Diabetes Inspired Me to be a Health Coach
Liz Cambron is a health coach and a Ph.D. candidate for cellular biology at North Dakota State University. While pursuing a higher education degree can be stressful and overwhelming, Liz turned her diabetes diagnosis into research, where she gets to study diabetes on a molecular level through insect physiology. But she didn’t stop there. Liz also used her disease to help her heal her own relationship with food and alcohol abuse. In addition to that, she became a Beachbody coach to help others reach their own health and wellness goals.
Diabetes Discovered by Mistake
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (T2D) around the fall of 2014 when I started grad school. It was actually discovered by mistake. I would blackout after doing intense workouts and eventually, I blacked out and hit my head on my dining table. After seeing my primary doctor, it turned out to be low blood pressure, but after a few more labs they also noticed my A1C was going up—to around 6.5-7 percent. I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic and put on Glucotrol. I tried metformin but it was way too hard on my stomach. I tried cleaning up my nutrition and working out, but less than a year later I was full-blown diabetic; my blood sugars were averaging around 8.3 mmol/L150 mg/dL. I’ll never forget when I found out. I was referred to a diabetic educator and she began explaining insulin and what the next steps were, but no one had told me I was officially diagnosed as diabetic before that. I bawled right in her office because I found out at that moment that I had failed my body. So I was surprised in a sense, but everyone on my mother’s side is diabetic, so it almost felt inevitable. Most of my family members have diabetes—aunts, uncles and my brothers. My grandmother and mother were both diabetic too. We don’t really discuss it unless one of us is having a complication, then everyone shares their remedies or recipes from their experience.
I continued on the medication I had started as a prediabetic and tried my best to control my blood sugars. I met with a diabetic educator and nutritionist once, and with a hand full of pamphlets, I was on my own after that. I knew I had to make changes, but looking back, I really could’ve done more. My nutrition could’ve been better. I really struggled with food. I thought working out enough would counter whatever junk I ate and I drank a lot. As a grad student, I was living pretty close to the poverty line, so it was ramen for many dinners. I thought eating healthy was only for the rich. Unfortunately, not until recently with my Beachbody programs. Ultimate Portion Fix goes through meal planning and grocery shopping. Seeing how not wasting money by going in with a plan versus grabbing anything, or even buying food that you don’t end up eating (which I did A LOT of) was really helpful. Since I buy mainly fruits, veggies and occasional dairy, my groceries for two averages somewhere around $60-80/week. Even then, it’s usually including family size proteins like chicken breast packs that I can freeze the rest for the following week.
Finding My Passion in Being a Health Coach
I started Beachbody programs back in February of 2019. I had tried every program/diet/fad under the sun and nothing really helped because it was a one-size-fits-all and diabetes didn’t really let me fit. Beachbody was the whole package: fitness, nutrition and support. The programs were physically challenging (which I loved!) but they also incorporated mindset and self-care. I had struggled with depression and anxiety all my life, and that played a really big role in my health, especially with emotional eating and alcohol abuse. I quit drinking back in 2017 to work on these issues and thankfully I’ve found more productive and helpful ways to deal with my depression/emotions/struggles through Beachbody. Through my programs, I learned more about nutrition and about myself. That combo opened a whole other level in my life I didn’t know was achievable. For the first time in my life, I could say I was genuinely happy to be alive. It was that feeling of happiness, self-awareness and being healthy that made me decide to start coaching. As a coach, I get to share the opportunities and resources that helped me with others so they can live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives too.
When I decided to pursue a career in science and research, I knew I wanted to focus on diabetes in some aspects. I joined the Greenlee Lab at North Dakota State University and I never in a million years thought I’d be doing what I do now: insect physiology. I study how insulin signaling regulates development and other processes like nutrients and immunity. From my research, I’ve learned so much about diabetes on a more molecular level. It has allowed me to really understand the disease better and honestly to take some of the emotion out of it by seeing it from a scientific perspective. When I first started using insulin, which I promised myself I would never let happen, I was devastated. I felt like I failed my body, that I was a lazy slob, that I deserved it. But once I saw it from a scientific perspective, that my body doesn’t use the insulin I have or doesn’t produce enough of it, it became more of a simple fact that my body needs extra insulin. I’ve also learned more about nutrition and physiology than I would have from just a pamphlet. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I use the scientific method when it comes to managing my T2D. I observe my symptoms/blood sugars, make a hypothesis about why it might be high, experiment with when I workout or what food I’m eating, see my results and then incorporate those changes into my everyday life. Managing T2D is all about trial and error, just like in science. Even after almost six years, I’m still trying to figure out what’s best for my body. I think that is the biggest struggle for some people.
Finding the Positives in type 2 Diabetes
This is probably the healthiest I’ve ever been because I focus on both nutrition and fitness. I’d say a positive of living with diabetes is that because it affects so many people, I’ve been able to relate and bond with so many people in the community. I’ve been able to share my experience and knowledge with my family. Also, people are more understanding at gatherings to have healthier meal options because of T2D.
I manage my diabetes through exercise, medication and balanced macronutrients. I try to limit my carb intake to whatever amount keeps my blood sugars stable. I remain positive with my Beachbody community! I vent and share my successes and losses with them. They help encourage me and remind me that it’s a process, not a quick fix. Knowing that my struggle and journey are helping and hopefully inspiring people gives me joy. I love and appreciate the support I receive support from my boyfriend Jamie, my dog, my Beachbody coaches and community, my endocrinologist and nurse staff.
As a first-generation Mexican-American, there are ways to eat healthy without compromising on my culture. I really preach that it’s more about portion control than restriction. We can have our tortillas, but only two instead of eight. Making everything from scratch, although time-consuming, is best because you know exactly what is going into your food and body. I’ve thrown out all the seasoning mixes that my family used to use like adobo or Knorr bouillon. They’re so high in salt content! Instead, I just add individual ingredients like garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper. I don’t really make rice anymore, but it is the core of many of our dishes (rice and beans), so I now use cauliflower rice instead. I love the frozen cauliflower rice! It’s quick, you can season it after, and I just always have them in my fridge for emergency meals. You can have all the traditional meals and just leave out the chips and tortillas. Many of my meals are burrito bowl style versus a platter. It makes it easier to not crave those extras!
On the diabetes device side, I absolutely love my Freestyle Libre! Although I know it’s important, I always would forget to check my blood sugars. I’d forget my meter, or run out of lancets/strips, or just not check it often enough. With my sensor, it’s so convenient to check. Of course, my science side loves the graphs and data it gives you too!
Pick Your Hard
We can be VICtims or VICtors. The choice is ours. Working out is hard. Eating healthy is hard. Complications from diabetes are hard. Pick your hard. For the longest time when I was diagnosed, I used my disease as an excuse. I can’t be healthy because I’m diabetic. I can’t sleep because I’m diabetic. I can’t go out drinking or to dinner with friends because I’m diabetic and shouldn’t have any carbs. I can’t be happy because I’m diabetic. Diabetes doesn’t define me though. I’m many things like a daughter, sister, first-generation Mexican-American, cool aunt, dog mom, lover of heavy metal, but my disease isn’t one of them. Don’t let it define you.