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Type 2 Diabetes Prompted This Woman to Give Up the Unhealthy Eating Traditions She'd Grown Up With

Health.com logo Health.com 6/30/2020 Corey J. Maloney
a person holding a plate of food: Type 2 diabetes plagued her family, so when Liz Cambron, 29, was diagnosed with the disease, she decided to embrace new habits around food and fitness. © Getty Images Type 2 diabetes plagued her family, so when Liz Cambron, 29, was diagnosed with the disease, she decided to embrace new habits around food and fitness.

Growing up Mexican American, Liz Cambron, 29, had always associated food with love and family. “The thought that this food may be harming me or harming my family never crossed my mind,” Cambron tells Health.

Some members of Cambron's family are overweight, and her mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles have diabetes. She recalls going to the doctor with her mom and seeing her inject insulin at every meal. "My oldest brother, he’s also type 2 diabetic, and for too long didn’t take care of himself," she says. "He wasn’t able to participate in a lot of things that someone his age should have been able to do.”

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the average adult in the United States has a 40% chance of developing type 2 diabetes. But if you’re a Hispanic American adult, your chance is more than 50%, and you’re likely to develop it at a younger age. These trends were apparent in Cambron's family. Her relatives saw diabetes as something that was going to happen, so you just took your medicine and dealt with the complications.

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Cambron also developed diabetes six years ago. She began blacking out during periods of intense cardio—she always loved working out and being active. She went to the doctor to find out what was going on. A few weeks later, she was told she was prediabetic, and an endocrinologist recommended she see a diabetes educator to help get her health on track. It was at this meeting that she learned she actually had type 2 diabetes.

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“I remember sitting down with the educator and she kept saying, ‘As a diabetic’ and I tried to correct her, saying I was prediabetic. But she told me, ‘No, you have type 2 diabetes’ and I just started bawling. I felt like I had really let myself down.”

Her diagnosis meant Cambron now had to take insulin, just as her mom did. But it also made her realize she needed to make some changes. “I didn’t want to end up like some of my family members who have diabetic neuropathy (a type of nerve damage caused by the disease) and can’t even go for a walk,” she says.

For too long, Cambron had used her love of physical fitness as the sole barometer of health. She worked out consistently and could run half marathons, but she believed that her workouts compensated for unhealthy food choices. “People always say you can’t outrun a bad diet," she says. "And I really had to learn that the hard way.”

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As she began working on a healthier nutrition plan, she found herself unlearning her own preconceived notions. “Growing up, I don’t ever remember eating a salad. Maybe as a topping on tacos. But it was never something we actively strived to eat," she remembers. "It was something I always assumed was for rich people."

She struggled with giving up some of the foods and flavors she associated with her family traditions. “I felt like I losing part of my Mexican heritage," she says. "When I tried to introduce healthier options, I was definitely shunned a little [by family members]. It was almost like they treated me like I didn’t want to be Mexican because I didn’t want to eat eight tortillas."

Diabetes also became a wedge between her and her friends. She would avoid outings where she might be tempted, and they didn’t want to invite her to events where they were drinking or eating foods she wasn’t supposed to have. She was also embarrassed by her diabetes and would hide when she had to test her blood sugar.

“It was hard for me to get comfortable with it. To realize it was just testing my sugars and wasn’t something to be embarrassed about," she says. "And the more comfortable I got, the more comfortable the people in my life became. Now they are helping remind me to check my blood sugar before meals and it’s really helpful to have that support system.”

After being diagnosed, Cambron was handed a bunch of pamphlets on how to manage her diabetes and sent on her way. Left to her own devices, she wasn’t getting the results she needed, and the desire for another path led her to the Beachbody home workout program, which allowed her to get fit on her own time, without depending on a gym.

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The variety of workouts and sense of community offered by Beachbody helped her stick to her goals and tackle her food issues. “I struggled with emotional eating ever since I was a kid because of how intertwined my relationships with love and food were," she says. "Breaking that was really hard for me. But with these programs and with the support and encouragement and inspiration of the community, I was able to rebuild my relationship with food. And that completely changed how I was able to manage my diabetes."

The impact was so great that Cambron, while finishing her PhD in cellular molecular biology last year, became a Beachbody instructor. “I’ve accomplished a lot of things in life, but completing the programs really helped me believe in myself for the first time," she says. "That belief was life-changing. And I knew that other people deserved to feel what I was feeling, so I immediately signed up to be a coach.”

As someone who is giving others the confidence they need to make a change, Cambron has continued to embrace a healthier lifestyle. Her doctors recently said that thanks to the lifestyle shifts she's made, she may be able to get off her medication, which has been a long-sought goal. She's realized that her life comes down to choices—and that she gets to make them.

“After I was diagnosed [with diabetes], I fell into a depression," she says. "I felt like it was my destiny to be stuck on the couch, relying on medications, just like my mother. And I had already given up. But changing my mindset from being a victor instead of a victim was ultimately my choice. It was my decision. I’m not a product of my circumstances. I’m a product of my mindset.”

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