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Posted by on Sep 19, 2017 in Diet and Nutrition, Fitness, Travel

Inspiring Curiosity: What I Learned From Experimenting with My Diet

Inspiring Curiosity: What I Learned From Experimenting with My Diet

blood sugar diabetes diet

In the (almost) 20 years I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes, I have always maintained that this struggle has given me more than it has taken from me. I know that my experience isn’t shared by everyone but type 1 diabetes has been the driving force in my life, urging me to eschew complacency and accept accountability. I’ve summited Kilimanjaro, traveled the world on a very low budget, climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park, as well as many sheer walls and summits that almost no one would recognize by name or by sight.

This isn’t an “attitude is everything” locker-room speech lending inspiration in place of useful information. Inspiration is important, but its value fades rapidly when not matched with actionable information—tools that you may want to use.

The truth is that I have never been a gifted athlete. I am not fearless. I don’t do what I do because it’s easier for me than for any other rational person. I do it because I have taken 10,000 tiny little steps outside of my comfort zone—testing and optimizing to see how far I can stray beyond the limitations of being diabetic.

If there is a point of inspiration that I want to give you, it’s that there is hope. Today. Using the diabetes management tools that exist right here and now. I have found that of all the tools in my personal “kit,” the one that has given me the greatest leverage against the unpredictability of my diabetes has been diet. Strangely enough, this tool seems to get pushed aside too often for those of us with type 1, as though optimizing diet is tantamount to an admission of guilt for our diagnosis.

I have often gotten the question “How do you deal with low blood sugar while you’re climbing?” and my answer is simple: I almost never do. I wouldn’t venture into the vertical world if I had to fear my blood sugar crashing out beneath me as I dangle from a rope with my life (and my partner’s life) in my hands. There’s plenty of risk to manage already without throwing debilitating hypoglycemia into the mix!

Type 1 diabetes food

Experimenting with my diet over several years with the aid of a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) has allowed me to zero in on some key insights that have kept me pushing my limits without fearing the danger of crushing lows or soaring highs. I tried a raw, vegan 80-10-10 diet which is high in carbs and very low in fat: 80% carbs 10% protein and 10% fat. All of those carbs came from unprocessed, whole food sources.

I went to the complete opposite extreme after several months of a high-carb vegan diet into a ketogenic diet which is high in fat, moderate in protein and all but eliminates carbohydrates altogether. 75% of calories are fat and 25% are protein. All of the fat and protein came from unprocessed, whole food sources.

It may sound extreme to some, but visiting both ends of the spectrum and experimenting to see how my body responded gave me incredibly useful information. I know that you may be wondering which diet “works” better for me since they lie at polar extremes. My purpose in this post isn’t to sell anyone on the diet that works best for me. Rather, it’s to say that both “extreme” diets share one thing in common that worked well for me: the elimination of processed foods.

Diet matters. It’s a huge lever that shouldn’t be neglected in my opinion. Testing which type of macronutrient your body prefers isn’t extreme. It took time and attention to do it carefully but in the end, the information I discovered changed the possibility of life for me with an otherwise unpredictable condition. In simplest terms, needing to take less insulin means less guessing and less opportunity for dramatic shifts in blood glucose for me. That’s what I have sought and found in my years of diet optimization. For years I dismissed adherence to a specific diet as being on par with cinnamon pills and okra water. It was only the absolute need for blood glucose stability while climbing that forced me to explore the edges of the map. The impact of what I found out there has given me more than it’s taken—and that’s not an empty platitude. I’m doing more than I thought physically possible and I’m taking my diabetes to places that I once thought were unreachable for me.

If there is one thing I can give to others to consider, I hope it is my curiosity and willingness to experiment with diet. We don’t have to climb mountains but we all have to eat. Simple choices in food may unleash the freedom to climb mountains, even if that’s not your idea of a good time!

-Stephen Richert

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Posted by on Aug 14, 2017 in Diabetes Management, Fitness, Lifestyle, Travel

Getting Historic: One Man’s Mission to Run a Marathon in All 50 States

Getting Historic: One Man’s Mission to Run a Marathon in All 50 States

On June 15, I packed two suitcases, one for me and one for my two daughters, Avery and Harper. Together, we drove from Charlotte, NC to the airport in Greenville, SC for the start of our summer vacation. Our destination? Not the beach. Not Disney World. Somewhere more unique:


Why Alaska? Alaska represented another stop on a journey I began back in 2000, one that has taken me across the United States to accomplish a goal that has been difficult and extremely rewarding as a diabetic. It was at that time I decided to embark on a challenge both for purposes of my faith but also for purposes of showing what a diabetic could do—run a marathon in all 50 states. When I began this journey, the information about athletes with diabetes was limited. It was also frustrating to me personally that after being diagnosed in March 1992, I was told that my normally active life would cease, relegated to a more cautious, sedentary life. I refused to give in to that way of thinking, and when a friend posed the idea of running the New York Marathon in November 2000, I decided to take the leap.

Seventeen years later, I’m still in the air.

Each year, I’ve tried to complete marathons in 3 to 5 states. At the onset, I was able to complete races quickly because travel was close, allowing me to drive and keep costs down. I was also fortunate to turn races in certain places (New York, Chicago, San Francisco) into vacations, accomplishing a personal goal while enjoying the beauty of the country. With some races, I’ve been able to run with other runners, but so many races have forced me to run alone. Because of my health condition, I’ve learned the importance of managing insulin injections around activity, anticipating peak times for insulin. I also learned what snacks/drinks quickly returned glucose to normal levels while exercising, and others to stay away from. In 2013, I decided to take the plunge and transition to the Omnipod System insulin pump. This has relieved a lot of stress mentally and physically during my training cycles by being able to manipulate insulin delivery around endurance workouts at a much closer level.

It’s been amazing to see how much diabetes care has changed in the past seventeen years. No longer do I feel like a man on a proverbial island trying to be active while fighting the daily battle with a bad pancreas. Physicians, dieticians, personal trainers, social media—all have been indispensable in providing sources of great information that went against the common practice. It’s allowed me, at age 44, to continue to pursue this journey without fear and with much greater knowledge. An absolute blessing.

In 2016, I completed marathons in all the contiguous states, collecting finisher medals in Montana and Wyoming. As 2017 began, my goal was simple—complete the last two states, Alaska and Hawaii. So on June 15, my daughters and I traveled 4,000 miles to Anchorage, AK, and on June 17, I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 21 minutes. 49 states down, 1 to go.

Still in the air, ready to land.

Barring any setbacks, I plan to touch down in Hawaii at the Maui Marathon on October 15. I hope you will join me on this final lap as I prepare. It’s so humbling to have come so far, and to use my health not as a setback, but as an inspiration. I can’t wait to add to my collection.


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Posted by on Jun 12, 2017 in Diabetes Management, Fitness, Lifestyle, Pump Therapy

My Body is Not Mine

My Body is Not Mine

Have you ever had one of those days? You wake abnormally high or low, you take a bolus to get your glucose down or suspend insulin delivery to bring it back up, and then the melee ensues:

Back and forth. Eat. Exercise. Bolus. Eat. Bolus. Turn off insulin delivery. Turn it back on again. On and on and on…

On those days it feels like I’m throwing darts in the dark (and the dartboard is moving).  Everything seems dizzy and complicated and constantly in a state of motion, with no hopes of settling down. I almost become outside of my body during those times. I feel like it’s a machine that I cannot operate correctly. I don’t feel in sync with myself on those days, which is so discouraging.

diabetes insulin pump

This particular day was a Sunday, which, for some reason, always gives me trouble. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a different day from a lifestyle standpoint. I’m not completing a normal work day routine like I do on Mondays through Fridays, and I’m not busy doing the random errands and to-do lists for myself and my daughters like I do on Saturdays. Sundays, for me, are traditionally light and restful: church, relax, and get ready for the next day. I prefer not to exercise on Sundays, but on days like these, I feel like I have to in order to regulate my glucose levels. It’s so easy to resort to bolusing, but I think it can actually be a detriment at times because it forces me to respond physically when my body, frankly, is just not up to it.

This was one of those days. My bolus shots brought more low blood sugars (lowest PDM reading: 28) and I felt like I lived in the kitchen the rest of the day, eating to get my blood sugar regulated. Thankfully, by 4 pm that afternoon, I was back to being normal.

At least according to the PDM.

By then, though, my body was worn out by the seesaw of glucose levels, and I was worn out trying to manage it. It’s one of the things that I, as a person with diabetes cannot fully articulate to someone who does not have it—getting my mind to address and correct the calamity of my body. Some days, it goes sideways and I get my hands back on the steering wheel to turn it back onto the highway. Some days, I do not feel like I am truly myself.

But I am. On those days more than ever, because I’m willing to fight to make an imperfect body work. So I do the best I can. And I don’t worry if it doesn’t cooperate right away. Eventually, my body finds its way back.


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Posted by on May 30, 2017 in Diabetes Management, Fitness, Lifestyle, Pump Therapy, Tips and Tricks

Conquering the Beast

Conquering the Beast

As I’ve mentioned in a few previous blogs, I’m a runner. It is truly my outlet for life, allowing the world to slow down and make sense, giving me time to clear my head and gather my thoughts, not to mention offering me a healthy activity to balance the challenges of being a dad, an employee, having diabetes, and any other role I periodically occupy.

Since 2000, I’ve taken on many challenges associated with running, completing races from as small as 5Ks to 100 mile ultramarathons. All have been fun and tested my will and endurance, but they have just been that: running. Within the past couple of years, I have noticed the wave of adventure races that have become popular. They go by many names —Tough Mudder, Battle Frog, Spartan — and they all are basically built around the same concept: running with an obstacle course thrown in. I’ve been intrigued by them but always a little fearful because they add in different elements you don’t find in regular road races, and that presents different challenges from a glucose management standpoint.

Finally, I decided to take the bait and enter my name in to participate in the Spartan Beast Race. “The Beast,” as it is known for short, is unique in that it is basically a half-marathon trail race with 30+ obstacles you have to navigate. Fun for sure, but very tough because it requires a lot of physical exertion with lifting, climbing, pulling, and carrying heavy objects along with the run.

My Beast Race was the Carolina Spartan Beast on October 30, 2016 in Winnsboro, SC at the Carolina Adventure World ATV Park. I arrived early and stuffed my fanny pack with CLIF® bars, orange juice, and my personal diabetes manager (PDM) in a waterlogged plastic case. I turned off insulin delivery for two hours so the race wouldn’t be affected by low blood sugars and made sure I had a light but decent breakfast of a banana and a Gatorade.

We started at 8:15 am with waves of 250 runners dressed to the teeth in moisture-wicking clothes and hydration units, jogging up, down and through the rocky terrain, climbing nets and walls, carrying bags of sand and containers of rocks, traversing across ropes and pulling bags of sand, vaulting across monkey bars and throwing spears. Real gladiator stuff, braving the elements of mud and rock and the heat of the day, pushing ourselves physically and emotionally to the limits.

For me, there was the added challenge of managing my blood sugar, and I believe I handled it the best I could, keeping insulin delivery off until about halfway through the race when I had built up a sugar reserve and turning it back on so I could burn it off in the second half of the race, which worked well. Four hours and four minutes later, I jumped across the fire pit signaling the end of the race and crossed the finish line, receiving my medal and basking in the glow of accomplishment in the Carolina sunshine. Another challenge met, another beast accomplished —pretty much like every day with diabetes.

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