Ginger Vieira, 25 years old, has lived with type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease for almost 12 years and is creating a large footprint in the DOC (diabetes online community). Ginger is a champion-winning power lifter, personal trainer, yoga instructor and inspirational video blogger, recently adding dLife to her credits.
Her young life and work speak to building a life of accomplishment, regardless of and in many ways due to diabetes, and using it to help others.
I also interviewed Ginger specifically about her book, "Your Diabetes Science Experiment" for the Huffington Post: "A Diabetic Athlete Shares How To Minimize High And Low Blood Sugar."
Q: Do you remember your reaction when you got diabetes 12 years ago, at the age of 13?
Yes, crystal clear! After bursting into tears I asked the doctor if I was going to die. I had absolutely no idea what diabetes was. I spent three days in the hospital, and at first I felt really sorry for myself. Why me? But I started thinking about all my friends and some of the tremendous things they’d been through already - brain tumors, losing parents to cancer, hemophilia, depression, leukemia - and I realized that everybody has at least one kind of immense challenge in their life, and diabetes is one of my challenges. I left the hospital with that attitude and I still carry it with me. Nobody has it easy! So I don’t deserve to feel sorry for myself just because I have type 1 diabetes.
Q: Had you a plan for your future already at age 13 and did you wonder if you could still do it?
Well, I have always, always been a writer. Even in the second grade I was in love with writing. I wrote two different series, one was about my pets and their adventures, and the other was about a girl who grew up in a big family with too many boys in it (my real life!) and they were always getting in her way and screwing things up.
Q: What don’t most people understand about diabetes?
That taking shots and pricking your finger is actually the easiest part. People always say, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you do that every day.” It’s really everything else that makes this disease so incredibly complicated. Seemingly simple things like going for a long walk, sleeping in and missing breakfast, trying to concentrate when your blood sugar is too high, trying to have energy at work as a personal trainer when your blood sugar is recovering from being too low!
And the way this disease weighs on your emotions. It impacts how you think about exercise, food, friends, relationships, etc. It impacts literally every single part of your life and I will never expect a non-diabetic to truly understand that because it is so immense.
Q: You’ve set 15 records in power lifting. Did having diabetes motivate you to become a power lifter?
They were really separate goals at first. I joined a gym originally because I wanted to get in better shape and after a year of basic weight-training I’d gotten pretty strong! But when I told my doctor that I was thinking about going into powerlifting, he rolled his eyes. I wanted to prove him wrong and show other people with diabetes that anything is possible. I’ve never been much of an athlete when I was younger, so you can’t chalk it up to incredible genes or something. It is pure determination and persistence.
Q: You’ve done a number of YouTube videos and what’s apparent is your optimism. Do you have difficult days with diabetes and if so how do you get through them?
To be honest I don’t have days where I hate diabetes. Ever. It doesn’t occur to me to get mad at something that is simply part of my life, but that’s because I’ve developed and strengthened the attitude I have towards this disease. I can’t make it go away, so why am I going to waste energy hating it? That would feel like a waste of energy to me.
I also really don’t expect myself to do this perfectly. I don’t beat myself for having high blood sugars sometimes. I’m human, I absolutely cannot attain perfect blood sugars 24/7. So I give myself room to make mistakes, while also expecting myself to give my best effort.
Q: Your business is called “Living in Progress.” Tell me about that and why you call it that?
Coming up with the name was easy because I really believe that we are all constantly evolving. Wherever you are in your life, in how you think about your health and yourself right now, does not and will not be how you think about it even just a year from now. If you want to change something about your life and your health, it doesn’t have to happen overnight. It can be a very gradual progress and sometimes it happens without you even realizing! I’ve seen these evolutions in my own life many, many times.
I work with people one-on-one across the country, over the phone, on goals like making exercise a regular part of your life, improving your nutrition habits, rebuilding self-esteem, developing healthy coping habits, diabetes life management, and emotional eating. Everyone comes with their own specific goals.
Q: How can people shift their view to get away from being so fault-finding and being impatient with themselves and see their life more as a “work in progress?”
Well, that change won’t happen overnight, and it’s a process, but I believe the first and most important step is to really acknowledge where you are right now. To really describe and dig into how you are treating yourself, how you are talking to yourself, what kinds of limiting beliefs you have about yourself.
What has helped me the most in my own evolution is giving myself room to fail, room to be imperfect, and I really, really believe in gradual steps. When I started weightlifting, for example, I had no intentions of becoming a competitor. I grew into that place because I just focused on doing the best I could in the things I enjoyed the most.
Q: You’ve just begun working with dLife as the “Community Leader & Social Media Manager.” What does that involve and what do you hope to create for others?
For starters I’m going to be making video blogs for them with the same energy you’ll find in my own YouTube Channel video blogs. But I’ll also be connecting with people, talking about diabetes in a real way because I live with it in my real life, and providing support, knowledge and encouragement through dLife’s outreach and the many, many resources and information. It’s about support and empowerment.
Q: Who is your book, “Your Diabetes Science Experiment” meant for and what is it you want most for people to take away from it?
The book is for anyone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes who wants to learn more about insulin sensitivity, insulin resistance, how proteins, fats and carbs impact the human body with diabetes, and how to adjust your insulin doses for meals and exercise. I also help people understand how to make changes in their diet while adjusting insulin needs to prevent low blood sugars, and I break down how different types of exercise impact a body with diabetes.
The biggest thing I want people to take from this book is that when your blood sugars are high or low, there is a logical reason. And in many cases there really is something you can do to prevent those fluctuations from happening again. You just need more information than what you’re usually getting from the hospital or your doctor.
Q: You say in the beginning of your book that you could probably fill another 500 pages with how much diabetes impacts your thoughts and emotions. Can you give us a little preview of that here?
This disease is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no way that it isn’t going to affect the way you think. My next book will really bring to light the many aspects of life that diabetes impacts, to help people not only become aware of them in their own life, but also how to work through them. I believe we control how we think. Just as we control whether or not we choose to be offended when someone says something unkind to us, we control how diabetes impacts the way we think about food, exercise, and ourselves. But you have to really become aware of what’s going on before you can do anything about it!
Q: What’s the most fun or fulfilling part of what you do?
The Diabetes Online Community (“DOC”) community is incredible and I’m thankful to be part of that community. They are so supportive of each other! I know if I ever needed anything, really needed help, there are so many people in that community who would be there for me in a flash.
On the other side, I get messages and comments from people every week thanking me for some of the work I do, because of how it’s impacted their lives with diabetes, how they think about diabetes. I’ve gotten messages from people saying my video blogs, as silly as they are sometimes, actually inspired them to start taking better care of their diabetes. Messages like that are gold to me.