My sister and I were both diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. But the similarities end there. Here’s how different this disease can be — even inside a single family.
My siblings and I grew up with the specter of type 2 diabetes hanging over us, as diabetes runs strong in my family.
I watched as my mom struggled with her diabetes, both physically and mentally. She resented the disease and rebelled against testing her blood sugar, taking her medication, and eating and exercising in a way that supported her body. As a consequence, she suffered a lot of diabetic complications.
Meanwhile, my siblings and I grew up entrenched in the myth that diabetes could always be managed with diet and exercise. So, I did everything I could to avoid the disease — and, I admit, avoid becoming my mother — including exercising regularly and engaging in a lifetime of chronic dieting.
It didn’t work. I was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 30. Five years later, my sister was diagnosed with gestational diabetes while pregnant with her son, and her diabetes stuck around after she delivered, becoming type 2 diabetes. She was 33.
Though we were diagnosed around roughly similar ages, nothing else about our experiences was similar — even though we come from the same parents, were raised in the same family, and have the same body type.
Having grown up surrounded by adults with diabetes, my sister and I were vigilant about our health long before we were diagnosed, albeit in different ways.
She experimented with a vegetarian diet and also had a regular yoga practice. Though she exercised and ate healthfully, she was never into dieting. Despite growing up in the same family and having the same larger body type that I do, she somehow managed to avoid that trap.
On the other hand, Mom enrolled me in my first diet, Weight Watchers, in first grade. Over the years, I waged a war against my body that culminated in an eating disorder (atypical anorexia) in my teens that lasted into my 30s — well after I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Still, I was told I needed to lose weight to manage my diabetes.
So, I set about doing the same things I’d been doing my entire life — severely restricting calories and exercising.
I’d always done some form of physical exercise, but after being diagnosed, I went all in on extreme exercise. I worked with personal trainers. I trained for (and completed) a marathon and a triathlon. I did MMA (mixed martial arts) and many cycles of P90X.
None of it gave me the thin body I’d craved all my life. And certainly, none of it reversed my diabetes. But, I did avoid medication for the first several years following my diagnosis.
Then, one day, my blood sugar was suddenly in the 200s.
I was shocked and went to see my doctor. My A1C was over 8%, and he started me on metformin. For a while, that worked on its own. But fast forward about 5 years, and despite all my best efforts, I was now on three diabetes medications.
It seemed that doing everything I’d been “told” to do over the years — whether by medical doctors or popular culture — hadn’t done much to stave off the progression of type 2 diabetes for me.
But when I heard about the keto diet, I bought into the hype and decided to go for it.
Shortly after starting keto, my sister called and asked how I was doing with my diabetes. “I’m doing great,” I told her. “I just started keto.”
And then she revealed the real reason for her call. Her health wasn’t doing so great. Specifically, her cholesterol was up. So, I encouraged her to try keto since the diet was also supposed to help with that.
She was initially reluctant, but once she realized she could do a plant-based version of keto, she went all in. Ironically, considering I’m the one who pushed her to try it, she did way better with keto than I did.
I wasn’t lying when I said keto was working for me. In the beginning, keto did help drop my overall blood glucose numbers. It even enabled me to reduce my medication for a while. But it didn’t reverse my diabetes, and the effects of keto weren’t long lasting for me. (I wrote a different Bezzy article on my experience.)
On the other hand, even though she’d started it for help with her cholesterol, it helped so much with my sister’s diabetes that she was able to stop taking her diabetes medication.
It’s been several years now, and while she still generally eats a low carb plant-based diet, she no longer counts her macros. Yet, she’s still medication-free, with A1C numbers in the nondiabetic range.
On the other hand, despite doing keto for years, experimenting with fasting, and now eating a less restrictive Mediterranean diet — which works better for me — I’m on three diabetes medications.
After dealing with the ups and downs of type 2 diabetes for 16 years, my diabetes has recently progressed again. This time, though, I believe it’s directly connected to the hormone fluctuations of menopause, which my sister, being younger, has yet to experience. (Though I certainly don’t wish my symptoms on anyone, least of all my sister!)
Ultimately, my experience shows that diabetes is different for everyone — even siblings. It’s a reminder that diabetes is primarily a genetic disease, as my primary care doctor likes to remind me.
At the end of the day, diabetes is a progressive disease. And however it manifests for you, diabetes is not your fault.
Medically reviewed on September 25, 2023
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