'I was in a really bad place mentally': How one woman’s diabetes diagnosis changed her life for the better

Sarah Ellefson had a scary path to her type 2 diabetes diagnosis. “My coworker was sitting next to me and I looked over and I couldn't see her face,” Ellefson tells Yahoo Life. “It was very blurry and she was only a few feet away from me.” 

Ellefson, who was just 28 at the time, remembers being “very scared.” She called her doctor’s office and was squeezed in for a visit. There, they took her blood sugar — it was 440 mg/dL. (The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetics aim for blood sugar levels of 80–130 mg/dL before a meal and less than 180 mg/dL one to two hours after eating.) She was sent to the hospital for additional testing before she was officially diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Ellefson says it “took me quite a while to figure out” how to live with her disease. “I just remember being really scared, really overwhelmed and not knowing what I could eat,” she adds.

At the time of her diagnosis, Ellefson says she struggled with health issues, including binge-eating, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and anxiety. It was her anxiety that she first got help for.  “I was not leaving my house. I was in a really bad place mentally,” she explains.

I just remember being really scared, really overwhelmed and not knowing what I could eat. Sarah Ellefson

Ellefson met with a psychiatrist and psychologist, who recommended that she get out of her house and start walking. That led to her joining a nearby gym. “That's kind of where it all started,” she says. “At first it was just, I addressed the fitness piece. Then, it's like something snapped inside of me and I was ready to make big changes at that point.” Now, she says, she tries to work out five or six times a week.

Meal prep became a big part of her health journey too.

“That was the hugest thing for me because I had no idea of portion control or what to eat,” she says. “That kind of started a really good habit for me that I've continued on to this day.” Ellefson now does meal prep on Sundays, and enjoys the food she cooks throughout the week.

I really believe that meal prepping is one of the biggest things that’s helped me maintain a large weight loss over six years. Sarah Ellefson

Ellefson says she started to lose weight after hitting the gym, and meal prep continued to help improve her health. “I really believe that meal prepping is one of the biggest things that’s helped me maintain a large weight loss over six years.”

She uses her meal prep to make things like a breakfast egg bake with sausage, spinach and tomatoes that she’ll eat during the week. For lunch, she’ll have a pre-made grilled chicken breast with a side of sautéed vegetables and walnuts, and dinner she enjoys with her family.

Ellefson checks her blood sugar a lot to make sure she’s in her target range.

The first blood sugar test is right after she wakes up at 6 a.m. “This is the reading that I tend to struggle with a little bit, which a lot of type 2 diabetics do,” she says. Ellefson does another blood sugar check a few hours after breakfast, and then again around 2 p.m. Her final blood sugar test is after dinner.

It’s just a journey, and just do the best you can. Sarah Ellefson

It’s a lot, and Ellefson says she understands it can be overwhelming for some people, especially those who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes. “I can really empathize with someone who is newly diagnosed. It’s a very scary time,” she says. “It’s just a journey, and just do the best you can.” 

Despite the effort her disease requires, Ellefson says her type 2 diabetes diagnosis has helped change her life in a positive way. “I feel like I’m a really different person [now],” she says. “I was really sad and really shy, and was avoiding social functions. Now I’m just out there, doing things that I normally wouldn’t do.”

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