T’ara Smith in summer 2017, around the time of her diagnosis.
Medically Reviewed by KacyÂ Church, MD
The term âskinny fatâ is used to describe someone who looks slim but is maybe not as ripped as an athlete. Theyâre also the last type of person youâd probably suspect to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is a chronic illness that is stereotypically associated only with people who are overweight or obese.
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes on July 7, 2017, with a fasting blood sugar level of 566 milligrams per deciliter and an A1C (a two- to three-month average of blood sugar levels) of 15.2 percent. I was 187 pounds (lbs), around a size 8 or 10, had been training to compete in bodybuilding contests, and had been eating a healthy diet and exercising regularlyÂ for more than four years. I was also young â 25 years old, to be exact. Despite all of those things, I was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness I had worked hard to prevent.
In hindsight, the signs over the months leading up to the diagnosis were there. My mother noticed how I went from drinking 1 gallon of water per day to drinking 2 gallons, and how I’d simultaneously started making constant trips to the bathroom. I found I was losing up to 5 lbs per week, and one month before my diagnosis, my hair began to fall out and thin around the edges. This is embarrassing to admit, but I also had my first yeast infection.
I thought the weight loss and increased thirst were the result of the time I was spending in the gym and eating a healthy diet. Hair loss? Well, maybe I used the wrong products and hadnât been caring for my hair properly. But the yeast infection? That was definitely abnormal, and this prompted me to get an opinion from a professional.
Maybe it was my doctorâs impersonal approach to telling me I have type 2 diabetes or maybe it was my quick acceptance of the news, but I wasnât shocked. After my first year of college, my former doctor told me I had prediabetes and put me on a diet and exercise plan to normalize my blood sugar levels. Diabetes also runs in my family, so I guessed it was only a matter of time for me before I was diagnosed as well.
And yet, I felt ashamed and fraudulent after receiving the news. Spending several years documenting my weight-loss journey and efforts to become my healthiest self, only to be diagnosed with the one chronic illness Iâd worked so hard to prevent? The whole thing was demoralizing. How could I, someone who had been earning a masterâs degree in nutrition education and looked like the last person whoâd have diabetes, in fact, have it? Had all my hard work been a waste? Even more emotional for me at the time, who would listen to me about living a healthy life by creating sustainable healthy habits?
It seemed like a cruel joke to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after successfully keeping off more than 30 lbs for more than four years. But, confiding in close friends, family, and my professors helped me cope with the adjustment of living with diabetes and eventually identify the opportunities my new lifestyle could offer. In particular, my academic program helped make me an expert on how diabetes works, and my passion to help others lead healthier lives inspired me to pursue a career in diabetes education and health counseling.
Diabetes gave my life a new perspective. AccordingÂ to the American Diabetes Association, 30 million people live with diabetes (the majority of them type 2), and an increasing number of those people are young, like me. Ultimately, thereâs always more room for people who are dedicated to diabetes awareness, prevention, and management.
A range of factors can contribute to prediabetes or a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, ranging from sedentary living and poor dietary habits to genetic factors and having high body fat.
Itâs important to recognize the signs of type 2 diabetes. Frequent urination, increased thirst, unexpected major weight loss, yeast infections, and constant hunger are all indicators itâs time to see a doctor. Living with uncontrolled diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness, neuropathy (nerve damage), amputation, and more, per the ADA.
Even with those complications in mind, I live a full life with diabetes. I still eat what I love, just in smaller portions, and I still stick to the core values around healthy living that Iâve built over the last five years. Iâm also adamant about taking my medication as prescribed and seeing the doctor as scheduled. I wish I visited my doctor as soon as I experienced symptoms like extreme thirst. Still, Iâm happy I was diagnosed before I suffered major complications.
As a young person, I continue to face challenges that affect my diabetes care. My main challenges are health insurance, employment, and the costs of diabetes management. All of these challenges are intertwined because my job search depends on the quality of health benefits, which determines how much I pay out-of-pocket to see doctors and specialists, and to cover diabetes supplies. And finding a job to match the degree that came with a lot of student loan debt is a challenge in itself. Socially, I still have to remind others I only eat a limited amount of certain foods because I live with diabetes. Sometimes the responses have a hint of pity, but I usually have to quickly add I can still eat anything, just in small portions.
Today, Iâm a comfortable 200 lbs and am healthier overall. Since last summerâs diagnosis, I reduced my blood sugar levels by more than half, and my A1C is 8.4, which is closer to normal. Iâm more passionate about dismantling the mental, emotional, physical, and financial stigmas attached to people living with diabetes than ever. People with diabetes come in all shapes and sizes, and assuming someone with type 2 diabetes is overweight or obese, or an older person, prevents us from helping others who donât fit the stereotypical description.