Drew Harrsiberg is the epitome of health. He’s fit, lean, and I mean, have you seen that eight-pack of his?? But what you’d never assume is that he has a certain chronic disease we are often quick to associate with being unhealthy and overweight.
It started off with Drew constantly feeling hungry, thirsty and tired. Over a period of six to twelve months, his health deteriorated further and was sent to have some blood tests. One week later and he went from being ‘the 22-year-old healthy Drew Harrisberg’ to ‘Drew Harrsiberg the Type 1 Diabetic.’
“I grew up as this healthy athletic guy, and then all of a sudden I wasted away,” the exercise physiologist tells co-hosts Maz Compton and Eliza Cracknell on the latest episode of Healthy-ish: ‘What it’s like to live with a chronic disease’.
“I lost all my muscle. I looked sick. I didn’t feel like myself. Socialising was difficult. I had to inject insulin many times a day, test my blood sugar 15 times a day, so it was a complete change. The world caved in and it was the darkest time.”
But instead of letting his diabetes override his once healthy and happy self, he took matters into his own hands with a goal to reverse the preconceived idea of what it means to be a diabetic, whether that be Type 1 or 2.
“There is a lot of stigma. Even when I was diagnosed, I was already an exercise physiologist and we’d briefly spoken about diabetes at University and how to treat a diabetic athlete. I didn’t even understand what the disease was,” he adds.
“I was meant to be this kind of “expert” who was advising these athletes. I didn’t know anything until I got it myself and I really started to learn about diabetes. It is super complex.”
Now, eight years later, Drew is not just any ordinary exercise physiologist – he’s one that specialises in diabetes, proving to others that there is so much more to being a diabetic than being overweight and unhealthy.
“Social media can be so toxic but can also be so rewarding in some ways and that’s where I’ve seen my biggest impact – on social media,” the 30-year-old says. “… for kids who are diagnosed at three, four or five-years-old, their parents will show them a picture of me and say, ‘this guy has also got diabetes, one day you can be like this’, rather than, ‘it’s going to cripple you and ruin your life’. It doesn’t have to do that. I mean, it does do it to a lot of people but it really doesn’t have to.”
It’s through making lifestyle changes in which Drew has managed to take control of his chronic disease.
“It’s a daily management plan, it’s a full time job, and for me, I don’t want to live in hope of a cure because I’d rather be in control now.
“What can I do today? It’s lifestyle factors – those are the things you can control everyday instead of living in hope of a cure and not doing everything you can to live a good life.”
Throughout the years, Drew has experimented with different lifestyle techniques to see the effects they have on his blood sugar levels, and has ultimately concluded that the “key to good health is balance”, regardless if you have diabetes or not. How he manages his diabetes and approaches a balanced lifestyle is through his five pillars, in which he lists on his blog Drew’s Daily Dose.
“Exercise is at the core of it. Walking is something I do every day. Resistance training, HIIT training, sprint training – all different types of movement. I don’t think there is one best way or one we should be doing most of the time – I think we should be getting a daily dose of all of them.”
“Nutrition is huge. For people with diabetes, we need to match our insulin requirement to our carbohydrate intake. So, every time I eat a meal I have to look at the meal and go, ‘okay how many grams of carbs are in here, and what ratio of those carbs do I need insulin for?’, and then you just calculate it.
“What it allowed me to do over the years was figure out which foods affected my blood sugar in different ways.”
3. Daily living i.e. the things we do every day
“A sleepless night for example, can make you insulin resistant the following day. Just one sleepless night. Those little things – managing stress, getting some sun, getting into nature – it’s the daily things we take for granted and don’t realise they’re affecting our blood sugar levels almost instantly.”
4. Insulin and blood sugar
“This isn’t just for people with diabetes. People with diabetes need to be conscious about their blood sugar levels over the course of the day and how it affects our mood. When our blood sugar levels are going up and down, it is highly correlated with how we feel.”
“It’s just about being conscious and present and mindful in every choice we make, in everything we do, every time we prepare a meal, go for a workout. Whatever it is, we need to be conscious, we shouldn’t be in this automatic robotic mode all the time. We need to be present in everything we do.”
Drew’s final words
Follow these pillars – regardless of whether you have diabetes, another health condition, or just looking for some simple health guidance – and Drew guarantees you’ll be the best version of yourself.
“I know I don’t know everything and I never will, but I want to know as much as I can,” he continues. “I think everyone should strive to just keep learning, even when you think you’ve discovered the solution, your body changes and the science changes. We have to be willing to adapt to the obstacles because obstacles are going to happen.”
Want more from Drew and the Healthy-ish team? Tune into episode 48 of Healthy-ish, ‘What it’s like living with a chronic disease’. Listen to it above, at Apple iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts from.