‘I thought controlling diabetes was about sugar – but exercise became more important than ever’

‘I thought controlling diabetes was about sugar – but exercise became more important than ever’

Robert Caplan, 42,  is a financial planning director who lives in London

I was never one for exercise and didn’t think too much about what I ate. I tended to rely on takeaways and processed food, I was very overweight. Ten years ago, when my eldest daughter was born, I weighed more than 100kg and I decided to turn things around. I wanted to be able to run around after her as she grew up.

I tackled my diet first and lost 10kg in a year. I tried different types of exercise, but didn’t really find one that stuck until I discovered Barry’s Bootcamp, a mix of cardio and weights: that really grabbed me. As I got fitter and more confident, I started branching out to other types of exercise. Over the next couple of years, I went down to around 80kg, which is where I’m at now and feels about right for my height.

Then, out of the blue, in May 2018, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which was a real shock. A lot of people’s reaction was “You are so fit, how can you have diabetes?” and it got a bit wearing explaining each time that type 1 is a genetic condition, whereas type 2 arises from lifestyle factors.

One of my preconceptions about diabetes was that you can’t eat sugar. Actually, you can eat what you want, you just have to medicate accordingly. You need to know the carb content of everything because that directly affects your blood glucose levels.

When I was first diagnosed, my doctors advised me to go on a carb-counting course and Diabetes UK encourages learning about carb counting, but I had already taught myself quite a bit on my nutrition journey. I knew to check packaging for carb counts, and I knew what foods are slow release – sweet potatoes or brown rice – and which, like sugary drinks, will produce more of a sudden spike of blood sugar.

I remember asking the doctors if I could still go to the gym and train, and they said it was more important than ever before. It turns out that exercise increases the body’s insulin sensitivity, meaning that it doesn’t need as much insulin to process carbohydrates. What that means for me is that while I do still have to inject myself with insulin every day – there is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes – on training days I can inject about 50 per cent less, so I feel less like a human pin cushion.

What made these lessons more important was that when he was six, my middle child Eddie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I told him, “We’ll deal with this together”. He looks at me and sees how it doesn’t hold me back in life – and nor will it him.


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