One thing I try to do a lot in my practice when trying to explain a foreign concept to a patient is to use metaphors and analogies to help them understand what is happening in their own body. One example I use a lot in talking about Type 2 Diabetes is “the suitcase” analogy.
To make a long story short, the body’s cells are like suitcases. Glucose (blood sugar) are pieces of clothing, and insulin is the person packing the suitcase. The more we overload our bodies with sugar (clothes), the harder it is for the insulin (the packer) to get the blood sugar down by packing it into the cell (suitcase).
The fuller a suitcase gets, the more resistant it is to taking in more clothes. Our cells behave the same way. If they are already full of sugar, it is hard to get more into them. Because of this, our pancreas puts out more and more insulin to force the sugar in. It is like having more and more people sitting on an overflowing suitcase to try to shut it. In the body, this is called insulin resistance. It is what leads to diabetes.
Eventually, no matter how many people there are sitting on the suitcase, it can take no more, and it explodes. In the body, this is when the blood sugar rises to the point that a person is diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.
The good news is that this condition is preventable. The process of stuffing the suitcase to the point that it explodes usually takes many years. It almost never happens overnight. We can prevent the disease in two ways.
First, don’t try to overpack. Cut down on the amount of glucose you take in. This includes sugars, starches, and alcohol. One thing to remember is that fruits can also be high in sugar. Even though it is natural, fructose is converted to glucose by the body and will raise your blood sugar. The sweeter the fruit, the more sugar it has, so enjoy in moderation.
Second, empty out the suitcase. Exercise! By exercising, you empty your cells of all the excess sugar it is storing. In this way, it will never be overstuffed. You don’t have to go to a gym or run a marathon. Be more active. Walk. Use the Stairs. Park at the end of the lot. You get the picture.
Many people are predisposed genetically to develop diabetes, but that doesn’t mean that their fate is sealed. A healthy lifestyle with good eating habits and regular exercise may not cure or prevent everything, but it always makes things better. Even if you already have diabetes, by living a healthier lifestyle and working with your doctor, you will feel better, and perhaps cut your medications down, or out completely.
It is time to get busy and unpack!