level, I know that I’m not hungry—I’m bored or emotionally eating. And so, I get to walk it back and think about why I’m reaching for food to deal with these feelings.
Even when I’m choosing a food I know isn’t good for my blood sugar, such as fresh organic corn on the cob, I mindfully sit and think about the root cause of the decision. Because, at that moment, it’s never about the food.