At the age of 27, Robert Judge was in the middle of training for a 200-mile bike race the day he found out he had Type 1 diabetes. Of course, the news came as a complete surprise. As an ultra-runner and biker, diabetes was as foreign to him as spending a lazy day on the couch eating sweets.
As one of 10 children and no family history of the disease, being diagnosed with a disease you know nothing about can be horrifying. That’s exactly how his parents reacted after he told them. But not Robert Judge, who had to ease the guilt that his parents felt for thinking they gave him the disease.
After quickly learning about the disease and how to manage it, Judge was determined not to let it control his life. After spending 10 days in the hospital, he didn’t waste any time. He met his brother-in-law in Seattle and they spent the next week biking 800 miles from Seattle to San Francisco. It was during this trip that he learned how to be a diabetic and take insulin.
As an athlete with a restricted diet and little to no craving for sweets (his vice is English Breakfast tea, which he drinks 24×7), there really was little he needed to change in his life other than to remove extra carbs from his diet and slow down. Sure, it took a while for him to give up some of his favorite foods that are rich in carbs like sushi (white rice) and pasta, but once he did, he noticed how much better he felt. As far as slowing down, well…
Removing the guessing game
When he was first diagnosed, he self-injected two different types of insulins and was always thinking about what he was going to eat. Then, he would have to wait and see. For Judge’s on-the-go lifestyle, the time it took for his insulin injections to bring his blood sugar (glucose) back down was too long. So he took a different approach. He now uses an insulin pump to keep his blood sugar under control. As a pump wearer with a glucose monitor, he knows exactly what his blood sugar is at any moment. With the constant feedback the pump provides, he says the guessing game is gone.
Today, Judge focuses a lot of his time competing in jiu-jitsu. To stay in his preferred weight class requires a special diet that’s rich in protein and fat content with very few carbs. That suits him just fine. The diet actually helps him better manage his diabetes. He also jogs several miles each week at a gradual pace, something that poses somewhat of a challenge to him. “Jogging intimidates me because I’ve always been one to push myself like I did before.”
A manageable disease
Judge will be the first to admit that he doesn’t fit the profile of someone living with diabetes. He doesn’t act like a diabetic or live like a diabetic. He also feels blessed in that it may be easier for him to manage the disease than for others. This is why diabetes has had little impact on his lifestyle. “I wasn’t going to let it control me because life is wonderful. I want to live it. I wasn’t going to let it stop me from experiencing life.”
As Moda Health’s Director of Pharmacy Services, Judge recognizes that everyone with the disease has a different path; each person has different experiences based on the chronic conditions or mental health issues they’re going through. While he understands that medication alone is not the cure, he believes the disease is manageable with the information, medicine, technology and support that is available today.
Eat mindfully and be active
Judge says diabetes is a sneaky disease. If you don’t manage it every day, over time it will creep up on you and you will be at risk of amputation, losing your eyesight or worse. Like his own experience, the danger is many people who have it don’t know they have it or have not been diagnosed. The biggest risk group may actually be the more than 84 million U.S. adults with prediabetes who are unaware that they are at risk.
Judge attributes these growing risks to today’s lifestyle: eating the wrong foods, being inactive for long periods of time, and stress, which is something everyone should fix, especially if they are on a diabetic trajectory. “I look at fast food. They’re full of carbs. Everything has hydrogenated soybean or corn syrup in it. We’ve got to become mindful of what we eat and take time to be active. The problem is eating the wrong foods and sitting in one place all the time work well together to create the diabetic condition.
His advice to anyone managing diabetes is straightforward and simple. “Take it upon yourself to choose not to let it control you. With all the tools we have today, managing the disease and the impact is has on our lives is completely within every individual’s capability.”