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How one woman changed her life by changing the way she eats

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For Shelby Kinnaird, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes more than 20 years ago was a total shock. “I just went in for my regular annual physical and, a couple of days later, my doctor called and said, ‘You have type 2 diabetes,’” Kinnaird tells Yahoo Life. “It wasn’t like I was borderline. It wasn’t like I needed to watch it. It was like, ‘It’s done. You’ve got it.’ So that was quite a shock.”

At the time, Kinnaird says she had a “very stressful job” that required a lot of travel. “My eating habits weren’t good. Most of my meals were eaten in restaurants,” she says. “My exercise habits were not good. The only exercise I got was running to catch a flight I was late for.”

Kinnaird decided to make some big changes.

“I made my health as much of a priority as my career was,” she says. Kinnaird cut down on the refined carbohydrates and sugars she ate, and started packing her own snacks and lunches for work. “I wanted to eat things that kind of gave me the biggest nutritional bang for the buck,” she explains.

Kinnaird also started eating meals and snacks at the same time every day, and took daily walks after work. “That later moved into different types of exercise as well,” she says. She even cut back on how much she worked. “That was a huge thing for me because I was a bit of a workaholic.” 

I made my health as much of a priority as my career was. Shelby Kinnaird

Diet was a big concern for Kinnaird after her diagnosis, so she bought “all of the cookbooks I could find that were diabetes-related,” she says. But, she notes, the food “just tasted horrible.” Kinnaird eventually created the blog Diabetic Foodie in 2010 “to show people that getting a diabetes diagnosis does not mean you can’t eat delicious food.” 

“There are lots of misconceptions around diabetes out there,” she says. “I don’t think one is that there is one single magic diabetes diet. You’ve got different things going on inside your body than I do, so you’ve got to figure out what works for you and you need to figure out what your diabetes diet is.” 

Now, Kinnaird tries to stick with a healthy routine each day.

Kinnaird starts her day off by checking her blood sugar, using an app that scans a sensor on her arm. Kinnaird’s blood sugar is usually high in the morning — a phenomenon in diabetes known as the “dawn effect” — so she tries to eat breakfast “right away” to try to stabilize her blood sugar. 

Then, she usually does some work, followed by a walk. “Lunch might be something like a shrimp salad stuffed in half of an avocado,” she says.

There’s so many things that just taste good raw. Shelby Kinnaird

Kinnaird tries to visit her local farmer’s market regularly to stock up on “whatever’s in season.” “It tastes better, it’s fresher, it’s ripe and in the summer it’s easier because there’s a whole lot less cooking you have to do,” she says. “There’s so many things that just taste good raw.”

For dinner, she’ll often do a burger, like her buffalo chicken burgers. “I just don’t eat bread — I put it in a lettuce wrap,” Kinnaird. While Kinnaird focuses on eating well, she also says it’s “OK to splurge a little bit.” 

Kinnaird recently started doing Cook & Chat sessions over Zoom to help fellow diabetics eat well and get a little social interaction in the process. “I’ll send out a recipe and we’ll get together,” she says. 

Kinnaird says she’s inspired by helping to “empower” other people on their diabetes journey. “There’s a big stigma out there that people who have type 2 diabetes, it’s all their fault, they did it to themselves,” she says. “That’s not true at all. If you have diabetes, it’s not your fault. Don’t let anybody tell you it is.”

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