If you remember from my last post, after I was diagnosed type 2 diabetes I had a serious period of fear and denial. A bleak future loomed in front of me, a worst case scenario of a painful, disintegrating decline into disease that ended in premature death and a wasted life.
Then I spoke with a woman I consider a close confidante, and a mentor of sorts, who threw me a lifeline out of my panic and despair by telling me that diabetes is almost always reversible. Grabbing hold of that moment of hope, I began the research into discovering for myself if this was true, if one could actually reverse this disease.
I found out that, indeed, it is true. I could reverse diabetes in my life.
And you can too.
And the four steps to reversing diabetes—diet, movement, strength and sleep—continue to be a huge part of my life on a daily basis.
WHAT WILL I EAT?!?
I don’t know if you can relate, but food plays a central role in my psyche. Food is a primary creative expression for me. It is central to my community—gatherings, whether of celebration, grief, or just an ordinary Friday night elevated into some kind of occasion by the company you keep and the food you share. On some level for me, feeding people equates an expression of love. Food is a part of my life from which many other aspects hang.
It didn’t take long after I began my research on diabetes reversal that I quickly realized that I had to make substantial, permanent dietary changes. In part this was made easier by the fact that twenty years earlier I had had to make radical changes to my diet after being diagnosed with celiac’s disease, commonly known as gluten intolerance. (Incidentally, at this point, the research that I have been able to obtain doesn’t provide any direct link to celiac’s disease and developing type 2 diabetes.) I had had to already learn a whole new way of eating once before, eating gluten free, so I knew what sort of battle I staring down this time.
In another way, understanding what I looking at made it harder too. As I faced another radical dietary change. I remember crying inside, “What will I be able to eat? I am already so limited because of being gluten free! How will I cook for people? How will I be able to enjoy eating?” Not only did I have visions of declining health and a ghastly end, but now also having to live on a minimal variety of tasteless, uninteresting, uninviting foods. But the hard truth was that in order to regain my health and prevent that ghastly, premature end I had envisioned upon diagnosis, I had to limit and eliminate certain types of food, (primarily carbs as we commonly know them) and learn another new way of eating—eating for diabetes reversal.
Eventually, as my mental and emotional equilibrium righted itself and I started reading books and cookbooks related to a diabetic reversal diet, my natural creativity surrounding food reasserted itself and I began to take the changes on as a challenge. A challenge to get what I wanted both ways, to have my proverbial cake and eat it too. To reverse diabetes and still enjoy cooking and eating and sharing the right foods in the right amounts with the right people.
WHAT DID I EAT?!?
During my research, I discovered that type 2 diabetes is primarily a disease rooted in food. Wrong food and nutritional choices. Too much food, too often. It is a disease you give yourself through your choices about food. Obesity is a controlling factor in diabetes, in both developing and reversing the disease.
The common figures given by experts are that eighty-percent of weight loss and health is what you eat and only twenty-percent exercise and rest. Some shift those numbers to seventy-five percent diet and twenty-five percent exercise, but you really won’t hear any health or fitness expert vary from those ratios.
That means that 80 percent of being healthy starts in the kitchen. That also means that 80 percent of reversing diabetes and regaining your health happens in the kitchen.
Or, to put it more bluntly within this context, 80 percent of reversing diabetes, and keeping it reversed, is what you put in your mouth. Every day. All day.
I had found several reliable websites and studies that showed that an initial fasting period followed by regular fasting periods to be highly effective in diabetes reversal, even allowing the pancreas to regenerate vital beta cells that produce insulin. By fasting the research did not recommend a total abstinence from food but rather keeping it to 500 – 600 calories a day.
As soon as I found this information, while I was continuing to do further research on diabetes reversal, I let my doctor know that I was embarking on a fast of this nature. For eleven days I had a vegan protein shake made with almond milk for breakfast, a vegan protein shake made with almond milk for lunch, a mid-afternoon snack of a large bowl of chicken bone broth (with a little added salt to help with leg cramps due to magnesium and potassium loss), then a dinner of part of a broiled breast of chicken and 3 cups of salad greens with 3 tsp of apple cider vinegar for dinner. In those eleven days, I lost nine pounds and brought my blood sugar to 130 or below.
Several times during the fast, I kept the doctor apprised of my condition. At the end of the fast she took me off the medication she had prescribed for me to lower blood sugar. In fact, the fast and subsequent diabetes reversal diet were so effective, I never made it to the full dosage of 4 pills a day. I only made it to 1/2 pill, 2 times a day before she took me off the medication altogether. She said with the progress I had made by diet change alone, she didn’t want my blood sugar to become too low.
PLEASE NOTE: I did NOT take myself off my medication. I worked closely with my doctor during this time and followed her instructions regarding medications. You should too.
I don’t want you to imagine that I am a person with an iron will, at least when it comes to food. I am not. Other things, maybe, but not food. I love so many aspects of food—cooking it, eating it, the creative aspect of it, feeding people’s souls with it. And the fasting was hard. In fact, I only made it for eleven days of a planned fourteen day fast. Every day it was a struggle.
So many people said that after the third day of fasting, hunger disappears and it becomes much easier. I found that to be a load of crap, frankly. I was hungry every day all day, and everyday I felt weaker and weaker. I did a lot of lying down and I was glad I had the “luxury” of being unemployed at this point in my life so I could. I could never have worked a job or managed a family for such a long period of time on such limited food.
But I was also determined and dedicated to this quest. I was NOT going into my best years diabetic and pathetic. This disease, which is an optional disease and something I gave myself, was not going to eat into the best half of my life which I am convinced—to this day—is still in front of me.
After the fast, I followed the low (grain-based) carb diet found in Dr. Don Colbert’s book “Reversing Diabetes”. The helpful advice I found in there for not only diet but supplementation, nutrition and exercise made it possible for me to continue to lose weight and lower my blood sugar into the normal range, even without being able to exercise. I also used some of Joel Furhman’s ideas in his book “Diabetes No More”. He follows a vegan approach which, while I am not vegan, I found to be very creative and providing variety in recipes for fruits and vegies which was helpful when removing grain-based carbs from the diet..
I lost over twenty pounds in two months, between the fast and the diet approach in Dr. Colbert’s book. I went in for another check up 2 months after my initial diagnosis, and my A1C was in the 6% range—still pre-diabetic but way down. My doctor was amazed. She told me to keep it up, and so I did.
Over the next four months I lost another 12 pounds (total of 33) and got my A1C down to 5.3%, officially the non-diabetic range! That is not even considered pre-diabetic. Through following this diet pattern, although not as strict at times, I have kept my A1C in the 5% range for over two years, no medications—only diet, exercise and supplements.
Since then I’ve investigated several types of low-carb diets—Ketogenic, Paleo, Mediterranean, Specific Carbohydrate Diet—and have incorporated the parts that work for me into my diet to provide variety and keep diabetes reversed.
I would be remiss if I did not write here about drinking water. Drinking enough water is vital to not only your health in general, but in regaining your health and maintaining type 2 diabetes reversal.
It is true that one of the more common symptoms of t2 is inordinate thirst. But what I am talking about is consuming water for health, rather than because of disease.
I drink at least 64 ounces, and up to 80 ounces, of water every day besides other beverages like green tea or coffee or sparkling water. Two quarts, minimum, everyday of plain water. Some experts say that you should drink an ounce of water every day for each two pounds you weigh, so a 180 pound person should drink 90 ounces of water per day.
When my blood sugar is high, I’ll have extra water and it helps to lower my blood sugar. And yes, I pee—a lot, but it is worth it. There are other benefits to staying hydrated—my skin is fresh, my eyes are clear, I rarely have brain fog. Since it isn’t optional to my good health I’ve adopted the habit along with my other new food choices and learned to enjoy it.
Besides what I ate, there were a couple of other factors related to food intake that made a HUGE difference in reversing and maintaining the reversal. The first is when I ate. The second is how much I ate. Both of these factors play key roles in keeping my blood sugar and A1C in the non-diabetic range.
I’ll cover those two things in more detail in the next post.