Hello! Who are you? And tell us a little bit more about your diabetes.Hey everyone! My name is Greta Ehlers. I’m 28 years old and currently living in Berlin and work in Switzerland. I have Type 1 diabetes for a total of 20 years.
I’m a MedTech professional, patient advocate, and speaker who aims to light a fire under the diabetes innovators of the world. Having type 1 diabetes myself, I found my passion in innovative MedTech, scouting and developing ideas that strive to make life with diabetes easier. I am currently based in Berlin, but traveling is another passion of mine, so I spend a lot of time abroad and on the road. If I am not working, I enjoy photography, art, and anything related to coffee or food.
I was diagnosed with T1D when I was only 9 years old. Back then, I didn’t really know what that diagnosis meant. However, my parents have always emphasized that diabetes is nothing to be ashamed of and that I can still do whatever I want to – so I did. I never felt like I had to hide my diabetes or that I couldn’t do certain things just because I live with type 1.
Since I grew up in Central Europe, diabetes never was a financial burden for my family and me. The emotional level was harder because it was a big change for me (but at that time, especially for my parents, as I was only 9 and didn’t know what was happening). My big emotional down came a few years later, when I was a teenager, and really struggled with accepting this diagnosis and everything it entails.
“I am tired of fighting that battle every day, and I wish people knew that T1D is so, SO, much more than just taking some insulin and counting carbs!”
How do you treat your diabetes, did a lot change over the past years and are you able to manage it well?
The support that helps me the most is peer support from my friends who also live with type 1 diabetes. I see an endocrinologist once a year to do some blood tests, but I don’t feel like the doctors can help me with my diabetes management. Of course, they know what is in the books, etc., but I have been living with this condition for so many years now that I feel like I know myself best, and what works and does not work for me. Of course, I also work in the Diabetes Tech space, so I have a great network and knowledge base when it comes to new innovations/tech/products on the market.
To treat my diabetes, I use a hybrid closed loop consisting of an insulin pump and a CGM.
I know some people say they are “glad” they got diabetes because they wouldn’t be where they are now without it. I get the message, but I struggle with this statement, because, for me, diabetes is still something I have to manage 24/7, something I didn’t choose to manage, as well as a mental and physical burden – and if I could choose, I wouldn’t choose living with type 1 diabetes. I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without that diagnosis, but I am 100% convinced that I would still be happy and would’ve found another passion.
I believe I manage it quite well. There are more important things for me than having a 100% time-in-range score at the end of the day. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take care of my glucose, but it means that I am not willing to sacrifice the things I enjoy just to lower my a1c a tiny bit. I think it’s important to find a balance. I am thankful for all the tech (and my access to it) because I believe this is what makes my life with diabetes so much easier now compared to 10 years ago.
Can you recognize the symptoms of a low/high blood sugar? Do you test often and can you tell a bit more about your experiences with low blood sugar?
Yes, I can recognize them. I can feel both high and low blood glucose quite quickly. When my blood sugar is low, I get shaky and dizzy, I find it hard to concentrate and speak (especially when it is really low). When it is high, I feel tired, thirsty, and just very exhausted.
I 100% rely on my CGM; I never test my glucose with a blood glucose meter unless I feel like the CGM is off (which happens less than 1x a month)
To treat a hypo, I usually eat gummy bears or drink juice. The closed loop makes it easier to avoid hypos too.
Food and diet
How does your diabetes affect your eating and do you find being on a diet restrictive?
I eat whatever I like, whenever I like to. I don’t have a food routine; I would rather go with the flow every new day and do/eat whatever feels right.
When it comes down to my favorite food, I LOVE sushi! Whenever I go out and eat, I prefer all sorts of places, restaurants, street food places, etc.
I snack if I want to snack, and that can be anything
I vary my insulin dose depending on what I eat, but I struggle with the phrase “food that isn’t good for me” because it can be incredibly dangerous for people prone to eating disorders (which people with diabetes are more likely anyway). If you mean food which is tricky to manage blood sugar-wise, I think it is a bit of a trial-error kinda of thing.
I try to drink enough water, but it isn’t that easy. The same with not skipping any meals. Sometimes it happens.
I do find a diabetic diet very restrictive – again, research shows that people with diabetes, especially young girls, are more prone to eating disorders. I think our society generally lives in a weird diet culture, and I don’t think its realistic, and especially, not necessary for good glucose control. With that being said, different things work for different people, so I believe we should all do whatever feels right for us.
When people ask me about my diet, I do get annoyed. Unsolicited advice is ALWAYS annoying, and people with diabetes tend to get a lot of it.
Do you believe that a plant based diet can improve diabetes? Did you ever experiment with this?
I am not sure – I eat a lot of plant-based food, but not because of my diabetes.
Do you have a hard time eating out in a restaurant? And what are you thoughts on making this easier?
I don’t have a hard time eating out in restaurants, but I also do it a lot. I am currently living in Berlin, there is such a rich offer of different food from different countries and cultures, and I love trying new dishes. I think it’s a trial and error; it is hard to get it right every time (but that can happen when cooking at home too).
“The hardest part of having diabetes is that it requires 24/7 management.”
Exercise and work
Does your diabetes restrict you from exercise or your daily job?
Yes, I do work out.
I work in Business Development in the MedTech sector at DCB, where I scout new innovations that have the potential to make life with diabetes easier. Working at such a company with diabetes is really nice; many of my colleagues have Type 1, and I get to talk to loads of people around the world who all have the same mission: Make life with diabetes easier.
I am also working on letter boards for diabetes awareness on my Instagram @gretastypeone.
Do you have any positive or negative effects because of your diabetes?
The hardest part of having diabetes is that it requires 24/7 management, that you can never take a break and the toll it can take on my mental health.
The best part is that I met some of my closest friends in the diabetes community, and I found a job I love through the diabetes community. I am very thankful for that!
Since my diagnosis, I think there is always a certain underlying fear of long-term complications, and there are times when it all gets too much. But apart from that, I am lucky to be privileged enough not to struggle with access to insulin, tech, or any other medication I need.
What is the best advice that you can give to non-diabetics, new diagnosed diabetics and diabetics?
There are some big misconceptions that frustrate me, and I would love it if people without diabetes knew that 1) it is not my fault that I got this diagnosis – there is literally nothing I could have done which would’ve prevented that diagnosis and 2) just because I pretend I am fine, that doesn’t always mean I am fine. Diabetes can be complicated, it can be stressful, and there are times when I try my hardest without any success. Sometimes I am tired of fighting that battle every day, and I wish people knew that T1D is so, SO, much more than just taking some insulin and counting carbs.
The best advice I can give is to give yourself grace, and take your time; it is gonna be okay.
Take your time to figure out what therapy works best for you. Just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you, and that is okay. Peer support really, really helped me in difficult situations. Other people with diabetes might have better advice than your HCP.
What would you ask the other diabetics?
What would make your life with diabetes easier?
Feel free to answer in the comments below.
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