Wasim Akram on a life with diabetes
November 19, 2012
What it’s really like to live with the condition, by one of cricket’s greats.
Former Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram, who will flag off the Beat Diabetes Walkathon organised by Landmark group on November 23, spoke to The weekend tabloid! about how he lives with the condition after being diagnosed at age 29.
Akram is regarded as one of the greatest fast bowler in cricket history and holds the world record for most wickets, with 881. He was the first bowler to reach the 500-mark in ODI cricket at the 2003 World Cup. He reveals how he wards off temptation at the dinner table and how he proved the doctors wrong.
“I was diagonised with diabetes in 1997. I was only 29 years old. I thought my life was gone — no more cricket. But, my wife gave me mental strength. It’s just mental discipline. Temptations are there. I feel like having biryani every night — naans and kulchaas, and niharis. But I avoid it. I will eat in moderation and now my brain has programmed itself in a way that if I eat slightly more, I start feeling like I’m bloating. I feel I’m going to throw up. So with mind discipline you can do anything. It’s tough to start off with it but once you start feeling healthy, everything works for you then. Health is everything.
“In Urdu-Hindi we say ‘kam khao to zindagi lambi jayegi’ (eat less and you’ll live longer). It’s a habit. For example, I don’t eat bread at night because there are more carbs in it. If I feel like it, I’ll have half a roti. I’ll have a chicken tikka but I’ll have a massive bowl of salad. And then I check my sugar levels. I’ve trained my mind. I love my steaks, but I just eat less, at home or otherwise. Before lunch I eat a bowl of stir fried vegetables so my stomach is more or less full. And then I’ll have a little of whatever else is there. So that’s the sort of technique I’ve used to train myself. I do the same thing wherever I am. I can have something before the meal — something healthy, something non-sugary¸ maybe a fruit. When I travel, I need to check the levels at regular intervals due to time difference and eating times.
“Everything you eat becomes sugar. Obviously there’s a lot more sugar in a dessert, but again the bread, the meat, the salad — everything — has carbs or glucose in it. So the lesser you eat, lesser the glucose you make and lesser stress on your pancreas. I do cheat here and there but only a little. I’ll have a chocolate fudge cake with a kid’s spoon. That’s it. I don’t go for the whole cake.
“Exercise for diabetics is most essential. In our culture, we were told diabetics get tired. But why? Because their sugar levels are not in control. When your sugar is not in control, your muscles are not getting the right amount of glucose. That’s why you feel weak.
“I’ve proved it wrong. I’ve played cricket for ten years in the national cricket and I’ve been running around these last ten years day in and day out, exercising everyday twice a day. Exercise is very crucial, and regularly checking sugar levels when under stress, when not well, if you’re too happy — it fluctuates. You as a patient should know more than the doctor because doctors give you a run of the mill spiel — have this medicine, do this, don’t do this — every doctor will say the same thing. That’s why you need to learn about diabetes yourself. The more you learn, the better you will become at managing it.
“If it’s [sugar level] a bit high after dinner, then I go for a half-hour walk and when I come back and check, I see it’s gone down. It’s as simple as that. It’s easier to say that my lifestyle is such. I don’t think there are many people who have a busier lifestyle than mine. If you’ve got to go for a job at 9am, get up at 6.30, sleep early. In our culture, we don’t sleep early. I eat by 7.30-8pm. I sleep by 10.30-11pm. Wake up at 6am with my kids and then go for my run. So, these small details are what you need to learn yourself. I’ve never let it hamper my playing. I got diagnosed in 1997 and retired in 2003 and I got 200-plus wickets in one-day and in test cricket after being diagnosed. I’ve not tired still.
“It is scary to be diagnosed, but it’s not the end of the world. If it’s there you can’t avoid it. There’s no point getting depressed. You will get up next morning, think about it and move on. That’s it. No one in my family has it. I don’t know why me, man. My job was to run around. Doctors say no, but I think mine was triggered because of stress. There were a lot of controversies going on during 1996-97 and I feel that took a toll on me. The stress had to come out somewhere and I think this is how it did. But I’m fine and healthy and I think everyone else should be as well”.
SMART EATING STRATEGIES
“The real challenge for a person with diabetes is to find a mechanism to judge the food for its ill-effects and advantages,” says Dr Atul Aundhekar of iCARE clinic. “Having diabetes tends to make people overly cautious so they seldom enjoy the odd meal at a restaurant. They have to learn to imbibe smart eating strategies that have a wide scope for inclusion, without affecting blood glucose levels”.
The rules and guidelines of diabetes management include diet control, exercise, medication and regular blood sugar monitoring.
Your daily meal plan may not include the food on offer. Do a preliminary blood glucose test and discuss dining options with your nutritionist/doctor earlier on. Know what you can eat, rather than second-guess your options.
PRACTICE PORTION CONTROL
When you cook for yourself, the portions are limited to suit a prescribed diet plan. Share your meal with a companion or order dishes that come in relatively small quantities. Else, request a doggie bag.
HEALTHY IS BETTER THAN FAST
Choose to eat at a restaurant that specialises in health food. These restaurants usually have menu cards that detail the calorie-count of each meal.
MAKE SMART SWITCHES
Meal combos offer a variety of choice, including a selection of sides, drink and salads. Cull out the calorie-heavy fries and go for a double serving of a healthy salad. Ask for a low-fat dressing on the salad, a salsa or just fresh cut vegetables and fruits.
ERASE THE EXTRAS
While they may be tempting, ordering an addition to your sandwich or burger spoils the purpose of an eating-out meal plan. Extras usually include high-calorie foods, and can add taste, along with a host of complications to your meal.
Join The Walk
Landmark Group has organised the Beat Diabetes Walkathon on Friday, November 23, from 7am at Oasis Centre, Shaikh Zayed Road. Registrations are open at all Landmark stores and beatdiabetes.me.
By Wasim Akram, as told to Manjari Saxena, Deputy Editor, The Weekend tabloid.