Oh Shit, Now What?

Okay let me start by paying off this clickbait headline right away: A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. TL;DR I made life changes, and so far they are working.

Let’s take a step back.

I’ve never exactly been a skinny guy. Even back in high school when I was in the best shape of my life, I weighed around 180 pounds. Four years of pizza and beer at the University of Illinois took that up to around 200 or so, where I stayed throughout my 20s. In my 30s, relentless travel and all the associated bad habits–usually pizza and beer–drove my weight up even further. I became the Big Tuna (thanks Sal and Capitan Ron for that).

Then in August of 2012, I hit an all time high at 246 pounds. Of course I had just bought a wifi-enabled scale–just because–so all of my glorious highs and lows over the years are tracked forever.

But even worse than clocking in at nearly 246, in my annual physical I learned that my blood sugar was elevated all the way into the pre-diabetes range. Not terrible yet, but it scared me. I changed my diet and started tracking everything I ate using an app called LoseIt! I tried to eat ~1200 calories, a day backing out any exercise. For example, if I burned 400 calories running a 5k I could have three glasses of wine. So I started running, a lot.

And It worked! By the time I started a new job at Acquia in late 2012 I was down 30 pounds, and by February I was all the way down to 202!

Even better, I got my blood work done again and I had fallen out of the pre-diabetes range. For most of 2013, I continued to do really well. I tracked my calories every day. I worked out with a trainer a few times a week. I ran at least a few times a week. I even did three Tough Mudders in one summer.

West Side

But then life happened. I had my daughter in late 2013, which made it harder to keep up the insane exercise program I was on. I stopped tracking calories. And by the time I left Acquia for RapidMiner in 2015, I was all the way back up to 231 pounds, and guess what? My blood sugar was again back in the pre-diabetes range.

But this time, I didn’t make any dramatic changes. I did lose ~15 or so pounds over the next few months, and every 6 months or so I got my blood checked and each time I was “safely” in the pre-diabetes range.

Until February 2019.

I had pushed off my bi-annual bloodwork because I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t feel right. I had even started to eat less and workout more in a crash diet attempt to fix my blood sugar. But it doesn’t work that way.

The main measurement used to diagnose Diabetes is the A1C test, a blood test that provides information about your average levels of blood sugar over the past 3 months. Eating well for a few weeks can impact your fasting blood sugar, but moving an A1C over a short period of time is impossible.

So when I finally went in to get my blood tested, I knew it was going to be bad. But I couldn’t have imagined how bad it would be. For context, an A1c of between 4% and 5.6% is considered good, that’s what everyone should shoot for. Anything between 5.7% and 6.4% is considered pre-diabetes. In previous tests, I was somewhere between 6.1-6.3%.

I checked in at a cool 11%, an average blood sugar of 269 over a 90 day period.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Looking back, I have no idea how it got that bad. I really hadn’t gained any significant weight, and my diet really didn’t change, I’ve always been a pizza and beer guy. My doctor didn’t get it either, and we even considered running the test again because it was so crazy high. But I knew deep down it was bad and the test had to be right. Normally at such a high A1C you’d be put in insulin, but my doctor trusted that I could get it back under control. To do that, I had to make a change, for real and forever.

After doing some research in lots of places (shout out /r/diabetes) I settled on doing two things to get back on track: Intermittent fasting and Keto.

Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular health and fitness trends. It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. There are lots of techniques, but I settled in on the 16/8 method: Skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 12–9 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between.

I also starting cutting carbs and eventually went all the way to Keto. The Keto diet aims to force your body into using a different type of fuel. Instead of relying on sugar from carbohydrates, the keto diet relies on ketone bodies, a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat. With Keto, you’ve got to limit yourself to like 30-40 net carbs a day. It’s difficult but possible. Especially when you are only eating two meals a day.

I cut out Diet Soda. I cut out my morning Sugar Free Red Bull. I’ve cut out snacks including my all-time favorite Utz Pretzel Rods. I haven’t had more than a slice of pizza in months. I limit myself to a beer or two a week. But let’s not go crazy, wine is low-ish enough carb to keep in the diet.

And the changes worked. I’m a sample size of one, but as of this morning I’m at my lowest weight since New Kids on the Block had the Right Stuff. I donated every XL shirt I own because they don’t fit. I’m never going back.

Through better eating and testing my blood sugar a few times a day, I’m in a much better place with my blood sugar too. My A1C is already down to 7.5% after 6 weeks, and I’m confident that I’ll be down to pre-diabetes levels in a few months. And this time, I’ll stay there. There’s science behind why Keto and intermittent fasting work for Type 2 Diabetes.

I wrote this post to keep myself accountable. If I keep this plan up, I’ll take my A1c back down to pre-diabetic and maybe even non-diabetic levels. I’ll always have Type 2 Diabetes, but it’s totally manageable.

I’ll save my preachy stuff for last: the American diet sucks. I made all the bad choices myself. No one forced me chase a Dominos pizza with a four pack of IPAs. But we make it really hard for people to eat well. Nutrition guidelines are a joke, gamed by minuscule serving sizes that hide the truth behind calories and carbs.

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