A true story.
It’s not easy, but with focus & discipline it is truly possible to reverse the diabetic condition, for a better wellness outlook overall. In 6 months I went from full diabetic to normal and lost over 25 lbs too. Here’s how it went down.
You know how you just know when something is wrong? Well, I knew something was wrong in January 2017.
From felt intuition to actual evidence, there was something going on that needed to be addressed — fast. Weeks of weird sluggishness (or moments of jitteriness), tongue-twisted thirstiness despite chugging like a gallon of water, and waking up to use the bathroom multiple times a night. Ugh. Maybe it’s time to have a professional take a look. No beating around the bush on this one — having just turned 40, this coulda been serious. Needed to get it taken care of. Hey, I got designs to deliver and (at that time) clients to serve!
So I went in for a physical exam early Feb 2017. Blood tests were ordered — measuring my A-1C and lipids panel for cholesterol, too. I’m not a fan of needles, but as long as I don’t look, it’s A-OK ;-)
But what wasn’t OK was the call at my house by my primary care physician two days later. He was super serious. I had full-on diabetes diagnosed, technically Adult Onset Diabetes, Type II. My A1C was 11. That’s right — the aggregate measure of sugar in my blood for an extended duration (over several months) was way the hell over the normal measure of 5.7. My doctor (and subsequently his nurse) wanted to put me on meds ASAP — metformin and even insulin. Yeah, that stuff. <shiver> I don’t like needles and I don’t wanna inject myself daily. No way! #resist
After hanging up upon giving my respectful, somber acknowledgements of the gravity of the situation, I just…Freaked. The. Hell. Out. I mean, being a South Asian (Indian) male with diabetes in my immediate family history, I knew my number would be called up at some point, so to speak. I just didn’t think it would happen this soon. This young. (and yes, all y’all Snapchatting Gen Z’ers, 40 is young! Trust me.)
So I resolved to do what it takes to a) defeat this and b) never take any medications. From a political and philosophical POV, I have zero interest in perpetuating the gross capitalistic enslavement of the sick & vulnerable to profit-obsessed pharmaceutical giants that perversely feast on said sick. Fuck that. #resist
I spent two whole days (it was over the weekend — yup my doctor called me on Saturday AM! Jammies, waffles, cartoons and all.) just scouring the interwebs looking for all kinds of information on how to control sugars, even possibly reverse diabetes (could it really be done?). Diets, exercises, habits, methods. I was determined to escape this “condition” and get back to normalcy — and this was all the while our national sense of normalcy was being blown to bits, I decided to start a full-time job at a new company, while helping the production of a major UX conference, and mentoring start-up execs on UX matters. Whew! But hey, let’s fight us some diabetes!
So what did I do?
There were three basic phases: 1) immediate crash with zero tolerance 2) burning calories (and thus spinning up my body’s metabolism) via daily exercise and 3) steady evolution & sustenance of habits — both physical and dietary, to get me to a vastly improved A1C blood sugar measure. Notice the total absence of medicines. NONE. #resist
Phase 1: Crash the system
So after my weekend of scouring and absorbing everything scary and hopeful, I just threw everything out of my fridge and cabinets: all white starches (my new rule was: if it’s white, don’t eat it! #BrownFoodsMatter — really! :-), all sugary foods, cookies, ice cream, candies, sourdough bread, rices (I’m Indian — so rice is a big eff’ing deal for my diet), etc.
Just shut it all down.
Thus, my new diet then consisted of proteins (fishes like salmon/mackerel/tuna & chicken, occasional lamb or beef), leafy veggies (kale, spinach, collards), black beans & lentils, multigrain whole wheat toast & stoneground wheat crackers, fruits like blueberries, oranges, apples. Avocados too! Light cheeses. And lots of cucumbers. Cucumber water is excellent for glycemic issues. Oh, and because I was also having cholesterol issues (yay, what a fun double whammy!) I splurged on flax, chia, and hemp seeds. Snacked on almonds and walnuts. And also cooking with olive, grapeseed, and avocado oils. It’s all about Omega-3s and Omega-6s! And tons of water. water. water. water. (and green tea!)
No cookies, cupcakes, dried fruits (those are the worst too — craisins? Nope!), Indian sweets, etc. No sodas! No fruit juices! (indeed, to this date, 6 months in I still haven’t had a drop of soda or fruit juice — I forget what they were like!)
Those are truly the worst. And, as a fine connoisseur of good drinks, I consumed no cocktails. Just straight bourbon or whiskey with some water or an ice cube. I’d cut out all those mixers and bitters, etc. It’s all nasty sugar anyway. I’d still do some red wine at night with dinner for heart/cholesterol. Just a few sips!
Sugar is the enemy! #resist #fight
But I’m also human. So for sweet tooth temptations I would enjoy small pieces of dark chocolate (70% or more) which has notable health benefits, thankfully. Or sugar-free mints (Altoids “smalls”). Or a piece of fruit.
Phase 2: Burn it all down
A crucial factor to improving my blood sugar situation was getting my metabolism back into the swing of things. Phrased differently, I had to get moving with daily rigorous exercise. And not just “moving around” or “casual strolls” but truly pushing myself, with intensity. Break a sweat, gasp for breath.
So I did a few things immediately:
- Woke up daily at 5:45am by iPhone alarm (remember folks, this was in early Feb, so it was dark and cold!) and spend 30–45 mins every morning, including weekends, truly exercising: yoga-inspired stretching and strength building positions, with old school stuff — push-ups, sit-ups/crunches, squats, jumping jacks. Get the gears going internally. They’ve been rusty for so long…I could almost hear/feel the creaking of muscles getting unstuck, finally moving.
- With running. Lots of running. Running in place in front of my bedroomTV (watching Trump’s racist / fascist antics on MSNBC truly got my blood going!), or running down a long hallway in my house. Running around the block a few times. About 2–3 miles in mornings …and another 2–3 miles in the evenings. Slowly at first and then building up the pace & intensity over time. Burn calories. Burn through the carbs and sugars built up over the past year. Just burn it all down!
- Towards that end, I “invested” (read: splurged) in a new Apple Watch Nike+ edition, lululemon running pants, Nike Air shoes with special Nike socks for cushioning. I spent like $500 on all that — while knowing my own personal consumer psychology, I was determined to make use of all of it, not just waste my money with them gathering dust in my closet. Six months later I’m still using that same set (well, I bought some new socks ;-)
It was incredibly hard at first (I was panting, out of breath after just a few minutes!) but I forced myself to follow the adage of Nike- Just do it.
My doctor’s nurse asked me what was motivating me to push myself so much, so hard. I replied by uttering one word: “Fear”.
Fear of suffering, fear of going bankrupt on pricey meds (thanks to TrumpCare or whatever), fear of dying alone in a hospital sick and poor. Because sadly in America, that’s considered a mundane occurrence, not an extraordinary horror, as it should. We live in a society that despises its own citizens in favor of petty corporate greed. This is not a society kind to those who suffer chronic, debilitating health conditions.
So, given all this, I was vehemently determined to not become yet another statistic, but instead prove it all wrong through sheer willpower. Do the extraordinary thing.
The fear kept me alive, while the pain kept me strong.
But more importantly, the hope gave me spirit. I began to enjoy it, truly embrace and indulge in the “runner’s high” of pushing myself and seeing bonafide results over the ensuing weeks and months. Indeed, the pounds just melted off and the numbers came down, stabilizing into a new normal routine. Which leads to…
Phase 3: Small habits working over time
So how do you make it all work together into the normal rhythms of daily living? Crashing and burning are wild rebellious actions, momentary in their zeal. But just like a strategic designer you must consider how somebody at home or work would truly use a digital product/service integrated into their routines — how do you make this all sustainable, even enjoyable lifestyle improvements that shape habits and attitudes, for the long haul? For months and years…
First, realize that it takes ~ 3 weeks to make a true behavioral change that’s adapted into normalcy. You have to keep at it with focus and discipline. And— No cheating. Ever. I was super harsh and strict on myself about that for a long while. Absolutely no cheats. I had friends doing diets with “cheat days” — fuck that. If you’re serious about this, you gotta imagine you’ll die the moment you bite into a chocolate cake. Truly and literally imagine death. And pain. And suffering. Not just for you. But for everyone around you. All your friends and family. Cradle that dire, terrible moment in your mind, in your soul. Now, is that chocolate cake worth it? Didn’t think so. It’s just silly cake. Your life is worth more than a decadent combo of eggs, milk, sugar, flour for $7.95. #ResistCake :-) Learn patience and resistance. It truly makes you stronger. In spirit, mind, and body.
That acquired strength becomes your refuge. Exult in it.
So IMHO you must be truly serious about this if you want to defeat diabetes, reverse a chronic health condition. Zero tolerance, at least in the beginning (eventually as I got things way under control and lost over 20 lbs, then I slowly re-entered banned foods on occasion). Remember, the goal is to defeat diabetes, not some brief pause. To eliminate it from your existence. So you can live a better life in the long run. With total strength and confidence.
Second, it’s the little things that helped during the days and nights:
- Parking the car far away, and forcing myself to take the stairs. And don’t just leisurely go up, but hustle it! Feel the burn.
- Making extra trips from the garage up to the kitchen when carrying groceries or trash, etc. (I currently live in a 3 story townhouse — hey more steps to count!)
- Eating with smaller plates via smaller utensils. Truly. Think about it — the way our American food consumption system is designed (ahem) it’s all about massive gorging on piles of food at cheap prices. Buffets, super-sized drinks (full of sugar), giant utensils optimized for shoveling lotsa food into your mouth rapidly (while watching tantalizing TV that make you forget you’re gorging). It’s a destructive system of decadence. When you’re handed a large plate the initial impulse is to fill it up with food. So, let’s reverse it — take a smaller plate, which encourages smaller portions! And if you’re a well-trained designer, you’re more sensitive to the white space among food items ;-) Have fun with it!
- Use smaller utensils to take smaller bites of food, that you chew slowly. You’ll get full faster with fewer subsequent tummy issues. Savor the damn flavor! I often used chopsticks at dinner or lunch, since I’m not expertly agile with them but can get some food in my mouth usually ;-) It forced me to slow down and eat smaller. What a concept.
- Lots of periodic snacking on almonds, seeds, berries and drinking tons of water. Healthy hydration is key, especially when working in large corporate campuses with awful HVAC systems that feel like airplane cabins.
Also note, during all this I’m taking blood sugar readings (the classic finger prick) in the morning (fasting, right after waking up) and nightly (just before going to bed). I did this to help self assess and ensure I’m tracking well overall, and thus course-correct as needed in terms of either food or activity levels.
// Daily Routine: OK so here it is, what I did (and still do) daily —
- 5:45 am — wake up and exercise (run, etc.) ; plank for 3 minutes (3x 1 minute reps)
- Breakfast — one slice of sprouted wheat or multigrain toast with Benecol spread, or hummus, or avocado, topped with flax or hemp seeds, plenty of fresh ground basil and Himalyan pink salt, maybe sprinkle parmesan cheese
- Weekend breakfast I did egg white omelette with chopped veggies (spinach, peppers, onions, cilantro, etc.), maybe turkey bacon
- Mid-morning Snack — almonds, walnuts, berries, mints, maybe a piece of dark chocolate
- Lunch — Either salad (no dressing, just oil & vinegar with pepper), sushi/nigiri, wok sautéed veggies, or grilled protein with veggies. Ditto on weekends. No rice or carbs/starches.
- Mid-afternoon Snack — ditto from AM, usually more chocolate ;-) Maybe espresso with no milk, no sugar. (no more than 3x a week)
- Evening exercise — run 2–3 miles around block ; plank for 3 minutes (3x 1 minute reps)
- Evening pre-dinner Snack — Skinny Pop brand popcorn, Multigrain tortilla chips with flax, avocado, Gin or whiskey with water
- Dinner — Sauteed or grilled protein (fish or chicken or beef) with veggies (kale, collards, spinach, green beans), cup of soup (lentils, beans, dals). Dessert — fruits after with chia seeds.
- NO SECONDS. You eat one plate. Still hungry? Then have some fruit like an apple, or a small piece of dark chocolate.
- Glass of red wine (1/4 or less full)
As a result of these new habits, I noticed some fascinating effects:
- My taste profile changed totally, with greater sensitivity to various tastes, spices, etc.
- Foods became too salty or sweet for me (I recently had a hard time enjoying some Michelin quality dishes in NYC — just too strong!)
- I began to slow down overall, with a calmer, mellower approach overall
- And of course loss of weight with also, an increase in energy, alertness, that felt very clean and pure. Less crap in my system?? Yay.
- And I just kept it up naturally. It eventually became a routine, normalized for me as a regular steady state. Not some new crazy fad or diet, just something regular. There’s a compelling level of adaptation and response, the human body and mind are amazingly malleable for good or ill. In the end, it became less of a chore and more of a true lifestyle and attitude shift that began from fear, but embraced in joy.
I saw the results which affirmed that yes it can be done.
In the end…
After 6 months, having endured the focus and discipline of determination to beat diabetes, I went back for a physical and blood test. My A1C fell from 11 in early Feb to 5.4 in late August — below the official standard line! I am now technically (the weirdly phrased) euglycemic, which simply means normal sugar concentration in my blood over an extended time period.
So that’s how I defeated diabetes. It can be done. It’s not easy, and every body is different, but if you have the will and support, your ability to achieve it is that much greater. #resist #fight #live