• Nadia Ali

How Diabetes Turned Her Into a Powerful Female Biohacker

Sitting comfortably outside her RV in Las Vegas, Nevada, which has been her home for the past 6 months along with her husband, Chef Bobby – Melissa, a middle school art teacher and well-known by her online moniker “Two Avocado Girls” is eager to talk about the conditions she has been living with since the tender age of 13: Type 1 Diabetes and Crohn’s.

Within a few minutes of chatting, her upbeat personality is infectious and her willingness to spread awareness to uplift others on their own health journeys is clear. “[I’m] all about promoting wellness and advocating for others to have a voice and share their stories with the world to help people that may be in the same situation,” she says of the mission of her blog – an online safe haven for those struggling with autoimmune conditions or health issues in general to find solace, encouragement, and a sense of community.

The Two Avocado Girls brand centers around lifestyle, fitness, and wellness, with Melissa’s focus being autoimmune issues. The blog is new, starting in February of 2019 with Melissa and one of her long-time friends (who is the second Avocado Girl). She tends to share this spotlight with other female bloggers and online personalities within the health and wellness niche to promote them as additional second Avocado Girls on the page monthly. The intention remains to spread more advocacy while building their audiences. Health and wellness became an integral part of Melissa’s life shortly after being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 13, an unexpected diagnosis since no one in her family had a history with the condition.

“It happened pretty quickly, I remember I was in middle school and didn’t feel well. I started losing about 20 pounds in a week. I was really pale, and always using the washroom.”

These startling symptoms prompted her parents to take her to the doctor where tests were run and large amounts of sugar were found in her urine. So much so that it caused a yeast infection, an unusual occurrence for 13 years old. After being recommended to go to the children’s hospital and get more testing done, doctors quickly found that Melissa was a Type 1 diabetic. “So, the learning began. What do I do? What do I eat? How do I take care of myself? For the first year, I was in denial. I said nope, I’m not doing this, I’d rather die. So, my parents gave me shots for about a year. We learned how to do all of that - the carb ratio, the sliding scale, how much insulin to take. I was taking about 12–16 shots a day and had to take long-acting insulin, short-acting insulin and learning how to mix insulins. It was a lot for a 13-year-old to take in.”

About a year into her diagnosis, Melissa decided she had to come to terms with her diabetes. She wanted to have fun with friends and enjoy a normal life, realizing in order to do so, health and wellness had to become an essential part of her everyday life. This meant she had to become knowledgeable about how everything she put in her body affected her.

“I learned very quickly to grow up, super-fast. It’s a blessing and probably a little bit of a curse but definitely has made me who I am today.”

Living with Type 1 Diabetes and Crohn’s has also helped Melissa biohack her health, especially from a female perspective. She refers to her body as an environment while explaining how she got into the biohacking practice initially, which was through playing around with food as medicine to perfect a low carb, high fat, and high protein diet. Luckily, Melissa’s partner is a chef, known for creating a healthy ketogenic meal plan service called “Fatlicious,” which consists of recipes he specially made for her to get all the nutrients she needed to stabilize blood sugars.

“I was trying to heal my body from the inside out. It’s about figuring out a way to make me feel healthy and good, and also cut down on inflammation and stress happening in my body…Healthy fats are the main thing, [and] keeping our carbs super low but coming from veggies.”

Aside from a specific diet, she acknowledges the importance of daily habits to set the tone for her day. These include 2-minute planks, a warm and cold shower, a quick beauty routine, and meditation. She ensures that she exercises for at least 30 minutes per day, whether that be going for walks and/or doing HIIT workouts 3 times per week. Melissa also enjoys doing red light therapy for 10-15 minutes every night, using heating pads and anti-fatigue mats, and even trying out new beauty and health tricks from social media. Green tea ice cubes for a nighttime facial is what she’s currently excited about (courtesy of our friend Biohacking Brittany!). “[I’m] just trying new things, not the whole ‘take medicine if you’re feeling that.’ I want to make it as pure as I can.”

Enter FLÖKA. Since Melissa was trying to keep track of so many different aspects of her health from exercise to diet to beauty etc., the app became the perfect virtual space for her to enter her data and gain insights specific to her diabetes and blood sugar levels. She is also now able to easily share her cycle and wellness information with doctors via the graphs and data provided on the app.

“Being a female with diabetes throws a different curveball. My blood sugars aren’t the same every day with my cycle. Using the flöka app to check the phase I’m in, I’ve noticed my blood sugars are 10-15% higher the week before my period, which means I have to boost up the meditation, yoga, and increase the insulin.” She adds that she loves using the flöka app specifically for the blood sugar insights and the connections it provides her with other wellness pillars, such as sleep.

“I really love that I can see correlations between sleep, and what I’m doing for exercise or my mindfulness. It’s really shown if I don’t get my 8 hours, sometimes even 10 hours, my blood sugars are higher the next day. It is really crazy to think that just sleep, and having a mindful body and brain helps keep everything in check and stable throughout the day.”

Despite following a healthy low carb, high-fat diet, her blood sugars must always be monitored. “I can’t just set it and forget it,” she says, which is where flöka comes in handy. For this very reason, Melissa wears a Dexcom CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor) on her left arm and an OmniPod blood sugar insulin pump on her right. Both devices are connected to her iPhone and a gadget called a RileyLink – creating a closed Loop system to constantly notify her on her blood sugar levels. She admits this is an amazing technology that has helped her biohack her diabetes, but just like all technologies – if it isn’t working, she must rely on her years of diabetes self-education to keep her blood sugars stable.

Flöka has helped her stabilize and remember to document information regularly so she can physically see the trends occurring in her body and then use that data to her benefit. Her long terms goals are lowering inflammation in the body, keeping up with a stable diet and lifestyle, and lowering stress levels. While Melissa knows exactly what she wants out of her health, she recognizes wellness is about balance and not restricting herself from anything completely while taking responsibility for the choices she makes. She makes the powerful statement of being proactive with your choices rather than reactive.

“Once you’re healing your body from the inside out, you’ll notice what foods fuel you and what [gives] that energy. When you do have that cheat day, which is important because I’m not restricting myself from anything, I just don’t go crazy all the time. I’m not going to eat donuts and pizza every day – but if I’m wanting that then I’ll have a meal and enjoy it and just know, and the important thing is knowing, how my body is going to feel or react later. I might be bloated, have higher blood sugars, have to take more insulin, I may even have to go for a longer walk because exercise helps my insulin work more efficiently… It’s just being aware and present about what I’m putting in my body or what I’m doing to my environment because you make the environment that works for you.”

Melissa’s positive mindset and passion for advocacy are obvious. She’s currently involved in trying to get diabetes supplies cheaper for all teachers as well as testing the closed Loop system with the RileyLink mentioned above, to create an artificial pancreas in the future. She aims to help those struggling with health conditions feel less alone, but also make empowered and informed decisions from a place of self-love. At the end of the day, she states it’s all about being honest with yourself and having supportive people around you to encourage you forward.

“Set realistic goals, even if it's just for the day. What do you want to do to take care of yourself today? Start small, then go from there.”

Learn more about Melissa on Instagram @two_avocadogirls !