As I’ve mentioned before, I was less than well insured when I was first diagnosed as a T1 diabetic back in 1994 at the age of 28. As such, I didn’t see a doctor for much more than a periodic checkup so that I could get my prescriptions renewed. He was a general practitioner, not an endo, and wasn’t really much of a resource for information. I don’t think I had an A1C tested – beyond the first one when I was diagnosed – for the first three years, and then very intermittently for years afterwards.
The Early Influence of Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution
In a way, I’m grateful for the ignorance I had in the early years because I always supposed that the goal that I should aim for as a diabetic is normalized, non-diabetic blood sugars, not the ADA target at the time which was “…less than 8% (or an average BS reading of 200mg/dL.) Early on, I picked up and read parts of Dr. Richard K. Bernstein’s book, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars. I have to be honest with you, I found it a very dry read (especially the recipes included in the back of the version of the book that was current in the mid 90s). I didn’t read it all the way through, but it was packed with useful information from a unique perspective, and I picked up lots of tips from various chapters that served me well those early years. Particularly, it reinforced my perception that what I should aim for is the same as someone with a normally functioning pancreas.
But as time passed, I lost my way. I finally started seeing an endo regularly who made a frowny-face when I mentioned Dr Bernstein’s book, and gave me the worst advice of my life, “Don’t sweat the carbs. You can really eat anything you want. Just time the dose right and take enough insulin to cover it.” Doctor knows best, right? Heck, he was a specialist. So I gradually fell back into the warm embrace of carbohydrates. It wasn’t long before I became a cinnamon-raisin-bread-freebasing carbo-tarian, regularly giving into the narcotic draw of bread, bagels, pasta, rice, biscotti and the more-than-occasional crème brûlée.
Over the years, I have mentioned the book a few times to different people and always got the same reaction. An eye roll and an “Oh, him.” Social conformity led me to take the same stance… until I progressively started a lower carb and eventually ketogenic diet and found my health again. Suddenly I realized I was living according to Dr. Bernstein’s recommendations, but it wasn’t the drag that I remembered it being when I tried to do it the 90s. I’ve since taken a different perspective on Dr. Bernstein. I think that the negative reaction I’ve observed might have its basis in a couple of factors:
- Dr. Bernstein is first and foremost an engineer. You know the caricature of a mind that lives in data points and spreadsheets, with a laser like focus on solutions and a somewhat less than graceful approach to communication?
Well, that’s just a caricature (says the warm and fuzzy IT professional) but watching the good doctor’s youtube videos, or reading his book, you can kinda get the sense that he’s operating on a different level and isn’t very tolerant of people who don’t see things with the same clarity of purpose as he does, or who fall short of the mark.
- The only thing missing from his approach, in my humble opinion, is anything to make the experience of following his advice seem a palatable proposition. I don’t know about you, but normalizing blood sugars is not enough of a motivator to keep me good on my dietary lifestyle when faced with a choice between a snack of oatmeal raisin cookies (are you getting the idea that I like grains and raisins?) and one tongue-depressor sized slice of crispbread with a slice of cheese or celery chips.
But here’s the thing,.. he’s right about a hell of a lot of stuff. Sure, the book reads like one of the rye-crisps that he recommends; yes, he comes across as pushy and dogmatic; yes, the advice he gives is short on workable strategies for a lot of people who feel like they’re giving up so much joie de vivre to get there. But he’s right on the money with the goal of normalizing your blood sugars, the dosing dangers of attempting to do that with an ADA or AHA recommended diet, and the dosing ease and relative safety of doing that with a very low carb diet.
The Proof Of The (Lack Of) Pudding Is In The Eating (LCHF)
He has come up with a set of health maintenance practices that work amazingly well for him and those (who I used to think were…) spartan enough to follow it. He pioneered and has relentlessly championed the cause of healthy outcomes through normalizing blood sugars long before the science caught up with and vindicated him. And it is thanks largely to his influence that we all now have the tool of blood sugar meters at our disposal to continually measure and get instant feedback from our efforts to stay healthy. He was a pain in the ass of the medical community for years with his dogmatic insistence that it isn’t enough to pee on a strip to measure your blood sugar and settle for a quarterly visit to a doctor for a blood draw and a regimen adjustment. A pain in the ass who was right. Yes, he comes across as dogmatic, but damn it, he’s right! While that might put some off, his advice is good and very informative.
Sure he’s single-minded. You have to be in order to put yourself through med school at 45 just so that you can get the medical community to look at your work. For that stubborn dedication to the cause of saving and improving the quality of life for so many, I think we owe a great deal and can forgive the matter of fact, take no prisoners attitude. Just enjoy him like your quirky, brilliant and cantankerous uncle who always has to be right (but then who usually is and you’d do well to heed his advice despite your first inclinations).
The Ketogenic Diet Awakening, Dr. Bernstein Revolution!
And here’s the other thing. It’s never been easier to follow a low carbohydrate, or ketogenic diet and love every morsel of it than right now. Thanks to the Paleo/Primal, ancestral diet movement the re-emergence of the ketogenic diet as an effective therapy for treating epileptic seizures, and the bottomless well of fantastic keto resources online. — my stomach would like to add the following statement: “Thank you to Maria Emmerich’s parents for delivering her into the world!” Maria is the co-author of the recently released, Ketogenic Cookbook: Nutritious Low-Carb, High-Fat Paleo Meals to Heal Your Body, I own a few of her books… Maria, you make life worth living!
Whether you are new to the low carb lifestyle, new to diabetes, or a seasoned veteran at either, if you’ve never read Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, consider stopping by your local bookstore to pick up a copy, or ask your librarian. There are lessons in every chapter for people dealing with every variety in the spectrum of Diabetes Mellitus. It isn’t just a diet book, it is a diabetes management book with important tips and a wealth of knowledge about the nature and care of diabetes. Then don’t get uninspired by the recipes in the back of the book, just go to pinterest.com, set up an account, and get daily emails of the most mouth watering ketogenic recipies imaginable.