When it comes to your health—and especially your blood sugar—it’s one thing to know you could probably stand to change a few habits. But even with great intentions, it can be tricky sometimes to make those changes stick.
For Becky Stacy, of Hazard, after she got the surprising news that she had type 2 diabetes, she made some of those lifestyle changes, including a drastic shift in her diet. But this shift was so drastic, Becky discovered that she couldn’t stay with it for very long— and she soon slid right back into some old eating habits. It was only when she found out that her A1C level had jumped back up to 9—and that her doctor was considering an insulin shot—that Becky knew it was time to really sit down and come up with a new approach:
“That terrified me. Because that [an insulin shot] was what my mother lived with… And, I think, this time, I’ve got it. Since February, I have really dedicated myself to make sure that I’m not gonna let this disease kill me, if I can help it!”
This time, Becky’s changes haven’t consisted of anything too huge: she’s made some substitutions in what she eats (like cutting back on carbs, using vegetables instead of chips when she has guacamole, and drinking more water instead of soda), and she sets aside a little time most every day to get some physical activity, whether that’s a walk in downtown Hazard or a hike in the hills.
But this time, her changes have stuck— and they’ve already paid off. Within just ~6 months of making these shifts in her habits, Becky had lost some 30 pounds, and dropped her A1C level back down to 6 (at one time, she says, it was as high as 12!). And along the way, she also discovered a deep love of hiking— in fact, she even started her own online hiking community, Becky’s Hiking Adventures (click that link to see where she’s been lately!). As she says:
“I’m not doing anything faddish. I’m not trying to limit my carbs so much that it’s unsustainable. You know, I’m not exercising until I drop… there may be a day where I’m like, ‘I’m just gonna take today off,’ as far as my exercising. But tomorrow, I know I’ll be back on the trails… I do feel like it’s sustainable, and I think that’s so important when we talk to people about how to control your diabetes. You have to pick something that’s sustainable for you.”
Push play above to stream Becky’s story. Or click below to read a full transcript.
Music in this story (Wind Through a Broken Glass” and “Chillicothe”) was performed by Mark Fosson, and can be found at the Free Music Archive.Click here for the full transcript of this story:
It’s not just about losing the weight. I can have a few pounds on me, but be healthier—if I have good blood sugar, you know?—than being thin, with my blood sugar looking awful. So, you know, I think that we have to reframe the way we look at it. And say, ‘I want to be healthy.’ Not, ‘I want to get skinny.’
My name is Becky Stacy. I was born and raised in Hazard, Ky., so I’ve lived here my whole life. And I’m a retired Kindergarten teacher, and now I’m the Executive Director of the Appalachian Early Childhood Network.
* * *
My mother, she passed away a couple of years ago. And she was diabetic. And I remember, we became her caregiver, the last few years of her life, my sister and I mostly. And she, just, would not try to keep her diabetes in check. She would say, ‘I’ll eat what I want and then I’ll have a shot later.’ And it was so frustrating. It was… you know, I just remember being so upset with her.
And not long before she died— I had not been taking care of myself, of course, because I was getting little sleep, I was taking care of her all the time, I was still working, you know not eating right. And [I] just became ill. So ill I that had to go to the doctor. And that’s when I was diagnosed with diabetes, and hypothyroidism, and, you know, depression, anxiety— you name it, it was all there.
I was surprised. I just, I don’t know if I didn’t… I just didn’t think it would happen to me. Even though my sister was diagnosed, my brother, you know— my whole family basically. But as a child, and a young adult, I was very active, very healthy. You know, I didn’t have a weight problem. It wasn’t until I became an adult. And so I guess, yeah, it came as a shock to me, but it was from years of not taking my health seriously. So, you know, it’s not just hereditary; I could have prevented it, type 2.
And so my journey was, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna beat this. I’m not gonna be like my mom. I’m gonna do this.’ Which was great for about four months, and then I kinda… eh… acted like my mom! When I went for my checkup in February—to have my blood work done, and those kinds of things—my doctor told me that my A1C was back up to 9, and she was considering an insulin shot. And that terrified me. Because that was what my mother lived with. And so I said, ‘Please just let me try one more time. I promise you I’ll do it this time.’ And, I think, this time, I’ve got it. Since February, I have really dedicated myself to make sure that I’m not gonna let this disease kill me, if I can help it!
* * *
So, my A1C at one time was 12, which is astronomical. I do have it down to 6 right now. But I have to watch everything that goes in my body. And I have to make sure that I’m doing my exercises. And… I know it’s cliche, but it takes a lifestyle change. It really, really does.
The first time [I made a change in my diet], I went extremely low-carb. And I wasn’t exercising like I do now. It worked, but it was so restrictive that eventually, I couldn’t maintain. So, this time, I’m more balanced in everything that I do. I make sure not only— I do eat low carb, but I do add in some carbs, good carbs. And I make sure that I balance with exercise. You know, at one time, I was drinking lots of diet soda, which, even without the sugar, it’s still not good for you. So I’ve switched it out for water. Guacamole with vegetables instead of with chips; I’ve done that. Just those kind of small changes have made a big difference for me, in terms of being able to maintain, and not fall off the wagon again, you know?
I think one of the things is retraining your brain to think, am I really hungry? Or is this just something that I’m doing— I’m just eating, because. Could I get up and take a walk instead, or have a glass of water, and then I won’t need something to eat? So it’s re-wiring your brain, I think, as well.
You know, bread is hard for me not to have. When you go to a restaurant, and any of the restaurants that bring bread out, you know, the first thing I have to say is, ‘I don’t need bread.’ Or if I go to a Mexican restaurant, you know, chips come first! And it’s almost like they don’t understand, ‘You don’t want chips?’ ’No, I don’t need chips.’ But I’ve actually been able to do it. And I’ve actually been able to sit with friends and family that do eat bread and do eat chips, and it’s okay.
* * *
I have been hiking for about a year and a half. But the past probably six months, I’ve been serious about it. So, I have my own hiking group on Facebook, and I invite people to come hike with me, or tell them, ‘You can go here;’ ‘This is where I go.’
I mostly do the trail system here in Perry County, at the Perry County Park. But gosh, I would go to the Gorge, Red River Gorge; there’s some great trails in London. Or I would just go to the walking track and do a couple laps there. You know, it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. If you’re moving, that’s what really matters! And the first time I did a hike, it was like 1/10 of a mile, and I was killed. So, you just gotta keep moving. Eventually, it gets better!
And I guess the thing is, as a child in Eastern Kentucky, one of the things that we did was we played in the hills a lot. We were in the hills a lot. And so I thought, why can’t I do that now? As an adult, do I think that I’m not allowed to do that? So I found that joy again, I guess. And every day I would go back and just try to go a little bit farther, even if I had to stop and rest. And, it’s just brought… as a 51-year-old, I feel like a kid again when I’m in the hills! And it’s made a big difference in my blood sugar readings. A big difference.
* * *
I’ve probably lost 30 lbs. since February. I’d like to lose about 30 more, if I can. But, you know, that’s a slow loss rate.
I had to look at it as long-term. So I may not be losing weight at a high rate, it may take me a long time, but my cholesterol looks good. My A1C looks good. My pulse rate has gone down, my resting pulse rate— everything has changed just because of these little changes that I’ve made. So I try not to look at the scale as much as I used to. Because that’s very daunting, too, if you don’t see it move like you want it to! But you may not see it, but things are happening, if you really stick to that lifestyle change.
I get lots of feedback, just asking me, ‘Where are you going hiking?’ ‘What kind of diet are you doing?’ ‘I’d really like to do this’— but what I usually hear is a ‘but’ at the end of that. But, I… whatever. And I have to say, Well, I have those ‘buts’ too. You just have to figure out a way. You have to say, ‘I’m gonna do this for myself.’ So if it’s 30 minutes before you get the family up, or whatever.
I just, I say to myself— you’re gonna die if you don’t do it. I mean, I know that sounds horrible, but diabetes will kill me if I don’t take care of myself. Or I will, you know, start to lose limbs, or digits, and that kind of thing. And it scares me! So, I hate to say that I’m ‘scared straight,’ but I really am! I’m kinda like, ‘Hm, I don’t want that to happen to me.’ So, you know, I encourage— I have other family members right now who are prediabetic. And I’m like, ‘You have to understand, this is serious. You can’t wait until it’s gone too far!’ So, my thinking is, I have to. I don’t have a choice.
* * *
So, I’ve been fully vaccinated since probably April. It wasn’t a decision to me. As soon as it was made available, I knew that I would get it to protect whoever I needed to protect. I have a son who’s 23, he said, ‘As soon as I can get it, I’m gonna get it.’ I have a sister who is compromised, she has lung issues— I wasn’t going to be around her unless I was vaccinated.
So, I did feel like, again, I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, but still I do have a chronic condition. And I don’t need to be getting anything I don’t have to have. I don’t need to be getting a virus that could kill me! And I really didn’t have any side effects other than a sore arm. So, I felt like that was protecting me and my family.
Actually, before Covid, I didn’t care to go out to a fast food restaurant and grab my food. And, you know, as Covid came through, we would do grocery pickup, and I would make sure that I was cooking at home, and that kind of stuff. So actually, probably that was a good thing for me. And kind of made that change stick a little bit more. Because when I could go back out, I’m like, ‘Oh, well, this was easy to make, and it tasted good, and it was low-carb. So I’ll just make that again instead of going out to McDonald’s, or whatever.’ And my exercise part— because you could go out to the hills anytime, you didn’t have to worry about being in a crowd. So, maybe that’s a good thing, out of the pandemic— we’ll have to mark that down!
* * *
I’m not doing anything faddish. I’m not trying to limit my carbs so much that it’s unsustainable. You know, I’m not exercising until I drop, I’m exercising— I guess, in a way that I know is good for my body. So, there may be a day where I’m like, ‘I’m just gonna take today off,’ as far as my exercising. But tomorrow, I know I’ll be back on the trails. Or I’ll be back doing my run, or whatever I need to do. But I do feel like it’s sustainable, and I think that’s so important when we talk to people about how to control your diabetes. You have to pick something that’s sustainable for you.
And often people just talk about losing the weight, and it’s not just about losing the weight. I can have a few pounds on me, but be healthier—if I have good blood sugar, you know?—than being thin, with my blood sugar looking awful. So, you know, I think that we have to reframe the way we look at it. And say, ‘I want to be healthy.’ Not, ‘I want to get skinny.’
So, I don’t know. That’s what I’d like to see, is just— is people in our area become educated about it. And work on prevention. Not wait until, ‘Oh, you’re diabetic.’ Well, yeah, there’s something we can do about that. Even though heredity does play a part in it, we can still make some changes, that’ll drastically reduce our chances.
And come and join me to hike. Because I’ll hike any day of the week!