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Laura Polko

As a celebrity hair stylist, Laura Polko has an insane client list (Gigi and Bella Hadid, Priyanka Chopra, Emma Roberts) and an even more insane international travel schedule. Which would be a lot to manage for anyone—plus a young daughter, too—but she does it while also managing type 1 diabetes.
by Sollis Health

When and how were you diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?

I was diagnosed on my 8th birthday. November 3, 1994.

How has it impacted your day-to-day life? For the people who don’t know, can you briefly explain the difference between Type 1 and Type 2?

Without having gotten diabetes at such a young age, I would have never been as independent as I am. I’d probably never be this responsible with money because diabetes is so based around numbers, numbers, numbers. When you have to take care of yourself at a really young age and keep yourself alive, and have that kind of accountability, nothing is scary. Because what could be scarier than whatever the doctors are telling you when you’re eight? In terms of types, 1 is autoimmune; type 2 is more commonly known as adult onset. The way I describe it is type 2 is like a light dimmer, right? So the light starts to dim out, your body starts making a little less insulin, maybe you’ve overdone it in categories such as eating, or an underactive lifestyle, or it’s genetics. There’s factors. So it starts to dim, and eventually if you don’t do the work to turn it back on, it’ll turn off. Whereas type 1, your light’s off and it’s not going to turn back on. So you have to take insulin from day one versus baby steps that can possibly be avoided.

What do you do to manage it? Has keeping it in check gotten any easier over the years?

Yes, now I have Dexcom, the continuous glucose monitor, which is the most life-changing thing that could ever happen. Because it’ll buzz really loud. And it’s like, time to feed your Tamagotchi. But personally, I also like shots. I know most people love a pump, but with my work schedule, I travel so much, in different time zones, I like to be able to adjust it with an insulin shot versus a basal rate. I prefer and use Levemir, which is not a 24-hour insulin, more like an 18-hour.

“How many times I've stayed in a hotel room with friends and my monitor is going off in the middle of the night! I just need juice or something, but it’s like DEXCOM! It gets louder and louder and louder.”

How do you find a way to balance a healthy lifestyle with the demands of your career, family, and everything else—especially with the hectic hours and travel schedule of your job?

Understanding the importance of rest and sleep is the number one thing for my body. And also finding the workouts that work for you. I spent so many years doing high intensity, or this or that, because I felt like it was the right thing to do. But my body doesn’t need to be stressed out like it’s fight or flight mode. For the past couple years, I’ve been strictly Pilates. That’s low intensity, I’m also not starving after, so I’m not eating too much. And making sure you’re eating right and not overeating, and drinking water—not just coffee—if you’re really tired. With diabetes, not every day is gonna be a good day. Some days I’m really tired and my blood sugars are just not going to cooperate until I sleep it off. And then the next day is a new day. So letting go of any pressure where it sounds like your doctor, when you’re eight, in your ear, like, “Well, you know, if you don’t do this…” Everyone has days, and it’s really not the end of the world.

Speaking of doctors, have there ever been times when you haven’t felt seen or heard? Any diabetes-related medical horror stories you can share with us?

I got diagnosed when I was really young, and I remember my doctor told me all these crazy things: “If you don’t take perfect care of your blood sugar, within 10 years you could go blind.” I’m doing the math—that’s 18, it’s just not realistic! I feel like he used to tell me all kinds of scare tactics. It’s just hard to find a doctor that totally gets it. The medical system is really tough. I think it can be super defeating because obviously every doctor has to tell you the worst case scenarios so they don’t get sued. It’s not in the patient’s favor a lot of the time. But if you just find people who you feel like at least are there with you on your side, that’s all you can do.

You’ve styled everyone from the Hadid sisters to Chrissy Teigen. Is it helpful to talk to your clients about your condition, or is it something you’ve generally kept out of your professional life?

I mean, everybody knows about it. I think it’s really nice to be able to have conversations. And as a girl, it helps you understand food better. The way foods metabolize. So that’s honestly stuff that’s helpful at work. And there’s people I’ve traveled the world with, and then on international tours have been like, “I forgot you have it,” which I think is a huge compliment because it means I’m not that person where it’s like, “Oh God, we want to make sure we have snacks because of her diabetes…”

“Especially type 1, when you're so young, everything is structured around numbers and control. So if that's your programming as a kid, your self worth is in your numbers. It really can show up in other ways in your life, especially dating.”

Can you describe any moments of humor or levity that have happened along the way?

How many times I’ve stayed in a hotel room with friends and my thing is going off in the middle of the night! I just need juice or something, but it’s like an amber alert! It gets louder and louder and louder. My friends make little jokes about it, and I’m not at all embarrassed, which takes a long time to get there.

How will having Sollis help support your journey with diabetes?

Thankfully I’ve got my Dexcom, but it’s great to know that if I need to reach a doctor after traditional hours I can call Sollis and get one on the phone anytime, no matter what time zone I happen to be in.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about diabetes? Is there anything you wish you could help people understand better?

Especially type 1, when you’re so young, everything is structured around numbers and control. So if that’s your programming as a kid, constantly the word control, your self worth is in your numbers. It really can show up in other ways in your life, especially dating. I’m very, “I got it, I got it, I got it.” Because I’ve had to take care of myself for so long. So I definitely have a harder time. It’s easier now, but throughout my life that’s been something I’ve really noticed. I also think being so aware about food and what’s in everything and how it affects you, especially for girls, can really lead to unhealthy behaviors with food. I know I went through that when I was in my late teens and 20s. It’s not an eating disorder, but it’s not not. Also, every time you go to the doctor, you feel a bit like you’re on trial, like you’re not good enough, when there should be a lot more compassion around that—especially if you get it as a kid.

Any good words to live by?

Everything is fine.

The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.
Sollis Health is a 24/7 doctor, private ER and concierge service rolled into one. Whether it’s an emergency or simply to diagnose the symptoms that you typically Google in the middle of the night, our emergency-trained doctors are ready for anything. Interested in becoming a Sollis member?

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