Freestyle Libre’s Positive Impact on my Culinary Career
Chef Robert Lewis, also known as the Happy Diabetic Chef, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1998. Like many with Type 2, he was given the traditional advice on managing diabetes with diet and exercise and told to prick his finger to stay on top of his glucose levels. But with new technologies such as the Freestyle Libre 14 day system, a continuous glucose monitoring device (CGM), people with Type 2 diabetes are able to get a more holistic look at their glucose patterns. Robert is no different; the professional chef shares his story about the first time he started wearing the Freestyle Libre and why for him, it was “love at first swipe,” and the positive impact it has had on his culinary career.
BT2: Hi Robert! Thanks for joining us to chat about your experiences with the Freestyle Libre 14 day system! When were you diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes?
I was diagnosed in 1998 before the Freestyle Libre 14 day system came to market. Back then, I was managing diabetes with diet, exercise, metformin and glimepiride, and the old classic way with a blood glucose monitor, test strips, and lancets.
How often were you pricking your fingers at the time?
Not often enough, especially at the beginning of my diabetic journey. The whole idea of drawing blood was not very fun and happy for me. But eventually, I got into it. There was a moment in my diabetic history where I really took more of an active approach and took some ownership over my diabetes. Then, I worked with a friend of mine who’s an endocrinologist who said my blood glucose monitor is my laboratory. He started to help me to learn that information can be valuable in helping me to improve my diabetic care.
What were your initial thoughts about the Freestyle Libre when it was first introduced to you?
I love technology, so I knew about the Freestyle Libre and CGMs, in general. I did some research and really was interested in the CGM because I didn’t have to prick my finger very often, if at all. When I went to see my endocrinologist about two years ago, we decided to put me on mealtime insulin and at that point, she said this was going to be the perfect opportunity to try the Libre. I jumped at the opportunity. She had one in her office and showed me how to apply it. Then, it was love at first swipe.
Love at first swipe? That’s great! What were some of the features of the product that amazed you?
I think the most amazing thing is that I got to see trends in my blood sugar, something that traditional glucose monitors didn’t give me. I can see where my blood sugar is going. I can see them rising and decreasing at every swipe, whereas if I was feeling low I might have to prick my finger three or four times just to get a sense of which direction my blood sugar is going. Now, I just swipe the sensor over my arm, and it gives me great trends, even at night. When I wake up every morning, I check my blood sugar, it shows the trend from that whole night. The trending information I receive is pure gold.
An important topic within the Type 2 community is hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). One of the reasons for people with Type 2 to wear a CGM is to help lower their A1C without experiencing hypoglycemia. Prior to wearing the Libre, did you have a lot of lows? If so, did the Libre help you identify them after you started wearing the device?
Prior to me taking any kind of mealtime insulin, it was very rare for me to have a low. With mealtime insulin impacting my blood sugars, I have more lows than I’ve ever had, and mostly because I may take too much insulin. Other times, I’d forget to dose, and let’s say I’m eating a lemon bar and my blood goes up to 16.6 mmol/L300 mg/dL. But what the Libre does is help me to see those trends and I can see it falling or rising. It helps me to monitor how much candy or whatever I’m using to help increase my blood sugar. The Freestyle Libre is like a GPS; it tells you when you’re on track.
You have an extensive culinary background as a chef. Can you talk about how the Freestyle Libre helps you with your culinary skills and your relationship between food and diabetes?
Well, I think for anybody, I think the power, especially for Type 2s, the power of a finger prick or a Libre or any kind of CGM is to know what effect food has on your body and what exercise has on your body. Sometimes I’ll exercise, check my blood sugar and I can see where it’s going. When eating, I try to calculate my carbohydrates for my insulin, and I try to do as good a job as I can. I know that if I’m about to eat something that’s got a lot of carbs, the device tells me exactly what effect that food has on it.
I tell people all the time who don’t have a CGM to test your blood sugars a half hour before and after you eat to see what that food does to you. Of course, the beauty of a CGM is that there’s no blood being drawn and you can learn in the impact of food on your blood sugar quickly.
Was it a concern for you to prep and cook food knowing you had to use finger pricks? How has the Freestyle Libre changed that for you?
It was a concern before wearing a CGM, definitely. Wearing the Libre takes away the fear of any food contamination. It’s not a factor anymore. Also, the device takes away any awkwardness when testing my blood sugar in public at restaurants. Even though it was an opportunity to teach the people around me about my diabetes, I like that the Libre is discreet.
Have you tried any other features of the Freestyle Libre, such as LibreLink?
Yes, I love that my wife has the app connected to her phone. So, as I swipe away and if I’m having a low blood sugar, she’ll ask me if everything is okay. There’s accountability with the Libre. My doctor also has access to it. If I have a question, she’ll look at my scans to check my trends and help me.
How has it impacted your relationship with your provider? Does this make your appointments more productive?
Absolutely. I have an amazing endocrinologist. She’s very patient and doesn’t rush me out of the office. We can spend hours chatting together. But what I really love is how she can just look at my data and tell me what’s happening. It’s great to have her perspective on what my data is showing and what I can do about it
What are some other trends that you noticed since you started wearing the Libre? We talked about food and diabetes, but there’s also sleep, stress, and exercise. What are some new things that you learned about yourself since you started wearing the Libre?
I think this whole topic of hypoglycemia and how I’ve learned more about it since I’ve had the Libre and been on insulin prior to that. Yet, it was never on my radar. It was never a thing, which is why a product like Xeris’ Gvoke pen, is ideal for someone like me, and for my family if I ever needed it. I’ve not needed anything like that yet, but with the help of the Libre, I can identify the symptoms more clearly. I feel a little sweaty, so I’ll swipe and I’m at 3.9 mmol/L70 mg/dL with a trend narrowed down. I can just take action to bring those blood sugars up and I just watch it happen. How many times does someone want to prick themselves to get that information?
How often do you prick your fingers now?
Never. I’ve put all my trust into the Libre. I’m a pretty good patient, too. I’m much better than I used to be. I love to look at my average glucose. Right now, my 90-day average is 7.4 mmol/L134 mg/dL.
There’s a lot of discussion about time-in-range and A1C and how the two are connected. Do you find the time-in-target feature of the Libre to be helpful?
Very much so. I think it’s helped my blood sugars become lower. I think it’s just made me more aware of my lifestyle and how it affects my blood sugars. I checked my time-in-target recently and it said I was within my glucose ranges 61 percent of the time. It’s also helpful when I can see it in comparison with my low glucose events, average glucose, and daily graph.
What was your A1C before you started Freestyle Libre and has it gone down since you started wearing it?
In the beginning, my A1C was probably around 7.8 percent. My last A1C was 6.6 percent. That was a big shift for me. I think my mealtime insulin has helped with that, but with diabetes, it’s not just one thing. It’s exercise, eating right, going to see the doctor, knowing my target blood sugars, and knowing my body. But certainly, I would have a very difficult time if Abbott said, “Sorry, we’re no longer making the Libre and all CGMs are going off the market because they contain COVID.”
One of the topics in the diabetes community that we’re covering is helping older adults adapt to technology, like the Freestyle Libre. What advice would you have for someone who was a bit hesitant to try it?
That’s a really good question. The technology is simple and the application of the Libre, as you know, is also simple. There’s just a little paradigm shift there between what you’ve always done to something brand new is always a little scary, but I think if they could see it and watch someone who’s their age access it and use it, I think that would go a long way. I think that person also needs to be someone who’s living with Type 2 diabetes.
This content was sponsored by Abbott, the makers of FreeStyle Libre 2, — a Founding Partner of Beyond Type 2.