This first appeared in https://medium.com/@roncar
I stress-snacked my way through a television career and was best friends with the vending machine.
Got to talk a guest around from pulling out of a show? That was a two KitKat phone call. Without chocolate, there would be no chit-chat and no convincing. Securing a US daytime exclusive with Saddam Hussein’s son’s former personal assistant was higher stakes, requiring super-sized Twix bars, a packet of salt and vinegar, plus a Mars Bar, post phone call, ahead of sharing the news with my boss.
Years later, when I was running in and out of edit suites, scripting, and story-shaping reality shows, there would always be edit sweets. And edit cakes.
My love of sugary treats and calorie-dense refined carbs — little rewards for working hard — were a ticking time bomb.
I’d never been ill. Never needed to take a daily prescription. But last year, something wasn’t right and my body was firing off warnings.
I’d spend the summer producing a new show for BBC3 in Britain. The schedule was vigorous, but it was a fun idea about throwing parties, and the production team was vibrant and opinionated. One morning, we were talking about the importance of breakfast and I casually mentioned I had 4 pieces of toast. Everyone thought that was excessive, especially as I was now eating a cheese pickle sandwich, within 20 minutes of arriving at my desk. I’d been Toast Shamed by my staff.
They had a point, though. The truth was: I was always hungry.
I knew also that I was slowly losing weight, which initially I put down to the physical demands of filming. After months of working from home and putting on lockdown lard, I welcomed it. But by the end of summer, when filming wrapped, I’d often wake up feeling “3-per-cent not right.” Faint-ish.
There was also my big toe, which one night developed a life of its own, standing bolt upright for a few minutes, and while it was not painful, it looked broken before returning to the usual position of its own accord. Weird.
Then, last November, I was attending the International Emmys in New York and I’d bought a tux that needed to be adjusted by a tailor. I returned to the store two weeks later to pick the suit up and declined an offer to try it on again to make sure it fitted properly.
Big mistake. At the event, I spent much of the night pulling up my pants. Were the tailor’s adjustments so off? Or was it me?
On the tarmac at JFK, waiting to return to Britain, I had a little heart trickle, something .I’d
never experienced before, that came out of nowhere. Just a few seconds of a gentle fluttery-something, but enough to underline that things weren’t right.
Like a lot of men, I don’t go to the doctor’s very often, but when I landed, I decided it was time for a full check-up. A week later, I got the results of my blood test, and she did not prepare me for what I was about to hear.
“You are dangerously ill and need immediate intervention,” said the doctor.
My blood sugar was alarmingly high. My body wasn’t able to process carbs properly, and it was the reason I was constantly hungry. Glucose was struggling to break into my cells and give them energy and instead was running riot in my body, potentially damaging nerves. I was told bluntly: I could go blind or lose a foot unless I got to grips with what was happening.
I was a fully qualified Type 2 Diabetic, and it was also the reason for my poor cholesterol numbers.'
“You are at an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke,” added the doctor, sternly.
It was a wake-up call, and it was better to hear it now rather than later.
A Silent Epidemic
37 million Americans are diabetic — that’s the population of Canada. 1 in 3 are pre-diabetic, and 1 in 5 are unaware they have it. This silent epidemic stops people from processing carbs properly and it can affect anyone. Left unchecked, it shortens lives.
I already knew a bit about diabetes because, two years younger than I am now, my mom was diagnosed with Type 2 (It was called Adult-Onset Diabetes, back then.) It had caused sudden and dramatic weight loss and ultimately lead to her death from a heart attack. I was 16. So, no messing. I was ready to tackle the problem head-on.
There’s lots of advice about what to do, and some people who are diabetic seem to treat their disease in a very relaxed way. That would not be my approach. I needed to commit to lifestyle changes.
I turned to YouTube and got advice that made sense to me: I was going to go from being vegetarian to mostly plant-based, inspired by experts like Cyrus Khambatta, PhD., and Robby Barbaro, authors of the New York Times Best Seller Mastering Diabetes.
Here’s the promise I made to myself to win back my health, with sign-off from my doctor, which you should always get— and #5 is something you should do, regardless:
Massively reduce or eliminate processed foods, especially refined carbs, and anything with a species of sugar called high fructose corn syrup. I replaced my usual snacks with homemade Kale Chips and focused on whole foods. I continue to eat fruit, in limited quantities, and I make sure my diet contained lots of healthy fats like nuts, olives and avocado.
Replace processed bread, pasta, and rice which can cause glucose “spikes” with beans and pulses, giro-spiraled courgettes and shredded cabbage, and focus on better portion control, overall.
I made a greater commitment to reducing stress because that can cause a glucose spike. Do what works for you, but breathing exercises and meditation made a tremendous difference for me.
Exercise more. I invested in an elliptical machine, but even a brisk walk of 20 minutes a day is transformative.
Belly Up! My advice to everyone is: Get a tape measure and throw it around your body, at belly button level.
Doctors recommend that if you are a man, your belly measurements should generally be under 40 inches (102 cm), and under 35 inches (89 cm) for women. That keeps your visceral fat, the nasty stuff that surrounds your organs, in check. Anything over that, and you’re at increased risk of health problems and premature death. I’ve shrunk 5 inches.
Once I’d changed my diet and started eating more foods that were healthier and gave me a sense of satiety, the urge to snack in between meals disappeared. The fibre-rich foods I was eating kept me feeling fuller and my blood-sugar levels re-balanced.
A few weeks ago, I returned to the doctor’s for an HbA1c test, which reveals your blood sugar (glucose) levels over the previous 3 months. I was feeling fitter, but would that translate into hard data?
I completely reversed my Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis…
I lost weight for all the right reasons — 25lbs. — which is key to a successful reversal. In fact, I am now at the same weight as I was in my twenties, which was a very long time ago!
“Keep doing what you are doing,” said the doctor.
Today, on paper, I’m normal. I don’t have diabetes, and my cholesterol numbers are looking good, too.
At my next appointment, the doctor said we can probably talk about coming off the one diabetic tablet I need to take in the mornings, and perhaps the statin.
You can get away with a lot in your 20s and 30s, but as soon as you hit 40, you have to take care of yourself. And if you’re lucky enough to be around in your 50s, you really should take the adage “You only get one body,” to heart.
UPDATE: July 2022. On the approval of my Doctor, I have come off my meds. I no longer need a daily diabetic tablet, or a statin to help control cholesterol, which was heightened as a result of too much glucose running riot.