When Natalie Howe (pictured here, 52 pounds lighter) was 33 and pregnant with her second baby, she was shocked when her doctor diagnosed her with gestational diabetes
“I’d always been heavy, but my family had no history of diabetes and I never suspected I would get the condition while pregnant,” recalls Natalie.
“My doctor told me gestational diabetes is an early warning sign for type 2, and that I really needed to be aware of my health.”
Post-pregnancy, Natalie’s blood sugar levels returned to normal. She and her family moved from Washington to Albany, where she began working as an emergency room nurse at Samaritan Albany General Hospital. When she became pregnant with her third child, the diabetes returned — and this time with a vengeance.
“During my third pregnancy, the diabetes became much more difficult to control,” she explains. “I had to go on meds and I had some really bad blood sugar swings. I was referred to Jamie Brown and Barb George, the diabetes educators at Albany General, and they really helped me through a difficult time.”
Just like her second pregnancy, the initial post-partum diabetes testing came back normal, but a few months later, Natalie knew something was wrong.
“I was so exhausted — all the time,” she says. “At first I figured it was because I had three kids under the age of 6 and was working at the hospital, too. I had not been able to lose the weight I’d gained during pregnancy and I was up to 200 pounds. One day, I tested my blood sugar with my old meter and sure enough, my levels were way too high.”
Natalie made an appointment to see Lynn Bentson, MD, an internal medicine physician known for her expertise in diabetes care.
“Dr. Bentson helped me develop a good management plan and I continued to work closely with Jamie and Barb. I took Victoza (an injectable medication) for a year, and I was able to lose 35 pounds. But I wanted to be off the medication.”
Natalie started exercising more (she’s a big fan of Zumba) and was intrigued by a book written by Dr. Neil Barnard, which encourages a low-fat vegan diet as a means of reversing type 2 diabetes.
“I remember thinking at first, ‘how can a diabetic be on a vegan diet with all those carbs?’ says Natalie. “But the research was really solid and I decided to try it.”
Natalie began her new way of eating in the summer of 2011. Her whole-foods, plant-based diet consists of meals such as steel-cut oatmeal, whole-wheat bread with peanut butter, bean soups, vegetable stir-fry with brown rice, whole-wheat pasta with peanut sauce and salads.
“I love the way I eat,” says Natalie, who is now 38. “And the benefits on my health have been amazing. I’m down to 148 pounds, I have more energy than ever before, my A1c is 5.3 and my blood sugars are now normal with no medication. I feel so much freedom because of this diet. I no longer have to test my sugars or spend so much time thinking about managing my diabetes.”
Natalie says that her health care team (Dr. Bentson, Jamie and Barb) supported her in her decision to go vegan and helped to ensure she was getting enough calcium, protein and other nutrients that can be lacking in a no-meat, no-dairy diet.
“For me, it’s about not missing out on my life. My dad had open heart surgery at age 47 and others in my family died young from heart disease. I felt like I could be heading down that path. But I tried something new and found that it really works for me. It’s all about not giving up!”