Hi! My name’s Matt. Matthew Barrié if you want to be precise. Welcome, and thanks so much for taking a look at my blog! As my first post, I figured it was a good starting point to tell you a bit about myself, and what’s in store for this blog/website.
I, (as we all are) am a complex being with many layers; the “ever-peelable” onion layers to a person’s inner workings never cease to fascinate me. We can be so many things simultaneously. I teach music in the public school system in North Vancouver. I’m also a lover of distance running and weight training. My greyhound Soda accompanies me wherever I go, so long as she is permitted. I enjoy reading science fiction novels as well as historical fiction. I’m an avid health-geek who takes much pleasure in deep-diving into podcast-land and boring my loved ones with stories on long-chain fatty acids or the benefits of vitamin D and zinc. I am a son, a brother, a partner, an uncle and a friend. I’m a musician, an educator and an athlete. I can kinda build stuff and even enjoy crocheting during the long nights of winter. Oh, and I’m a type 1 diabetic.
Being a type 1 diabetic has never defined who I am. I have been living with the condition for 34 years now. I was diagnosed young – only 3 years old. I have no memory of life before diabetes so for me, life with checking blood sugar and injecting insulin is just that – life. I never felt like my diabetes got in the way of how I lived my life. It just meant that I had to do things a little differently – with a couple of added steps.
Above: Me somewhere around age 3, when I was diagnosed with T1D.
This being said, I do not want to diminish the severity of a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. I am well aware of the long-term, AND short-term complications that a non-diabetic person doesn’t even have to think about. I, as all type 1 diabetics, have lived through sometimes daily hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) episodes, hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) episodes, and the ensuing panic, stress and anxiety each one has on one’s body and state of mind. Sadly, I have lived through some of the long-term complications of poorly managed type 1 diabetes. Luckily, I haven’t experienced any neuropathy (nerve pain/damage) or organ issues, but I have developed and treated diabetic retinopathy and macular edema with monthly shots into my retina to keep the swelling/fluid at bay and lower the risk of affecting (or losing) my vision. More on that later, as it’s a key piece of the puzzle!
So why this blog? Why now? Valid question. Blogging and participation in the online diabetic community has been around for a long time now. Until very recently, I haven’t felt that my opinion, choices, my whole existence really, would matter to anyone. Not to be dramatic, but honestly, who cares who Matt Barrie is? He’s just some guy living in North Vancouver with type 1 diabetes. I’m not a doctor, or a specialist of any kind. I’m just a guy who’s been navigating life for 37 years, with ups and downs, peaks and valleys, years of fabulous diabetic management, and years with sub-par diabetes management. It wasn’t until I made some significant shifts in my lifestyle, and witnessed the freedom and 180 degree shift in my overall health, that I realized my experiences could actually help someone else improve their life. Even by affecting one person’s life positively by showing them that they are not alone and that they, like me, can do it, will make this worthwhile.
So let me backup. Though this isn’t meant to be an autobiography, I think it’s important to paint a picture of my history in order to properly frame the decisions I’ve made recently regarding my diabetes management. I was a relatively active kid whose diabetes was mostly managed by my mother. I was a tenacious, stubborn kid and “no” wasn’t really in my personal vernacular! When I wasn’t allowed to have certain foods or beverages, I usually found a way to make it happen regardless. This is important as it created an unhealthy relationship with food fairly early on. Throughout my teens, as I transitioned into full-management of my diabetes, I made choices that weren’t the wisest in terms of my long-term success. Instant gratification = long-term diabetes nightmare! Also racked with hormonal changes, I had to visit the ER several times thanks to seizures due to ultra-low, untreated blood sugars while asleep. Keep in mind too that this was the 90s, and insulin wasn’t what it is today. I believe I was on a 6-8 hour insulin, so you had to plan your food around your insulin, rather than the other way around.
I did manage to survive my teenage years relatively unscathed. Moving overseas, from Canada to England was a huge milestone in my life and I enjoyed being young, studying at University in Liverpool, and creating a very active social life! All the while stumbling along with my type 1 diabetes in the background. I use the term “background” purposefully. I didn’t prioritize my diabetes as much as I should have (in my early 20s), often skipping or missing injections, and being lazy about testing and over-confident in “knowing how I felt”. This led to the initial diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy, which is when blood vessels around the periphery of one’s retina become enlarged and can burst, due to prolonged periods of high blood sugars. This was my first big wake up call and signalled the first big shift I took in controlling my own diabetic density. I was 23, going out and eating out too much, and not exercising enough. I changed my eating, exercise and social habits and enjoyed a life playing soccer, running and weight training for several years leading up to, and into my 30s.
Above: Me having just completed the BMO Vancouver half marathon in 2010, raising money for Team Diabetes.
Several life decisions brought me back to the West Coast of Canada, my home in North Vancouver, by the time I was 26. In the lead up to my 30s, I decided on a career change and returned to university to study music, and eventually education. Being a more “mature” student the second time round, I was living a more settled life with my partner and was also putting myself through school by working full time as a server in the evenings. All the while, I was practicing the piano for long hours and finding times to write papers and study. My priorities began to shift and slowly but surely, I began living a more sedentary life. As you can imagine, the pounds began to pack on. I averaged 10 – 12 pounds a year, and in total gained 60 lbs at my highest body weight.
This would be a great place to mention my love of food. I grew up with a French chef as a father, and developed a love of eating, making, and sharing wonderful food from early on. I enjoy the social aspect as much as the tasting aspect of food, which has made it very easy to fall into unhealthy eating habits.
As mentioned earlier, over the years as a type 1 diabetic, I developed an unhealthy relationship with food. This is 3-fold; to start with as a kid I was limited to the amount of foods I was allowed. This began my “missing out” complex which in response to, I would sneak or hide foods I wasn’t allowed. Secondly, the “open up the hatch” tendency when treating a low blood sugar. In the panic and anxiety of a low, and especially an ultra-low, I would simply “open up the hatch” and fill my gob with whatever was on hand. When I say “whatever”, I mean, EVERYTHING! My blood sugars could go from 2.0 (36 in American terms) up to 25.9 (466!!) in a blink, thanks to the insatiable appetite I developed when treating a low – a whole tub of ice cream, 3 oranges, a glass of juice and BAM, almost untreatable highs, and a weird guilt-ridden, yet forgivable (because I HAD to eat all that food, right?) relationship with food. Finally, the stubborn “I’m no different than anybody else” mentra led me down a path of over-eating, over-eating-out, and over-drinking. To put this all into context, the perfect storm of poor health occurred with long school days at university, long work-nights in the restaurant, homework and studying when ACTUALLY at home, and nowhere in there do you see time for food prep or self-care. What is leftover and in between commitments are opportunities to eat fast food, eat convenience foods and snacks, and restaurant meals with wine to “unwind”. You see the pattern, right? The equation resulted in a lethargic, sedentary, inactive lifestyle that took some extreme changes to overcome.
Above: Pictured at a friend’s wedding in 2015.
It seems common that, in our 30s, one can easily fall victim to previous decisions or circumstances, and never recover. This could have been my fate had it not been thanks to my diabetes. Through all the negative changes that happened with my management, I did continue to see my specialists. I never enjoyed the scaldings (and shame, if I’m honest) but I endured it and kept up my bi-annual check ups. My ophthalmologist caught on to some significant changes in my retina and after several visits and tests, it was determined that on top of my retinopathy, I was developing diabetic macular edima, or swelling of the retina. So. The unthinkable was starting to happen. Blindness is something that all diabetics are warned about, and is the subject of many hours of anxiety over the years. Really, every high blood sugar results in a quick anxiety spike when we think “oh god, I don’t want to go blind!” So here we are; I’m in my early 30s, have had type 1 diabetes for almost 30 years, and have been told that I need monthly injections into my retina to stop the swelling from progressing and possibly taking my vision from me.
Ok! Deep breath. I’m a pretty positive person, so with this bad news, I didn’t focus on “I could go blind”, but rather “this is treatable and I can maintain instead of degrade”. So what do I have to do doc? The answer was, “come once a month for your injection and get your A1C down”, and that was pretty much it. I wish the story ended there. I was told in the beginning that there is a 1 in 3000 chance of developing an infection from the injection and I had to sign a waver each time I came in. Any ideas where this is going? You got it – in Oct of 2016 I became that 1 in 3000 people who gets an infection, and it was one of the worst experiences of my life! The pain was unbearable, I couldn’t look at anything through either eye (because of connected nerves) and every time I moved my eye, it felt like I was moving a boulder inside my head. I was told when I went to the emergency eye hospital that there was a 70% chance that I’d lose my vision and a 50% chance I could actually lose my eye. They were focussing on getting the infection under control so that they wouldn’t have to remove the eye. This was their focus! Well, true to form, through all the unbearable pain and worry, I still managed to hear “30% chance of recovering my vision”. So this is what was going to happen. They injected a crazy powerful antibiotic into my affected eye, and it was the most painful thing I think I’d endured to date. From there, I had to go in EVERY DAY to the eye ward for 2 weeks for a check up and needles administered whenever needed. My vision remained very opaque for several days, but after about a week I began to slowly see again out of my right eye. Something happened through the process of fighting the infection and my vision became quite distorted thanks to additional fluid build up near the center of my retina. I still felt lucky though, for it was becoming apparent that I was indeed going to be in that 30%. My ophthalmologist informed me that, since I had regained what I had, I would likely regain more. I would need to continue monthly injections mind you, and I prepared for this reality for the rest of my life.
Above: close up of eye infection.
Below: leaving the hospital. Don’t I look happy!
So this was my huge wake up call. I had managed to skirt around blindness in one eye by a hair. Literally, just a couple of percentage points. I don’t think I would be so lucky a second time, and with poor management, a second time would be a given. So the tightening-up regime began. I started off with regular dieting and carb-counting. I had a fairly broken metabolism though and my insulin resistance was through the roof, so the yo-yo effect of chasing highs with insulin, then administering too much insulin resulted in crashing blood sugars and these needed treatment with sugar. Up and down and up and down. It was exhausting! Plus, I was just not shifting any significant weight, so I would be quite hard on myself with the lack of progress I was making, not fully understanding how weight loss works.
I heard some buzz about the keto diet, and though at first I was skeptical, as most of us are I believe, I put some good time and effort into research and felt it was worth trying out. In January 2017 I decided to give it a go and began my first flirtation with the keto lifestyle. I say “first” because there were many iterations over the following years! I started off relatively strict, as I’m a pretty “all-in” kinda guy. After several weeks and some initial success, I fell into the mindset of “missing” old foods and decided to give “cheat days” a try. I won’t spend too much time here, I’ll just assure you that this didn’t work for me. “Cheat day” became cheat months” and would lead to completely falling off the wagon every time. With my self-trial and error, I realized that these versions of keto actually reinforced negative food relationships. There are many different perspectives on this, and many call it “metabolic flexibility” but being someone at the beginning of their keto journey, it didn’t work for me. So rather than give up on keto, I decided to go the other route and become super strict!
I had been dipping my toe in and out of the keto pond for 18 months by this point. After spending a summer eating and drinking what I wanted because I had visiting relatives from France, I looked in the mirror at the end of the summer and thought “enough is enough”. I looked awful, felt awful, and knew that I had had some success with keto, so maybe give it one final try!
So August 27th, 2019 was day zero. I cleaned up my diet, set macro-nutrient parameters to 80/15/5 in terms of percentages for fat/protein/carb ratios, and signed up for personal training sessions twice a week. I also committed to building up my running endurance by committing to 1 – 2 runs per week. As the weeks and months came and went, the weight bagan falling off. 15 pounds to start with, and then it averaged out to about a pound a week, which “they” say is a pretty healthy trajectory. My strength and endurance both improved week by week until suddenly one day, the 5 km became no big deal. Then it was 8, then 10, and now I’m cruising along at 15km per weekend run in the trails of the local mountains. Eventually the changes became habit-forming and what felt like dragging myself to the gym or out for a run has now become a desire and need to exercise every day. My body composition is back to where it was when I was 25 (and probably better if I’m honest!), my energy and cognition are dialled in, and most importantly, my HbA1c is down from 8.9 to 6.1. I’ve been on this strict keto lifestyle change for 18 months now, and have never looked back. The improvement to my life, the drastic decline in insulin need (which result in far steadier blood sugar levels than before), and enjoying moving in my body again – these are all gifts bestowed to me by switching to a ketogenic lifestyle.
But here’s the real kicker. This point actually needed its own paragraph. It has been since September 2019 since I have had a needle injection into my retina. It could be purely coincidental that the levelling off of my fluid build-up started happening 4 weeks after I started super strict keto, and completely cleaned up my diet with a “whole-food” approach, but I really don’t think so. The more I dive into the benefits of a clean, ketogenic lifestyle the more I’m convinced they go hand in hand. The anti-inflammatory benefits of keto alone are enough to convince me. Well no matter the reason, the reality is that I have been 18 months without an injection, my macular edima has gone into remission, my distorted vision has completely corrected itself, and my ophthalmologist continues to be blown away by the result.
Left: Me pictured August 2019 Right: Me pictured August 2020
So this is a perfect lead into my conclusion and coming back to the question: why this blog and why now? I am on this lifestyle tract for the long-haul. The more I research, test, and learn, the more I realize that my perspective could help so many other people – type 1 diabetic or not. I’ve decided to come out of the woodwork and stop hiding my diabetes away because “it doesn’t define me”. I’ve decided recently that I want my diabetes to define me. I want to share my story and proudly be a “type 1 diabetic”, moving that title to the front of the cue, rather than the back like in my opening statement. You can look forward to monthly research-driven opinion posts about keto-stuff, diabetic-stuff, exercise-stuff and of course, food-stuff! All through the lense of a type 1 diabetic.
Thanks for your time and interest. If you have any thoughts or questions, don’t hesitate to email me, or comment below.
If you’d like to follow along the more day-to-day stuff managing type1 diabetes on keto, find me on instagram @type1ketoguy