If you’re looking for some inspiration in the New Year, check out this interview with my friend, Emily Westfall.
This multi-talented lady recently told me some pretty amazing stuff about her year, which is best described using the hashtags #bolusandbarbells, #ladieswholift (of course) and #diabadass – scroll down to read all about it.
Tell us about your diabetes journey: when it started, where it’s taken you, and where you are now.
I was diagnosed at age 6. My mom brought me to the doctor thinking I had a UTI because I was peeing so much I started telling her it hurt. I stepped on the scale at the office and she knew something was wrong – I weighed only 39 lbs. A rapid urine test showed high glucose. They told my mom I had type 1 diabetes and took me to the hospital. I was there for three days, though I was not in DKA. I started on regular insulin and NPH. I don’t remember much about those days other than having to eat at certain times and getting in fights with my parents about having to eat a bedtime snack when I wasn’t hungry.
I was seen right away at the Barbara Davis Center (BDC) in Denver, CO, and then every three months after that. I grew up with my parents’ constant encouragement, [hearing] that diabetes wasn’t an excuse or something to hold me back. They always tried their best to make sure I participated in my school activities and encouraged me to participate in sports.
I got my first pump in 6th grade and was off and on [the pump] all the way through college. During college, I did two semesters abroad and planned for all my diabetes supplies needed to successfully navigate my way around the world.
My degrees are in Environmental Science and International Studies. My senior year had me realizing that I would rather be a nurse and work in the diabetes community. Once I graduated, I got a job as a research assistant at the BDC working on protocols for new devices. Through my job and increasing interest in the diabetes community I started participating in more and more diabetes outreach programs and volunteering for things like diabetes camps. I’m now in a nursing program and will graduate in May 2018.
We met through the Children with Diabetes Friends for Life (FFL) Conference and again through the IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes Programme – how did you get involved with these different diabetes organizations?
I started going to FFL in high school and I liked it. My mom found it online. I went two or three more times and felt like a significant part of the community of kids my age by the last time. I started volunteering for my state’s ADA camp and that conflicted with the FFL conference so I stopped going.
I learned about the Young Leaders in Diabetes from Fran Kaufman (of Medtronic Diabetes). She and I had written an Insulin Pumps and Continuous Glucose Monitoring book together and I met up with her at the ADA Scientific Sessions in 2012. Fran encouraged me to apply, and I was accepted to the Melbourne YLD training in 2013.
Do you have a favorite diabetes organization? Or other way you like to connect with the diabetes community?
I’ve been the most involved in the Colorado ADA and I have a huge love for that community. I can’t give enough praise for the connections and friends I’ve made through either program though. My friends with diabetes all over the world are doing incredible things. I’m a people person and the connections I’ve made to people are significant to me.
This has been a big year for you! Getting engaged, starting nursing school, and now being a sponsored athlete. Does working out help you manage all of the other busy aspects of your life?
Yes! I try to lift 4 times a week but it’s often 3 times. In the summer and nicer weather I ride my bike to work. This is my “me time.” It helps me be present and focus on what I’m doing. You can’t have your head in the clouds and not focus on form and movement when lifting heavy – that’s a good way to get hurt.
What got you started on your powerlifting journey?
I started lifting after messing up my IT band while running. I was never great at running but I liked it and it made me feel good. Lifting was supposed to be a way to strengthen my other muscles so I could go back to running, but it turns out my muscles and body type are better suited for lifting.
A friend of mine from high school started a lifting program and wanted to get into figure competitions. She added me to a Facebook group of badass ladies dedicated to athletics. Most of the girls (or the vocal ones at least) lift. There are a lot of competitors too. The group is all about empowerment and encouraging each other. It’s a magical Facebook group that somehow seems immune to the harsh catfights and backhanded comments that seem pervasive on social media. These ladies help you celebrate athletic or weight-loss accomplishments, no matter the size.
One day at the gym, I asked a trainer to spot me because I was trying to do a 100-lb bench press, which was a PR (personal record) at the time. It turned out that I was not only lifting an impressive weight, but trainer was a competitive power lifter! I started training with him and he encouraged me to compete. Now I have a competitive bench press and a very competitive deadlift…my squats are a little behind but quickly gaining weight now that I fixed my form!
You’re really up-front when it comes to sharing about your workouts on social media. That kind of openness can be scary! What’s your ultimate goal as a lady who lifts?
I think my ultimate goal is to continue lifting because it’s fun. My individual lift goals change as I get stronger, and I hope that [stays] consistent. I have a weight goal to maintain for competitions, and I want to add about another 50lbs per lift to my current maximums in 2017.
How does one become a sponsored power lifter?
Honestly, I wasn’t ever thinking about trying for sponsorships. My coach is an online coach; he lives in Texas and I’m in Colorado. I’ve never done an in-person session with him. We share a GoogleDoc and every week he sends me a new week’s worth of workouts. I enter how much weight I was able to hit, how many reps I got and how hard it was for me on a scale of 1-10. He looks at my numbers on Sundays and sends me the next week’s numbers. I take videos of my lifts from different angles and send them to him. He watches them and makes form suggestions or adds in other auxiliary lifts to help strengthen my weaknesses.
Rodney Miller is my coach. SLB Performance is his company. Rodney has type 1 diabetes himself and has competed in powerlifting, and he is now a StrongMan competitor. It’s fun to see his posts about competing and his accomplishments. He understands diabetes and lifting. He gives me suggestions and information that help me make diabetes decisions during my sessions and competitions. He is not a doctor and doesn’t give specific medical advice, just for the record, but he’s got good suggestions and good knowledge.
I was not going to sign up for my last meet in December because I couldn’t afford it on my student salary. We talked about it and came up with an agreement for the meet, which snowballed into a full on “sponsorship!”
Walk us through a typical workout.
My current programming has four days: each day is dedicated to one of the main lifts (bench press, squat, deadlift) and one day that is for auxiliary or “clean up.”
I start with a quick warm up (biking to the gym if it’s warmer) and I roll out on a foam roller. I do some range of motion work and stretches/easy warm up movements. Then I hit my big lift. After that I usually have 3-4 other exercises and end with an ab or core exercise. I roll out and do some quick stretches afterward.
Each week, I change the way I work my big lift. Some days it’s high rep and lower weight, others it’s heavy weight and fewer reps. The other way is moderate weight and reps and working form and cues.
Have you noticed any changes in your diabetes management and in your overall health since you started lifting?
I’ve noticed my body changing for sure! In the last year I’ve lost about 4% body fat without changing my weight much, in fact I’ve gained weight because I’ve gained a lot of muscle.
I’ve also gained a lot of confidence and feel strong mentally and physically. I love deadlifting days. I always feel so powerful and like I can do anything after a good lifting session. My fellow gym regulars have made comments about how they can see my body changing, which is so cool. It’s a great gym where you see women in the weights area just as much as on the cardio machine and the dudes will share the squat rack or bench press station with you if you ask.
My diabetes management is good. I notice that my insulin sensitivity has improved and I need a bit less insulin than I used to. If I don’t work out as regularly as usual, my insulin sensitivity changes and I need to take more insulin.
You’re also following a paleo diet, right? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
My fiancé and I started eating “paleo” last December and pretty much have kept it that way all year. The premise of this eating style is to remove foods from your diet that can cause inflammation or are common allergens/sensitivities and to try to eat “the way our ancestors did.”
That makes a lot of people mad because our ancestors didn’t eat bacon or salt, and there is some evidence that there were grains long ago and that the foods it says not to eat are good for you. The way I look at it is this: eat mostly vegetables, eat grass fed meat and its fat, and eat nuts and seeds. Limit your fruit. Keep food as close to the way it was originally was and limit processed foods.
I have eaten gluten and dairy free for the past five years, so it wasn’t a huge move for me to remove other gluten-free grains. Paleo also encourages eating specific fats (grass fed meat and butter, avocado and coconut oil, olive oil) and discourages vegetable oils (canola, safflower, peanut, soy) and discourages food with high carbs. There are reasons for eliminating all the things but it would take forever to explain. That being said, this generally not a low carb diet, but it is a no/low processed carb diet.
When I started eating paleo and eating more fat I felt so GOOD. My skin and nails got healthier. I felt like I could think more clearly and had energy I didn’t have before. There is no way I’m 100% strict with this diet. I’m only strict with gluten and dairy because those are foods I know make me feel sick and hung over (I do not have Celiac disease).
I like the way the food tastes and it’s easier to dose insulin for the lower carb/higher fiber vegetables I’m eating.
Cooking my own food is fun and makes it more delicious and rewarding. I’m dabbling in keto diets, but I haven’t made the leap. When I have time, I like making dinner or big meals on the weekends to eat during the week. It is harder and more involved than [grabbing] convenient foods, but it makes me feel better and have more energy when I stick to it.
Do you have a favorite paleo dish? (Recipe, please!)
What advice would you give to another PWD looking to either start a strength-training program or incorporate a paleo diet into their workout routine in the New Year?
Use discretion and don’t go in over your head. Find an aspect that you like and build on it. Another blog I follow calls [eating paleo] “pale-you” because she views it as a way to strip down your diet to find anything that you might be reacting to and reduce the processing on what you eat, then building back up after you eliminate it, making it “your paleo.” I really believe that everyone can use more vegetables in their diets, so if that’s all you can do, do that.
As for lifting, watch good videos on form or work with a coach at least in the beginning. Bad form is the easiest way to get hurt, but good form makes it seem easy! Move more in every way possible, not just at the gym. Take the stairs, stand at your desk for a bit, ride a bike, walk your dogs, etc. Humans are made to move!
Expect your diabetes to change with lifting. Weightlifting is interesting because it generally causes glucose levels to spike, especially from the adrenaline needed to do big lifts. I was having issues with spiking bgs in the beginning of my lifting and a PWD contact told me to take a unit half way through my workout. I was so nervous, I thought for sure I would go low! Taking insulin IN THE MIDDLE OF MY WORKOUT?! But no, it totally worked and I didn’t go low.
Anything else you want to share?
Be awesome. Love and encourage each other. We all can learn something from each other. Do your own research to see what you believe in because there is so much information out there.
Paleo is more about vegetables than bacon, I promise…bacon is just an awesome perk!
This interview has been condensed and edited.