Ginger Vieira: The Power of Positive Intention

profile1“I’ve competed in three national power lifting competitions. During the year 2009, I set a total of 14 records in two drug-tested, amateur, national power lifting federations, and I hold the female record for the VT State Bench Press. I’ve dead lifted 300lbs, squatted 265lbs, and bench-pressed 190lbs.” GINGER VIEIRA

Pretty impressive right? What is even more noteworthy is that Ginger Vieira was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 13 and has achieved all this despite being dealt a somewhat daunting hand of cards in the game of life. Her story definitely reflects the strength of the human spirit when put to the test. However, Ginger’s life is not just about power lifting, she is actively engaged in helping others achieve their true potential in life too…but more of that later, first let’s get to learn a little bit more about Ginger…starting with the day her life changed forever…

First of all, can you tell us a little about your initial diagnosis with type 1 Diabetes and how you adjusted to that information mentally?

“It’s a cool story, actually, because I diagnosed myself at my own 7th grade Health Fair when I was 13 years old. A classmate did his project on diabetes, and I noticed the symptoms listed on his poster. I had all of them: blurry vision, weight-loss, chronic fatigue, constant thirst and frequent urination.

“I’d been feeling these things for about a month, after my whole family got the flu, and it was like my flu never went away. I’d lost 10 or so pounds. I thought I suddenly needed glasses. My legs felt like cement in the morning and I didn’t want to go to school. And I was waking up in the middle of the night to guzzle water with my hands from the bathroom sink. All the symptoms individually don’t strike you as terribly alarming, so it was easy to pass some of them off as teenage stuff (no one wants to go to school when you’re 13 years old!).

“When I said, “I think I have diabetes,” nobody believed me because you never think it’s going to happen to you, or your daughter! A week later, I started crying and my mom took me to the hospital. Sure enough, Type 1 diabetes. “The first question I asked was, “Am I going to die?”

“Reassured that I wasn’t, I was hospitalized for 3 days to rebalance my body and learn about this crazy disease. On day 2, I threw myself a pity-party of crying and sobbing. By the end of that hour, I realized something: everyone has challenges in life. Even at 13 years old, I knew that some of the people in my life had endured some incredible challenges. Diabetes is my challenge.”


Did you think at that point that your life may be restricted because of the condition and, if so, what restrictions did you visualize?

“Oh, instantly the list of things you THINK you just can’t do anymore because of diabetes grows and grows. No birthday party, Thanksgiving or Halloween would ever be the same. Sports are no longer just about having fun and trying to win. Instead, every athletic activity, every gym class, every backyard basketball game with my brothers was first about balancing my blood sugar and trying not to drop low.  “Diabetes is about so much more than just counting carbohydrates and taking shots. It impacts every single part of your life. EVERYTHING. It is a 24 hour, 7 days a week job and you don’t get vacations. If you stop caring about your diabetes, you’ll get sick, pretty quickly. The way this impacts you is hard to explain to non-diabetics, because it is just so tremendous.

“Believe me, there are many things in the world that are much worse than living with diabetes. In fact, I’m grateful I have diabetes over many other conditions. But it’s hard work and it’s every day. To not have to think about my blood sugar for even 12 hours would be an incredible gift!”

What steps did you take to overcome any self limiting beliefs?

“Ahh, that’s a great question, because that’s something I believe we have to do throughout our entire lives. When it comes down to it, I believe the thoughts I fill my head with are where everything starts. During my junior year of college in 2007, I decided I wanted to be healthy. After three years of eating junk and drinking
occasionally in college, I decided I was sick of feeling lousy. I focused my entire summer on learning how to lift weights and going to yoga classes. By the end of that summer I had lost ten pounds, decreased my insulin needs drastically, and began training to become a yoga instructor.

“Basically, I made a choice and I stuck to it. I realized quickly the power of saying to myself, ‘I can. I can. I can!’

“It sounds silly, but even today when I’m in the middle of a workout, I am constantly filling my head with the thoughts I need to keep going and keep pushing myself. It might seem overly simple, but it makes all the difference. What you tell yourself is everything.”

Ginger-V-powerliftWhat drew you into the sport of power lifting?

“I actually fell into it totally by chance! After making progress on my own all summer in 2007, I knew I needed and wanted to learn more about lifting. I joined a new gym and hired a personal trainer. After a year of working out with Andrew Berry at The Sports & Fitness Edge in Burlington, VT, I had increased my bench press from doing barely 1 or 2 reps with a 100 lbs, to doing 8 or 10 reps with 135 lbs, no problem. A power lifter saw us working out and suggested we learn more about power lifting and start training  specifically to compete. My favorite part about power lifting is just the challenge of pushing your body to do something you may or may not be able to do. Sometimes you fail, sure, but it’s the act of taking on the challenge and seeing it through that effects you.”

Was there any part about the training or competing itself that concerned you due to your having Diabetes?

“Well, balanced blood sugars are definitely required for training well, for recovering from your training and for being able to endure the entire workout. If I have a low blood sugar half-way through my workout, that’s it, the session is over, because it’ll take me at least 20 minutes to feel better after treating it. And even then, you feel pretty weak and light- headed after a low blood sugar. So power lifting really gave me a whole new reason to care about watching my diabetes.

“If my blood sugar is high during the hours after I workout, my muscles won’t be able to recover as well because they aren’t getting the nutrients and fuel they need. Your blood sugar levels impact everything.

“And I don’t do it perfectly. I know Colette (Nelson) checks her blood sugar 18 times a day and keeps it between 80 to 120 as much as possible. I don’t have that tight a control, but I’ve gotten to a point where I know how each workout will impact my blood sugar and what I need to do to prepare so my diabetes doesn’t hold me back.”

2793_515925185320_68900505_30853899_7385911_nWhat sort of workout schedule do you follow these days?

“At the moment, I’m taking a break from the heavy, heavy lifting, and focusing more on higher-volume workouts...and a lot of pushing the Prowler! I’ve got some pain in my left hip that needs more time to heal. It seems to be aggravated the most when I load my spine with dead lifts or squats. My strength is down as a result… I just competed in a 100% Raw Federation meet, benching 170 lbs. and dead lifting 275 lbs. Not being able to dead lift or squat right now is really frustrating because there are few things I love more than dead lifting! But I’m trying to push myself in other areas that I know don’t aggravate my hip!

“So I’m just trying to have fun and keep the pain minimal! I workout 5 days a week, alternating lower and upper body, while also pushing the Prowler several days a week and sprints on the treadmill twice a week.

“In the past, I’ve done some fun Russian bench pressing programs, and Sheiko dead lifting program. I love it all, but I’ve gotta let myself heal.”

Now let’s talk about diet, I am curious to know what sort of diet you follow and could you give us an example of a typical day’s menu for you?

“I actually just made a video blog on exactly the food I eat! (www.youtube.com/user/gingervieira)...Episode #17. The funny thing about mixing diabetes and power lifting is that the dietary requirements really support each other. I try to stick to good clean food.

At least three meals include protein from lean meats (ground turkey, lean cuts of steak, chicken), and of course eggs and egg whites. I mix a lot of veggies in with my meats.

Once a day I eat carrots and hummus. For gluten-free carbohydrates (I have Celiac disease, too), I try to stick to oatmeal, corn grits and sometimes amaranth. Sometimes I’ll have gluten-free bread, but most of those gluten-free breads aren’t worth the dense carbohydrates and calories. I love mixed nuts. I cook with olive oil, and I try to always avoid artificial sweeteners, and chemical garbage like PAM.

“I do have a sweet tooth...but I can easily curb those cravings by eating enough of the good clean stuff and not going too long without a meal. And my protein shakes at the moment are made with IsaGenix Whey Protein and Unsweetened Almond Breeze.”

happy-dandeliions3-200x300Do you have any specific protocol when it comes to administering insulin pre and post workout?

“ Definitely, and I’m publishing a book this January that will help others understand how to titrate their doses pre- and post-workout. Basically, diabetics have what’s called an “insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio.” It’s different for everyone AND it’s different depending on the time of day and activity level. For most of the day, I use a 1:12 ratio of 1 unit of insulin for every 12 grams of carbohydrates. After a workout though, I use a higher ratio of 1:15 or 1:18, so I’m basically getting less insulin.

“Before I workout, I really don’t change my ratio because anaerobic exercise can actually raise your blood sugar, so I make sure my body has enough insulin to keep me from spiking during training.”

Do you do much in the way of cardio and if so how do you handle the impact that often has on blood sugar levels?

“At the moment, I’m really only doing sprints on the Prowler and sprints on the treadmill.  I’m not doing any long-duration cardio, mostly because I just don’t feel like it right now!

In the past, I have worked on the Stairmaster for 30-45 minutes, and I know that my body needs about 20 grams of carbohydrates without insulin in order to keep my blood sugar from crashing. Not surprisingly, I really don’t enjoy long-duration cardio. The Prowler, though, I love.”

How do you manage your blood sugars during an event and what is the hardest part of competing for you?

“The hardest part about a power lifting event for a diabetic, in my opinion, is keeping your blood sugar DOWN. The stress and adrenaline of it all shoots my blood sugar through the roof because those hormones make me become temporarily incredibly insulin resistant. The short-acting insulin I usually take to correct high blood sugars just can’t get my numbers to budge on competition day. I’ve learned to increase my long-acting insulin dose instead, by about 3-4 units the night before a competition and that really, really helps me keep my blood sugar in range. My most recent competition though, I didn’t increase it enough, and my blood sugar was high all day long. With diabetes, you are constantly in the state of experimenting, seeing what works, and
making adjustments for next time. It is a never-ending learning process. Patience is key.”

Picture 1-2I have to ask the question…how do you feel about the rampant use of insulin by non diabetics in the field of bodybuilding and power lifting?

“ Hah, I guess I think it’s funny. I see insulin discussed all the time on lifting sites, and I wish I only had to take it as a fun accessory to my training. You know, if people want to mess around with that, I just hope they’re careful, because everyone’s insulin needs and levels of insulin sensitivity are very different. You can mess up your dosing easily if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Some claim that insulin makes you stronger, your comments?

“Well...insulin converts the carbohydrates (and some of the protein) we eat into glucose, and we need glucose to fill our glycogen storages in muscle and liver cells. So, theoretically, the more carbohydrates you can digest, the more glucose you can stuff into those cells as glycogen.

“Do I really think people with fully-operating pancreases need more insulin than they’re already naturally producing? Not really, no.”

Away from the sport, I believe you do quite a bit of work with fellow diabetics, could you fill us in on that?

“I work with people (diabetics and non-diabetics) as a cognitive-based health coach at www.Living-in-Progress.com and I produce Video Blog Episodes at www.youtube.com/user/gingervieira. In a nutshell, I help people strengthen and improve the way they think about their health challenges while also taking action in making changes in the way they literally manage their health.

“On our own, we tend to make things feel too overwhelming, thinking we need to change everything at once in order for it to be worth it. I help people break their goals down into really, really manageable steps. Much smaller steps than you’d usually take on your own.

“But like I said earlier, I also truly believe the way we think about ourselves or a challenge in front of us is what determines what happens. If you want to change your life, you’ve got to change with how you think and feel and act.”

f-strongladyI believe you also have a book on the way….

”Yes! I am really excited about this book because not only have I been writing since I was 8 years old, and dreaming of having my own book published, I also really believe this book can help answer some of the most common questions people with diabetes ask every day.

“Titled “Your Diabetes Science Experiment,” this book is for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes to help you better understand: insulin sensitivity, how to improve your own insulin sensitivity, how different types of food impact your body, how to adjust your insulin needs based on activity, diet, changes in lifestyle, etc. and how to balance your blood sugar around different types of exercise.

“It’s a lot of human physiology made simple, so anyone can understand it.”

What words of advice would you give other people with diabetes who may believe mistakenly that their condition prohibits them from strenuous activities?

“Well, this applies to anyone really: You are capable of so much more than you think are. If you really want something, then learn about what you need to do to make it happen and adjust your life to make it happen. When I first told my doctor I was going into power lifting training, he rolled his eyes at me! Because he didn’t know any diabetic power lifters, and he didn’t think I had what it takes. I ignored him (and never went back), and went on to set 7 records at my very first competition 6 months later.

“Every day in my work as a health coach and a personal trainer, I hear people telling me, “I don’t think I can. I don’t think I can do that. I don’t know if I can keep going.”

“Well...before you give up, TRY! If you can’t, then you can’t. Who cares if you fail? At the very least, you’ve got to try.”

Finally how can people reach you for consultations/ advice etc?

“You can find me at www.Living-in-Progress.com. Please feel free to add me on Face book under “Ginger Vieira.” Twitter is www.twitter.com/gingervieira. And YouTube:  www.youtube.com/user/gingervieira.”

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