The Q&A

How Living With Type 1 Diabetes Helped Wellness Coach Lauren Bongiorno Find Her Life's Purpose

Lauren has a motto (why don't we all?!) and it is this: "Through challenge, we find our strength." Consider us empowered to take control of our health.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) at age seven. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what this means exactly: T1D is a chronic autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the beta cells that produce insulin, a hormone that is a necessary to live. From the moment of diagnosis until this moment in my life, living with type 1 diabetes has brought me three things: 1. The challenges that come with living with a disease that (currently) has no cure, 2. A slew of obsessive, perfectionistic tendencies, 3. A doorway to my life’s purpose.

I wasn’t the most unhealthy child for the first eleven years of living with T1D (around the ages of seven to eighteen), but kale definitely wasn’t in my vocabulary either. I played soccer competitively, and I ate a pretty standard American diet: Pizza, pasta, side salads, chicken parmesan, cups of noodles, fries, butter-y popcorn at the movies with friends, cake at parties… you know the deal.

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At the same time that I was just trying to be a “normal” kid/teen, I was dealing with all the challenges that came with diabetes. It was a constant battle to keep my blood sugar in a range of 80-120, a range that is considered “healthy”, and affected by everything under the sun, from stress to sickness to activity level to type of food to timing of meals to insulin dosages. I was scared from hearing stories of people going to bed and sinking into a diabetic coma and not waking up, and, with my blood sugar numbers always up and down, I felt like I got hit by a bus half the time.

The story of my health journey starts when I went off to college. Away from home for the first time, playing Division 1 soccer, leaving all my friends and family behind, I became very unsure of who ‘Lauren’ was as a person. When you have diabetes, you see a number ten times a day, and if that number isn’t in the right range, your level of satisfaction with yourself deflates. In a way, diabetes made me feel “less perfect”, and therefore perfection was something for which I was always striving. I felt out of control and lost in my life, and, as a result, I tried to attain perfection to “prove” to myself—and to others—that I was, in fact, worthy of love, praise and acknowledgement.

living with type 1 diabetes

What ended up happening was that I fell into a two-three year pit of obsessing over having perfect blood sugar numbers, a perfect diet, and a perfect body. Spoiler alert: These things did not bring me the happiness I thought it would.

I remember being so overly obsessed with exercise that, one time, after getting heat stroke from a run in the North Carolina summer heat and a subsequent hot yoga class, I still insisted on getting to the gym less than twelve hours later. There were also the countless times I said no to eating out with friends or getting frozen yogurt after dinner because I’d rather stay home and have a “clean” meal, but would end up feeling sad and alone.

All the food I was eating was very low in calories (mostly fruits, fish, and vegetables);  I lost a ton of weight (weight I did NOT need to lose) very quickly. As a result, I went through five years of my hormones being out of whack, years I spent trying to figure out what the heck “healthy” was.

When I finally understood that being at a lower weight and having close-to-perfect blood sugar numbers wasn’t bringing me the happiness I thought it would, I set out to find “balance”. I started adding in the carbs, sweets, and foods that I had deemed off-limits for so long. Problem was, this turned into a restrict/ binge pattern where I’d eat healthy during the day, when I was in routine, but then, when nighttime rolled around or I was at, say, a family party, I could not, for the life of me, stop eating.

It seems so obvious to say now, but what eventually helped me find a real balance of wellness (and what I could never find from spending hours on the elliptical or restricting my calories/ carb intake) was a grounding, some self-love, and learning to find pleasure in areas outside of food. Finding fulfillment from the inside out.

living with type 1 diabetes

I stopped worrying about calories taken in and calories burned. I took more yin yoga classes. I went for walks instead of runs. I rid myself of negative people in my life, people who were causing me a lot of stress. I detached myself from my blood sugar numbers, knowing they didn’t make me less whole. I started a morning routine, visualizing all the things that could go right or wrong throughout the day, and how I’d react by letting go and always having compassion for myself. I stopped looking at food as “bad” or “good”, and decided there was health food and soul food, and there’s room for both in life. I reflected, a lot, on habits and patterns that weren’t serving me so I could move past them.

I ultimately decided to go to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach because I wanted to help other diabetics feel as amazing as I did. There is no doubt in my mind that I was put on this earth to give other people with diabetes the guidance, support, and accountability I needed to take control of my life—and see that they need in theirs. Everyday my clients kick ass by growing into the person they want to become—and nothing in this world could make me happier.

What three things do you do regularly that help you lead a happy and whole life?

At my core I believe that happy people don’t always have the best of everything, but they always make the best of what they have. But, if I were to pick three specific things they would be:

1. I am in touch with the ‘why’ behind my feelings. For example, if I’m stressed at night time, I reflect on what need I have that is not being met. It might be my need for organization, need for support, need for effective communication. Then I work to address the need directly instead of resenting myself for feeling anything but happy.

2. I work my mind and body first thing in the morning before anything else. I’ll move my body in some way—yoga, workout, or just jumping up and down in my pajamas—to get the blood flowing. Then I’ll work the mind by expressing what I’m grateful for, visualizing the great day I’m going to have, or repeating an affirmation.

3. I’m very protective and selective of my space and who I let into my life. I aim to surround myself with other positive people who lift me up!

What’s your go-to recipe? The superfood that’s always in your kitchen? The food you can’t resist?

Go to recipe: Taco salad! Romaine, black beans, corn, guac, quinoa, and hot sauce. Lots and lots of hot sauce.

Superfood: Reishi and chaga mushroom for immunity!

Food I can’t resist? Health food: Peanut butter split smoothie. Soul food? A slice of New York pizza!

What is your favorite way to move, and how does it inspire you?

Six years ago I fell in love with yoga. It’s one of the few things in my life that hasn’t been a phase or a fad. I love a good hot power class, where my body just becomes so open and the creativity just flows through me, and the walls of who I “should be” collapse.

What are your tips for eating well?

One, food prep. Two, make your first meal free of refined ingredients or packaged food. Third, find pleasure in areas of your life outside of food. When you’re fulfilled in all areas of life, you’re less likely to depend or seek pleasure all the time from “comfort foods”.

What is the one place on earth you can always count on to help you reset, refresh, and refuel?

The mountains. I’m an introvert so being away from a ton of stimulation, and just being in nature, grounds  me and reenergizes me like no other place in the world.

… your wellness muse?

Tony Robins and David Wolfe are my guys!! David might not be very mainstream but his book “Eating for Beauty” was the first health book I ever read. I have no idea how I found him, but this man is a wealth of knowledge; he really helped me change my perspective of food. I got to spend a weekend with him and a few others at the Omega Institute three years ago. and I was in awe by how much knowledge he has acquired.

What is the travel destination you can’t wait to explore?

Costa Rica and Bali.

How do you relax and unwind after a long day?

I really love creating a spa-like atmosphere in my room to help me shut down. I recently got these natural, chemical-free lavender candles that I’ve been lighting at night while playing relaxing nature sound music. I love water streams, crickets, or even a thunderstorm. If I’m not too tired, I’ll read a few pages from either The Alchemist or The Secret while I’m in bed.

living with type 1 diabetes

What hobby or endeavor nourishes your soul?

Hiking fills up my cup to the brim. Last month I was hiking the Grand Canyon and Sedona with friends, and the experience was magical.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

“Lean into what makes you different.” For most of us, what make us different scares us and becomes our biggest insecurity. But the truth is, confidence and happiness does not come from acquiring what others have, but from being accepting and loving of yourself and your unique journey.

How can readers stay in touch with you?

Come follow my journey on instagram and instagram stories @Lauren_bongiorno or visit my website at www.laurenbongiorno.com!

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