Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease for 12 years. She is a cognitive health coach, record-setting powerlifter, and author of “Your Diabetes Science Experiment.“How old / how long have you had diabetes?I actually diagnosed myself at the age of 13 years old. The 7th grade in my middle-school does an annual health fair. One of my classmates did his project on diabetes. I had all of the symptoms on his poster. My whole family had gotten the flu a few weeks earlier and it was like my flu just never went away. At first, no one believed me that I had diabetes, but I started crying a week later because I felt so awful, and my mom took me to the hospital.
I spent three days in the hospital, and on the second day I started feeling really sorry for myself. I cried and cried whenever the doctors and nurses and my parents left the room. But that same day I started thinking about all of my friends, and everything they had already been through. I realized all of them had endured or continued to endure some immense challenges in their health, in their families, in life in general. And diabetes was simply one of my immense challenges. I left the hospital with that attitude, and left the self-pity behind.
You are the founder of Living in Progress, what was the initial inspiration about starting this website? And as someone who also writes, and is very active in DOC, do you ever feel like you are up to your ears in diabetes?
I started blogging in the diabetes community as a sophomore in college, and my main focus has always been in looking at how the way we think about our disease, our attitudes, our perspective, impacts the way we take care of our disease and how we live our life. After two years of personal training, I knew that I loved supporting people in their goals to take care of their physical health, but I realized I wanted to support them in how they take care of their emotional health, too. In 2010, I enrolled in a cognitive-based coaching method (Results Coaches, from David Rock) that is based on the science of how are brains think about goals and obstacles, how to shape conversations to help someone understand themselves and their own goals better, and how to break down really overwhelming challenges and goals, and make them achievable.
The phrase “Living In Progress” comes quite simply from the fact that I believe the small steps we make every day towards our goals, towards becoming a better human being, towards learning how to live life to the fullest are the most important steps. The big steps that happen in our lives are really just the accumulation of all those little steps. We are constantly learning, and constantly making progress.
The only time I started to feel truly “burnt out” on diabetes activity was when I was working within a place that didn’t fit with my passion for supporting people with diabetes. This work is so personal to me. If I won the lottery, I would spend my time supporting people with diabetes in every way I could. It is something I feel compelled to do on a daily basis.
It is important to me, though, to work in some activities, like personal training and powerlifting, that have nothing to do with diabetes. I do need some space around this disease like everyone else. I think the trick though, is that the projects and work I do within diabetes feel very rewarding to me and continually charge my passion for diabetes instead of ever draining it.
Every once in a while, I might get a little tired of talking about diabetes so publicly, but then that same week I will get a Facebook message or a video comment or an email from someone telling me how much one of my video blogs has impacted their life, or how much my book has helped them manage their own diabetes—and it truly refuels my energy to keep doing what I’m doing. It means so much to me to know that what I putting “out there” is effecting people in a real way.
How did you get involved in powerlifting and how do you manage your BG during exercise?
I’ve always loved the idea of physical strength and physical power. Even as a little girl, I love Arnold Schwarzenegger (I grew up in a house of boys). I dabbled in a lot of sports when I was younger, but I never really felt like I was very good at any of them. After my junior year in college, I felt like I’d really been neglecting my health and my overall spirit! I wanted to make health a priority again. I started weightlifting on my own from what I’d learned from my brothers and a few books.I also started going to Ashtanga yoga classes three days a week. By the end of that summer, three months later, I’d reduced my Lantus insulin dose by almost 10 units, I’d lost 10 lbs and gained a noticeable amount of muscular definition in my arms and legs.
I knew I wanted to learn more, so I hired a personal trainer, Andrew Berry, and truly invested financially in my health. I trained with Andrew two days a week at first, then that quickly became three days a week, then four. Within a few months, I was doing a very structured, intense strength-development program with him. By the end of the year, I had more than doubled my strength.
This guy saw me bench-pressing with Andrew, and said, “You should get that girl in a competition!” So we began to learn about the rules and lifting techniques to compete in powerlifting. The training for powerlifting is much, much different than simply going into the gym to workout with weights. The training for it is one of the most intense things I’ve ever done, and I love every second of it.
When I told my new endocrinologist that I’d started training in powerlifting, he just rolled his eyes at me and dismissed the entire thing! I was really hurt, and pissed, because I was hoping this doctor would say, “Alright! That’s exciting and ambitious, how can I support you?”
Instead, I never went back.
Six months after that doctor’s visit, I set 7 records in drug-tested powerlifting. During the next year, I set 8 more records. I wish that doctor had been willing to open his mind and see me as a person with diabetes, and not a sickly diabetic, because it would’ve been great to have had his support.
In order to succeed and make significant progress in powerlifting with diabetes, I have to have a really good understanding of my diabetes. I can’t afford to drop low during training, or being high or low during competition. And because the training is so intense, I had to really study how to feed my body properly too. Poor nutrition will hinder my body’s ability to perform, recover and grow stronger.
All of this is how I came up with the material for my book: studying my own diabetes and human physiology to gain better control and understanding of this disease. I learned things that no doctor had ever actually explained to me about the human body, and yet they were so tremendously helpful when it came to managing my diabetes! Thus, my book, “Your Diabetes Science Experiment,” was born!
What is the biggest challenge to living with diabetes as a woman? What if anything, has been positive about living with diabetes?
Diabetes has made me a very strong person—physically and mentally. Either that, or diabetes has revealed how strong of a person I actually am. Either way, there are many people in the world, men and women, who are intimidated by strong women. There are very few things that scare me, and I’m willing to take on almost any challenge, largely because I was raised by a family who filled me with confidence and the mentality that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. This is both good and bad. I’ve definitely had times in my life where I feel like I’ve had to downplay how strong and self-sufficient I am just so I don’t overwhelm or intimidate someone. And that’s frustrating sometimes.
But I will tell you that diabetes has brought so many positive things into my life. People, experiences, and lessons. Diabetes has brought much more good than bad. Yes, managing this disease day in and day out is an absolutely pain in the ass. Every once in a while I can feel a glimpse of exhaustion or resentment lingering in my head about having to do this disease 24/7, without any vacations.
But mostly, the overpowering lesson I’ve gained from this life with diabetes is that everyone in life has challenges. Diabetes is one of my challenges. My attitude and the passion I put into taking care of myself every day leaves no room for diabetes to impact my life in a truly negative way.
I don’t know anyone on the planet who has never suffered. We’re all human and we all face challenges day in and day out. It’s up to me to live the best life I can.
What has been the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received about living with diabetes?
Well, it wasn’t pertaining simply to diabetes, but what I remind myself of regularly, almost every day, is something my brothers and fathers have instilled in me: You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
Something I’ve personally learned through experience that will be with me throughout my entire life is understanding that just because something is challenging, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Challenges are part of life, and they can bring out the absolute best and most powerful sides of us! When I see a challenge coming, I’ve learned to embrace it, rather than being scared of it.
When I feel fear about something, I know I have to pursue whatever it is that is scaring me. Every small or big thing I’ve ever accomplished started with a feeling of fear, but I didn’t let that feeling keep me from moving forward.