The following morning I had a Zoom call with a group of men I refer to as my Wisdom Council. The general purpose of the weekly call is to support one another through life’s ups and downs, week to week.
Driving home from the clinic, my mind was racing. I formulated the beginnings of a plan on how to recover from diabetes: a complete withdrawal from sweets, anything containing wheat, and starchy foods like potatoes and rice. I had read about wheat belly years earlier but never could give up my hot bagels, fresh whole-wheat bread, or several other favorites — pasta, pizza, and Basmati rice with spicy Indian food. I resolved to research diabetes itself and the best means possible for defeating it.
A prime place where excess glucose is stored is in the liver. So the liver becomes fatty — and thus far less efficient at its job of metabolizing food. Fat around the belly pretty much assures that other visceral organs are fat-laden, too.
Uh-oh. Some of my other favorite foods had to go: fruits, lentils, chickpeas, and beans. Oatmeal, granola, and milk. Quinoa, rice, and all other grains. Not only potatoes but sweet potatoes as well (the healthier option, I’d always thought).
Rarely a day went by when I didn’t eat one or two of the wide variety of fresh fruits available where I live — in the Philippines. I avoided fast-food restaurants and rarely bought processed foods. Whenever a recipe called for sugar, I replaced it with honey — a healthier choice.
On reflection, I knew the source of the diabetes problem. After walking the Camino de Santiago in 2019, I was at my lowest weight in 30 years. In the following nine months, I had gained 20 pounds — still, in my mind, on the high side of “normal”.
When the doctor prescribed Metformin — a diabetes-control drug — I gave it not a moment’s consideration. I’m 70 and have always avoided maintenance medications. When a checkup indicated the presence of an abnormal condition, I’d research its cause and try to address it with supplements or diet rather than drugs.
An item that popped up in my research seemed like a no-brainer to me: intermittent fasting. So I resolved to start 16:8 fasting after that night’s dinner. That’s 16 hours of fasting (say, from 8 p.m. in the evening until 12 p.m. the next day), followed by an eight-hour eating window (12 p.m.-8 p.m., for instance). Then wash, rinse, and repeat. Also, cue the internal monologue:
It became very clear within an hour or two of researching diabetes that my lifelong appreciation of breads and pasta was surely a primary cause of the problem. The carbohydrates in food are quickly transformed into glucose in the body. Insulin — produced by the pancreas in response to eating — is supposed to metabolize that glucose so it can meet the body’s short-term energy needs. But with Type 2 diabetes, the body has become insulin-resistant. In other words, insulin can’t do its job, so the glucose accumulates in the blood and is stored in cells as fat.
But in the five months before my diagnosis, the COVID-19 lockdown had had its way with me. I had spent long hours every day at my computer, mindlessly nibbling soda crackers or other salty snacks out of boredom. My gym was closed, and technically I was prohibited from leaving my home. I still walked in circles around the rather large lot where I live for three miles on most days. But eating from boredom and reduced exercise added another 20 pounds to my weight.
Modern medical research has discounted the old myth that high cholesterol levels lead to heart disease and higher mortality rates, so I didn’t worry about it much. I had accepted the condition as hereditary, without giving it much thought. My doc now, though, referred to those numbers as verification of my diabetes diagnosis. I wondered if that was true.
Since leaving the USA in 2010, I had lost touch with these and other men from my men’s brotherhood (The ManKind Project). Previously, I had sat in weekly face-to-face gatherings among these men for over ten years. Due to COVID-19, they had recently started holding their gatherings on Zoom and reached out to me to join them. Sitting with these men again in weekly circles was truly a redeeming aspect of the pandemic.
Many maintenance medications are putting a Band-Aid on a disorder rather than correcting it at its source. And frequently, the side effects can be worse than the original condition.
The blood panel with my high HbA1c marker also showed a few items I had seen on my blood tests throughout my adult life: high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol. I had avoided taking the statins prescribed by my docs and tried to manage this with diet — but nothing seemed to correct them.
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