Diabetes for Dummies
I spend time with a woman every other month who uses words such as “dummy,” “stupid,” and “idiot” when describing herself. As she acknowledges what hinders her from making healthy choices and positive changes for improved diabetes management, the deprecations flow. It pains me to hear her describe herself in this way. I don’t like the word “dummy” at all.
However, sometimes that is us. We keep drinking the Kool-Aid that’s making us sick. Or we opt out of follow-through and too often blame it all on our grandmother’s genetic gift. That’s not smart when it comes to our health, not with everything that we have learned in the past few months. To be honest, when I see books that are for dummies, I gravitate toward them because, perhaps, it will take a complicated topic and make it simple. If you have diabetes, I hope this month’s article will provide a straightforward, simple approach.
When research and information fail to motivate, testimonies can inspire. Eric Adams, a New York City police officer turned politician shares his diabetes turnaround story on a five-minute video made by the producers of Forks Over Knives. His busy life combined with a “horrendous diet” filled with donuts and Philly subs on the run, left its residue on more than just his lab results. Painful nerve damage in his legs and loss of vision awakened him to the reality of his state. His doctor told him that these symptoms were indicators that the diabetes had reached a dangerous level. No one had shared with him the impact nutrition could have on diabetes until he learned about the Forks Over Knives plan. He read the book and came to understand the power of food. Something clicked. He revolutionized his lifestyle. His simple approach included chopping up vegetables and putting them in bags in his fridge. He would use these when preparing his meals so that 98% of what he put into his mouth was food he’d made. He used a desk stepper to increase his physical activity. He determined that his meals would not be controlled by his busy schedule. The results? In three weeks his eyesight returned. In three months the nerve damage pain had dramatically improved. His ulcer was gone. His A1c, which is a marker of average blood sugar over the previous three months, went from 17 to 5.7. He went from out-of-control blood sugars, averaging around 450, to normal blood sugars. That’s revolutionary. That’s taking a prognosis with a future of burning nerves, gradual loss of fingers and feet, and damaged organs, and causing that prognosis to hightail it in the opposite direction.
No one had shared with him the impact nutrition could have on diabetes…
How does that happen? How does information actually work transformation?
Carlos had a similar story. He was tired of injecting insulin and being overweight. He decided he would change his diet and start exercising. The advice he had been hearing for years. What began with a daily bike ride around the block gradually increased to 50-mile bike rides on the weekend. He became an athlete. He lost the excess weight, eliminated his need for injecting insulin, and felt in control of the diabetes rather than controlled by it.
Anecdotal evidence is often thought of as weak. I think it is powerful. The extent of the improvement may not be possible for everyone, but it sure is worth trying. Who knows? It could be your story.
If you were to harness the healing potential found in lifestyle medicine what would need to be focused on? What would be the first thing you would do to apply the knowledge we have obtained? You might want to begin by processing what were the contributors to the development of diabetes for you. Some people develop diabetes and they do not have a pound to lose. Others have a history with known exposure to environmental toxins. Take the time to identify components in your life that could be contributing to the disease state. Sure, learn how to count carbs, but don’t stop there.
A good night’s sleep has a significant impact on how the body functions. Short sleep duration has been associated with promoting insulin resistance. Both the quality and quantity of sleep can have a profound effect on type-2 diabetes.
The journey towards your goal, whatever that is, begins with belief.
Emphasize a whole food plant-based diet. This may initially seem un-wise, as it is counter to common recommendations. However, as you swap low-carb fatty meats and cheese for plant-based carbs-containing protein, the goal is transformation in how your body processes those carbs. The emphasis on vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and fruit in the diet eliminates contributors to insulin resistance that we have briefly looked at in previous articles. These foods also have the potential to improve diabetes by providing the substrates for optimal function of the community of bacteria living in our gut.
Drench your insides with water. While diet soda and zero calorie, sugar-free drinks contain no carbs or calories, they promote insulin resistance. Replacing these drinks with water is another important step. It may be a challenge to get used to but it will pay off.
Commit to daily physical exercise. A short walk after meals and strengthening muscles using weights, bands, or your own body weight, along with a form of continuous activity engaged in for more than 20 minutes at a time, have different and important roles in achieving improvement.
I often ask my patients if they are looking for improved diabetes management or disease reversal. Depending on the individual’s starting point, these approaches can require different levels of energy. It requires a bit more horsepower to back up a hill than to maintain a steady state.
The journey towards your goal, whatever that is, begins with belief. Do you believe that it can happen for you? Eric Adams shares how reading the Forks Over Knives plan made him so smart. I don’t think it was just exposure to information that made him smart. I think it was his belief that it could happen for him. The truth rings out in Scripture; “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.