Ginger Vieira is one of those people from the diabetes community that I look up to and admire. Not only has she been living well with diabetes, she made a career of helping people live well also. I had the pleasure of meeting Ginger last year at the Unite for a Healthy Future event. Her positive attitude, healthy outlook and smile are contagious. I had some questions I’ve been wanting to ask her and she was nice enough to let me share it with all of you.
S: Tell me more about your diabetes diagnosis.
G: The most unique part of my diabetes diagnosis is that I actually diagnosed myself and no one believed me for a week. I was 13 years old, in the 7th grade, and the entire 7th grade does a health fair every year. One of the kids in my class, Miles, did his project on “diabetes.” I had been feeling sick for about 3 weeks – my whole family got the flu, and it seemed like mine never went away! I started reading Miles’ poster on diabetes while we were in science class, and I had all of the symptoms listed. I told my mom later that day that I thought I had this “thing called diabetes.” We didn’t know anything about it, so she said, “No, no, that’s impossible.” A week later, I started crying because I felt so awful, and we finally went to the hospital.
S: Tell me more about your celiac diagnosis.
G: I’m really lucky in how quickly I was diagnosed with celiac. Most people don’t even get tested until they’re bodies are suffering and they feel really sick. By then, your small intestine has already experienced a great deal of damage. My endocrinologist just tested me on principle during the second year of my life with Type 1 diabetes.
I was very good at following my gluten-free guidelines throughout high school, and then I teetered out of those lines during college for about one year. In other words, I cheated whenever I felt like it! Because I was diagnosed so quickly, I really don’t have very noticeable symptoms, if any, to gluten. I would get a headache sometimes, but because I was eating small snacks of gluten so often, I stopped noticing how unhappy my body was.
Today, I can honestly say I have no interest in eating gluten (*cheating) because everything about my body feels healthier and happier when there is no gluten in my body. Can I get away with trying my best friend’s chocolate ganache cake pop sometimes? Yes…but I try to keep those “taste-testing” excursions to just 3 or 4 small bites a year.
S: How did you know you wanted to be a trainer/coach?
G: Well, it was really never something I thought about until I had hired a personal trainer for my own health goals during my senior year of college. Within a year of training with him, I knew I wanted to motivate people to take good care of themselves, to see how much they are capable of, to become stronger and more confident in their own skin than they thought possible!
I never thought of myself as an athlete until that year. During the next year, amidst powerlifting competitions and training, I realized I wanted to do more than just teach people how to exercise, I wanted to help them change the way they see the challenges in their health, change the way they pursue their goals, and change the way they literally think about themselves.
That year, I began training as a cognitive coach in David Rock’s coaching program that is based on the neuroscience of the brain – the way your brain thinks, the chemicals involved, and how to create a conversation that leads you to making incredible changes in your thinking habits.
S: Do you have a lazy side? If so, how do you push yourself?
G: I was always fairly active in middle school and high school, but it wasn’t until my senior year of college when I found my passions in exercise, and the confidence in what I’m capable of—I’ll try almost anything now. Today, it’s so easy to convince myself to get up and go to the gym because my body craves it. My brain craves it. And I just feel balanced and at peace when I’ve made time for it.
And that’s exactly one of the things that I love helping other people discover in themselves. It takes an immense amount of commitment and focus to get to that point, but you will get there eventually if you make it your goal.
Don’t get me wrong…I love my couch, though! And the occasional nap!
S: What is your all time favorite food?
G: All time favorite? Oh, goodness. I can’t choose just one. But here are three foods that I could eat every day:
1. Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage
2. Fuji Apples
3. Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio
S: Do you ever eat “unhealthy” foods?
G: Yes! I keep a container of Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio in my freezer at all times! A healthy relationship with food includes junk food. My relationship with food is about balance. About 90% of my day is good clean food: eggs, meats, apples, carrots, hummus and water. But if I’m craving something sweet, I don’t make that off-limits. Telling yourself that you cannot or should not eat a certain type of food in order to “ be healthy” or even in an effort to lose weight, will probably backfire on your incredible.
When nothing is off-limits, and there are no rules, then junk food is no longer a big. I don’t ever binge on the ice cream in my freezer…because it’s always there! I can eat it whenever I feel like. I basically nibble on it throughout the week. And I exercise so much that every remains balanced. When I was powerlifting training regularly (which I’m not now), I actually needed over 3,000 calories a day, so I had to include junk food just to get it all in! Today, I really only need 1800 to 2000 calories.
This question actually brings up something I am super-passionate about coaching other folks in. Your relationship with food!
I truly, wholeheartedly believe that diabetes skews and twists our relationship with food. It makes food a chore, an evil, a thing that can save our life, and a thing we’re supposed to avoid and count and think about constantly.
I also truly believe that developing a healthy relationship with food is very possible. I’ve done it for myself, and every coaching client I’ve ever worked with has come to me with a goal of overcoming emotional eating.
This is the next topic I’m writing my next book about. I’ve created the outline for the book, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten!
S: Have you ever been on an insulin pump? Why or why not?
G: Yes, I was on an insulin pump about 6 months after I was diagnosed. I was the first teenager at Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital they actually let go on a pump…that was 1999! I went off my pump about 6 years later. My skin really didn’t like it, my infusion sites were always itchy and getting clogged with blood or infected. I didn’t feel comfortable doing yoga with my pump, always stretching and having the infusion site pop out. It would’ve never fit with my powerlifting belt, I would’ve been bruised constantly. Yada yada. It’s just not for me.
My A1C has basically been around 6.8 to 7 percent whether or not I’m on an insulin pump. I’m very happy to be using Lantus and Humalog.
S: I love your dog. What kind is he and is it hard at all to take care of a dog so big?
G: His name is Blue. He is amazing. He’s a goldendoodle (part poodle, part golden retriever).
He was a very stubborn puppy (like mother, like son), so I was very strict in his discipline to ensure that he knows I’m the boss, the leader of the pack, and his mama. Today, despite his size, he’s awesomely well behaved, incredibly friendly, and a lover of life. *However, given him a bath is a pain in the butt.
Meanwhile, because of his size, it’s also really easy to tackle him, wrestle him, and basically wrap my whole body around him when I need him to sit still while my friend is cleaning his ears (he hates that!).
I also recently adopted a 9 year-old pup named Einstein. He’s learning from Blue how great life can be. He was given to a shelter because his owner was dying, and I don’t think his owner took him outside very often. He didn’t even know his name or how to sit when I got him.
Today, due to lots of cuddling, kisses, and walks in the woods, he’s become a very happy canine…and a good friend of Blue’s.
S: I started reading your book (and will continue just as soon as I finish the Hunger Games trilogy!!). So far I loved how you explain things. What was the moment when you thought, I’m going to write this book?
G: Hmm…well, when I started powerlifting training during 2009, I had to learn so much about basic human physiology because not only did the endocrinologists in my area know nothing about competitive sports, exercise and diabetes, but the head endocrinologist there also rolled his eyes at me when I said I wanted to train and compete in powerlifting.
So I was on my own.
I read medical textbooks and talked a lot with my trainer, Andrew, about basic exercise physiology. After really coming to understand it well, and taking a lot of notes around my own blood sugars, training workouts, and competitions, I realized that this was my book. This information that you can’t find easily anywhere else.
It’s frustrating to me, in one sense, that doctors don’t take the time to teach us some of this stuff, but I know they don’t have time. We are all capable of learning it though, and it applies to every part of life with diabetes.
S: Your newest venture was becoming the mental health coach for Team WILD. How is that going?
G: Oh, it’s only just begun! TeamWILD is founded by the awesome Mari Ruddy (a two-time cancer survivor and tri-athlete living with Type 1 diabetes). Working with and for Mari is great because she sees what her staff is capable of and gives them the reigns to be as awesome as they can be.
TeamWILD is holding it’s camp in Boulder this coming June, and I will be one of the main 4 staff members running the camp. You’ll also find three videos from me in your training packages if you sign-up for any of the various programs TeamWILD offers!
Wanting to exercise is the first step, but the next step is making sure that you’ve learned everything you need to in order to exercise effectively, safely, and productively with diabetes. Going for a jog when your blood sugar is 240 mg/dL, even if you don’t have ketones, isn’t going to give you all of the benefits you’re hoping for. You’ve gotta learn how your body works and how to manage diabetes on top of that.
TeamWILD is an awesome source for learning that information, and reaching all of your athletic goals in endurance sports.
If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend interacting with Ginger online – I’ve included links where to find her at Living In Progress, her book Your Diabetes Science Experiment which can be purchased as a paperback or an e book, her services at Team Wild and you can also find her on twitter @gingervieira :)