Diet plays key role
Have you heard the one about the fat guy in his early 50s who walked into his doctor’s and was told he had Type 2 diabetes? Neither had I, until it happened to me last year.
I’d only had the blood test as part of a routine patient screening after moving to a different area and registering with a new family doctor. I had no symptoms, I was reasonably active (running a small farm and brewery) and honestly believed I led a fairly healthy lifestyle (no smoking or major drinking).
But the killer issue was that I 40 kilograms (88 pounds) overweight. Plus, that spare tire (or two) coupled with my age meant I was squarely in the high-risk group for Type 2 diabetes. I’d seen the ads warning about its dangers — heart and kidney failure, blindness, limb amputation — but I thought I wouldn’t get it as no one in my family ever had. I didn’t have any of the telltale symptoms, either: I wasn’t tired all the time, didn’t need to pee in the night, didn’t have blurred vision or any itching.
So when the GP told me the blood test had come back fully diabetic, I almost didn’t believe him.
It wasn’t a “blip” either. The test was the more accurate HbA1c test, which measures what a person’s average blood sugar levels have been for several weeks. He felt the only thing for it was to prescribe metformin, a first-line medication for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, and send me on my way, telling me: “If we look after you properly, there is no reason why your life expectancy shouldn’t be as long as it would have been without this diagnosis.”
Oh my God, I thought: I am going to die. So what do you do when suddenly faced with your own mortality?
As a former magazine editor, I had read the horror stories about diabetes — the endless possibilities of sudden blindness, nerve pain, heart problems, organ failure, being sent home from hospital with your toes in a jar ... So why had I let my weight balloon? Amazingly, looking back, I wasn’t aware that I was an overeater. I exercised by lifting heavy sacks of animal feed and malt. But the crucial thing lacking was cardiovascular exercise.
I knew then I had to use every weapon in the weight-loss armoury.
In among all the online forums I visited for advice, I came across a study, by the Magnetic Resonance Centre at Newcastle University, which suggested a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis could be reversed simply by following a punishing diet.
By eradicating substantial amounts of fat from your liver and pancreas (and elsewhere), it suggested, your body will be better able to start producing insulin normally again, especially in those people who have been only recently diagnosed.
I decided there and then to give it a go. I went out, bought a bike and committed to doing at least a half-hour of fast cycling twice daily. Aerobic exercise is very important in diabetes control. I also bought a blood sugar monitor to measure how I was doing. For the next four months, I went on an 800-calories-a-day diet. There would be no alcohol, no chocolate, no carbs, no meat, no dairy, no fish ... no fun. I was allowed just three meal replacement shakes (each 200 calories a hit) and 250 grams of green leafy veg (another 200 calories) a day, washed down with three litres of water.
I soon got fed up of the meal replacement shakes and cut them down to one a day for breakfast and instead made up the 800 calories with three portions of green leafy veg in soups, stir fries and salads. It was hideous and flatulencecausing.
But after the first few days, the diet became bearable. I actually felt almost as full as I felt virtuous. Weight dropped off me in buckets, which spurred me on even more.
And it worked. Three months after my diagnosis, I went back for a followup blood test. Not only had I lost 30 kg (66 pounds), but my blood sugar was down to normal — 5.4 as opposed to 7.2 when I was diagnosed.
The GP and the nurses were as delighted as I was.
I’ve since lost another 10 kg (22 pounds) by sticking to the diet for a fourth month, and have kept my blood sugar well within the normal range.
One year on, with my blood sugar and weight stable and at healthy levels, I posted a beforeand-after on Facebook, and was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement from my friends.
I know this drastic diet and exercise regimen won’t work for everyone, but I’m very fortunate that it seems to have worked for me
Staying active with aerobic exercise, whether by hitting the trails outdoors or using your local gym, can help combat Type 2 diabetes.
Adding leafy green vegetables to your daily eating can help keep blood sugar levels down and help manage Type 2 diabetes.