I was diagnosed with diabetes on September 4, 2000, and I just celebrated my 20th anniversary in quarantine. I had every single warning sign you can get. I was constantly thirsty and peeing a lot. All of a sudden, my vision became super-blurry, and I bumped into everything. And I lost a bunch of weight. At 14, I was six feet tall and 112 pounds. At first, I was stoked about that because I thought I’d look hella good in the low-rise flared jeans I’d just gotten from Dillard’s. But it was alarming.
The day I found out I had diabetes was also my first day of freshman year in high school. During biology class, my teacher talked about the different autoimmune diseases we would study and rattled off the warning signs of the different conditions. When she got to diabetes, I started ticking off the boxes in my head, and it hit me: I’m diabetic. I knew it right then. And naturally, as a very dramatic 14-year-old, I stood up in the middle of class and ran to the nurse’s office, like a bat out of hell, to call my mom. She told me to calm down, but four hours after that call, she and my dad showed up at my school to tell me the test results came back, and I was diabetic — I diagnosed myself before Kaiser Permanente did.
Diabetes affects every part of my life. My career is very tough on my body, so much so that my doctors have suggested I find something else to do. When I toured, I wasn’t properly taking care of myself. Instead of finding healthy food that wouldn’t wreak havoc on my blood sugar, I ate what everyone else ate, like pizza and snacks and what you’d imagine eating on a tour. I didn’t sleep enough. I would feel like shit every day and still perform because that’s what I needed to do. My health took a back seat to my career, which ended up doing a number on my body. I was eventually diagnosed with stage-three kidney disease. I found out two years ago before we were playing on the main stage of Coachella right before Beyoncé. My doctor told me not to, but I did it anyway. I was passing out onstage and just not really there. I blamed it on low blood sugar when, in reality, I was just so weak because my kidneys weren’t working properly since I had abused them for so long.
After that — I guess you could say it was a wake-up call — I made a promise to my sisters, my boyfriend, my parents, my friends, and myself that I would do everything I could to take care of my body because I want to be around for them and playing bass until I’m 110. I’ve found a couple of things that have helped me stay on track for the past few years and make life easier as a touring musician and a diabetic of 20 years. Everything is very personal with diabetes, but these are the things that help me.
The stuff that makes her life easier
As a diabetic, I have to be a nutritionist, a nurse, and a mathematician. I’m always thinking about my blood sugar, and it’s a constant roller coaster actually managing it. These glucose gummies are exactly four grams of carbohydrates each, and it’s much easier to determine how many I need to take in order to raise my blood sugar if it’s low. I want my blood sugar to be between 70 and 150 at all times — so, for example, if I see my blood sugar is 60, I will take two of these, and it will raise my blood sugar to exactly 120. Because these gummies are pure glucose, they get into my system faster than sucrose, which will spike my blood sugar but will be a slow ascension. If I’m low, I need something to spike it immediately, and these gummies do that. Another option is to chug orange juice, but you could overcorrect by doing that and make your levels too high. Glucose tablets or gummies aren’t exactly unknown, but a big gripe within the diabetic community is how to find glucose tabs that don’t taste like chalk, because most do. These actually taste good, and I don’t mind eating them when I have to.
When I was taking shots every day, this was a lifesaver. I’ve heard it’s great for kids, too. It’s painful taking multiple shots a day, especially if you’ve been doing it for years and develop scar tissue around the injection sites, which is almost worse than the shot. The cold numbs the pain, and the vibration tricks your nervous system into not feeling as much pain. It’s similar to a numbing cream, which some people like and think works great, but I just always preferred the ice pack. And it’s cute. My best friend told me they use this when you get Botox, too.
When I was growing up, all my doctors told me that traveling would be hard, maybe impossible, as a diabetic. I wanted to be a touring musician and go on road trips with my friends and see the world, so I did not want to accept that. But insulin needs to be as cold as possible in order for it to be effective, and it has a very short shelf life — once you open it, it lasts only a month. For so long, I carried my insulin in basically an igloo of ice packs, but they would melt and spill and be messy. I’ve even had the glass bottle break before, and I had to quickly figure out where I could buy a new vial. Vivi makes everything so much more convenient. If you’re not on a pump, it holds your insulin pen and keeps it at the optimal state thanks to its temperature sensor. I am on a pump, but I store my vials of insulin in it for when I need to switch out my empty vial on my pump. When I’m on the tour bus, I keep my insulin in the fridge, but if I’m traveling by plane, I bring my Vivi. It gives me peace of mind, too, because I know it will be safe.
I didn’t realize how important probiotics were until a couple of years ago. I need that extra oomph to make sure I absorb all the nutrients I’m eating. When I told this so-called discovery, if you will, to other diabetics, they would say, “No shit, Este, you need to take a probiotic every day.” But no one told me this — not my endocrinologist when I was first diagnosed or the two after that. So for all the diabetics who read this, please talk to your doctor and discuss taking a probiotic. After I started taking them, I definitely started to feel better because, as I learned, everything absorbs much easier — nutrients, medication, everything. I also have a lot of tummy problems that truly run the gamut, so I think taking a probiotic helps me in that sense, too. Everything depends on the person, of course, but this really worked for me.
I made a commitment to work out a couple of times a week because it helps maintain normal blood sugar. I walk at least 40 minutes a day, and at home, I’ll weight-lift, which my doctor recommended I try. I didn’t take it seriously until about two years ago. I never had much flexibility, so I would always feel achy when I performed and I would blame it on working out. My boyfriend suggested I foam-roll. At first, I was like, “What is that?” And he explained that working out puts your muscles through distress, and you need to give them a little love. That changed the game for me when it comes to mobility and flexibility. Then I discovered that it actually helps my injection sites that hurt sometimes. I can’t even describe what the pain is like, but my diabetics out there will know that when you hit a sore site, it really, really, really, really, really hurts. Rolling it out helps me. And sometimes when I’ve let my insulin pump stay in for the maximum amount of time (which is about four to five days) because I’m lazy, these hard substances develop under my skin. My doctor explained that because there’s a foreign object under the skin for an extended amount of time, tissue develops around it. As soon as I realize that’s happened, I roll it out, and it loosens up faster that way, which has been extremely helpful for me.
And the snacks she relies on
I have a very unhealthy addiction to pizza. It’s my favorite food. I can easily eat an entire extra-large pizza by myself in one sitting, I’m not even joking. But in the diabetic community, there’s this thing called the pizza phenomenon: For some reason, it’s impossible to calculate how much insulin to take for eating pizza. When I separate out the parts, I’m fine, but for some reason, when they’re together it’s impossible. My blood sugar will always skyrocket no matter how much insulin I take and how hard I try. It’s wild. And my doctor can’t figure it out either. But I love pizza so much, so I have to modify one of the elements of pizza to make it more manageable. The biggest issue is the crust. So this cauliflower one is a great alternative because it has less than nine grams of carbohydrates, which is really low, as opposed to the 57 grams of carbohydrates in a regular crust.
I try to maintain a plant-based diet and stay away from really heavy carb-rich foods when I can. I use the regular tahini for everything, especially as a substitute for a thickening agent in dressings. It’s low carb, so it’s better for me. I use the chocolate tahini as a dessert. I never tell myself I can’t eat anything, because mentally, that’s really difficult, but I have to remember that if I do eat these things, I am going to suffer the consequences later on. I limit my intake for certain things that aren’t the best for me, but I never restrict myself. The chocolate tahini is a great dessert because it tastes amazing and I genuinely love it, but it doesn’t have that many carbohydrates so I won’t fall far off track. I’ve even used it as frosting on a grain-free cake, which was delicious.
This is a healthier snack for me. Corn is a grain, obviously making it a carb, which I do have to take into consideration. But if I’m going to snack on something I know I’ll enjoy and I typically crave, this really is the best option for me. I add half a cup of these kernels with some oil in a pan and make popcorn. It prevents me from reaching for potato chips. There are definitely days when I’m like, Ugh, I’m just going to go to 7-Eleven and get some fucking Doritos and call it a day. But that’s the same part of me that put my health on the back burner. I slip sometimes, and I have to forgive myself because it’s really hard. But reminding myself that I have better options at home — like this popcorn, which is just as easy and just as good as a bag of chips — helps. I also know exactly how many carbohydrates I’m eating, and I’m in control.
When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I developed a sweet tooth because, I think, everyone was telling me I couldn’t eat sweet stuff. I was essentially like, “You’re telling me I can’t have this Jamba Juice? Well, I’m going to have the Jamba Juice.” But that wore off, thankfully, and I crave more savory foods now. Peperoncini are a great way to add a lot of flavor to a dinner, but they’re very low carb, and I don’t have to add any salt or flavor or whatnot. I cook a lot of Mediterranean food, so these fit in well, and I love the taste. I think a lot of people experience diabetes burnout, where they’re just like, Fuck this, I’m over it and going to do whatever I want. Then they stop caring until their doctor chastises them and they get back on the wagon. It’s a cycle we’ve all been on. So I try to find food that brings me joy without any of the side effects one can experience from too high or too low blood sugar. Sometimes those things are as simple as a couple of peperoncini.
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