Konban-wa; good evening. Hello from Japan. Hai (yes), I’m actually in Japan, and it has been a whirlwind of activity trying to manage my diabetes in the land of carbs aplenty . . .
I’ve learned a few important lessons about how to cover food when you are in a place that serves rice, udon or soba noodles, and low amounts of protein at every meal. Being here turned my world of normalcy upside down, although my immersion into the people, values, culture, and history has been priceless, and thus, worth the bumpy ride of trying to do everything I can to feel okay!
For one–and perhaps the most important thing–I’ve had to increase my bolus rates of insulin before meals about 15-20% to cover simple carbs. This has been true even when I’ve been walking and sightseeing all day! At home, my rule is to almost never consume foods like white rice, white breads, noodles of any kind . . . etc. Here, you’d simply starve! It’s the basis (and done up quite creatively, I must say) for all meals and snacks. And with mainly fish, egg, or bits of pork or chicken to provide protein, those simple carbs are what there is to eat. So it’s been hard to embrace that kind of thing when I’d been doing well on an extremely low-carb diet at home.
Another tidbit? Be open to eating all kinds of the healthy protein; any that’s available in your country or region of travel! Doing so has helped me keep going on long excursions almost every day, although I’ll admit I found it awfully difficult to eat some soba (buckwheat) noodles with uncooked egg yolk at lunchtime today. And parts of meats I don’t typically eat have proven challenging. But today I forced myself to tackle (some of) my bowl of wet soba, and that got me through to the next meal. Trying to find good quality protein sources can be a hard quest, so there are some things I just don’t order (chicken livers, gizzards, and skin among them). I’ve found some trusted sources to fall back on; eggs, low-fat/low-sugar yogurt, and tofu. Eating them has helped give me longer-lasting energy for getting to shrines, walking hours in challenging cities, and getting out to immerse myself (without fear of blood sugar dropping) in photographing jaw-dropping scenes.
Samantha Brown’s travel show gave me this next idea: I took a jar of peanut butter with me. A great protein snack and energy booster, and very comforting when trying to adjust your diet to such a different cuisine!
Another must? Bring one of the new simple electronic translators. I’ve had several instances where I’ve had to ask how much sugar is in a certain brand of yogurt, for example. A translator that can give you phrases and words from English to Japanese (or another language) has been invaluable!
How often have I been testing my blood sugar levels? Every 2-4 hours until bedtime beckons. That’s a necessity when I travel to letme know the range in which my glucose falls to determine whether I need a snack before hiking somewhere or , instead, to give a blus of insulin and then go on my way!
In terms of diabetes management supplies, for this trip I brought along twice the normal amount (insulin, blood sugar strips, pump infusion sets, extra sticky tapes, batteries for my insulin pump and blood sugar testing kit, a back-up mini-testing kit, glucose tablets, and high protein mini-snack bars), along with an English-Japanese brief medical letter from my doctor! With the language barrier here, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
So far, I’ve successfully tackled life in Tokyo, Nikko (2 hours north), Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Fukui on Japan’s west coast. And soon, I’ll be off to Toyama and then headed back to Tokyo for my last few days abroad before returning home. But oh . . . the adventures I’ve experienced in a place and culture so different from that in the U.S. Yet even with these differences, I’ve found out that the rate of diabetes is soaring here, too. That’s rather intriguing to me, and I’ll share some of my insights about it in another post.
B well, B happy. Until next time, sayonara,