Part 9: Kicking Sugar to the Curb

At the beginning of this series, I said that the two biggest components to reversing my diabetes was changing my diet and increasing my exercise. The last post covered exercise and this blog post is my simple attempt at describing how my diet changed everything!

GLUTEN
Back in the early 2000's it seemed like every other patient had a problem with something in the environment. One of the ailments that kept creeping up on the health history forms of my dental patients was something called: "gluten allergy/sensitivity."

If I'm being truthful, at the time I thought it was a bunch of hooey. Seriously people. Who has an allergy to grains? It's a staple food all over the world. Why is this not a pandemic issue? 

Enter my favorite podcast: Stuff You Should Know. I popped in the episode about gluten as I drove the family to Santa Cruz for our annual vacation. By the time I got to the coast, I was convinced and telling Kendra: "I think I have a gluten sensitivity." So I spent the entire week on vacation avoiding gluten and much to my surprise I discovered a few noticeable changes:

  • My joints stopped aching.
  • I was no longer bloated after a small meal.
  • I literally stopped burping and farting.
  • I slept better.
  • I was not foggy headed.

I did not need to get a blood test. The anecdotal evidence was in: Stay away from gluten and you will feel better!

REMEMBER IRON MAN
The liver issues I had caused me to reduce the amount of iron rich foods (Remember though, I was still treating the symptom, not the cause). I also discovered that a modified Atkin's diet helped to lower my liver enzymes and ferritin levels. I was not putting all the pieces together yet, but I was still learning.

It's important to note here: I had a wife who was on board with every dietary change that I brought home. I think it's because Kendra wanted me to stick around for a little while, so every health change brought dietary changes and she was helpful to do what it took to take care of me. Seriously, I cannot overstate how important this was. She was and continues to be my biggest cheerleader and top chef! The number one reason this series was written was because of her encouragement. We all need support and I could not do this without her.

GLUTEN-FREE, SUGAR-FREE, DAIRY-FREE
About this same time, my friend and functional medicine doctor got involved. He was encouraging me to start a gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free diet. It seemed aggressive, but he had seen great results with his patients curing many issues by starting with controlling gut bacteria that was driven by sugar and dairy. He also knew (like my anecdotal results indicated) that gluten was a major player in inflammatory disease.

Let me pause one more time: our farming processes have changed. Our grains are different than they were when we grew up. The gluten we have in our food today is an inflammatory ingredient. If you are gassy, bloated, tired, groggy and have sore/stiff joints - just try super hard to give up gluten for 1 week. I promise you will just feel better.

The only problem was that his plan involved an entire system or a program to get things dialed in. I just wasn't there yet and wasn't willing to commit the time and effort to "following a plan." There was also the investment in all of the necessary blood test and supplements to get me on board. In retrospect it sounds good, but at the time it was going to take a lot more than just his advice to get me on board.

BOOZE FREE
I know, most of my loyal readers like to believe in the "Myth of Fletch." To some extent I probably help to propagate the myth. Folks, It's not all blenders, Fuzz Buzzes and Margarita Machine drinks around our house. At one point after my diabetes diagnosis I had chosen to go alcohol-free. The gluten in the beer bugged me and most wines would turn my ears bright red. The math was simple. Alcohol + Fletch = uncomfortable. So, I dropped the booze and chose to feel better. No judgment. No higher cause. I just like water and iced tea more than waking up in pain.

SHOCKED INTO REALITY
Let me remind you what was going on with my life at this point. I had descended into poor health: weight gain, hypertension, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. At the same time, I was stressed out and dealing with depression. I had started walking and exercising and began to see small changes in my life, but all the pieces were not coming together yet.

It took that final piece that I've already mentioned in a previous post.

After selling our home, I was finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and catch my breath. That's when I was shocked (literally) by my college neon Corona Beer sign. The electricity and subsequent muscle contractions led to a torn shoulder muscle. This led to a visit with an orthopedic surgeon which eventually led to a cortisone injection in my shoulder.

Cortisone and blood sugars don't play well together, so my testing numbers took off. It took a long time for me to bring them back under control. Funny enough, it was this little incident that pissed me off and made me realize it was time for me to understand my body chemistry.

Crazy changes for Fletch's body!

Crazy changes for Fletch's body!

GOING KETO
I had begun to research how to reverse Type 2 Diabetes and the answer I kept returning to was the Ketogenic Diet. Funny enough, this was essentially the same diet my friend/doctor had recommended. So, I studied, researched and jumped in to this new way of eating with both feet. 

It was all me with my own handpicked vitamin/mineral supplements. I began to feel good immediately, but it took about 6 weeks before my blood sugars dropped to normal and my HbA1C gave me the results I mentioned in the Introduction to this blog series.

As the weight came off, people kept asking what this diet looks like on a day to day basis. That is partially why I am writing this blog series.

My best advice comes from the world of podcasts. If you really want to know more about keto eating, I want you to go over and listen to the 2 Keto Dudes podcast. Start at episode 01 and listen through the first twenty shows. They are short shows and these guys do a fantastic job of explaining the ketogenic lifestyle. They use just enough science to explain it to a doctor, but not too much to bore the audience.

Yes, it's a lot of listening, but if you are serious about wanting to change, this is a great start. Remember it is going to take commitment. It's also going to take others to support your choices. The Keto Dudes have created a great community and they are the best thing to help you get started and stay motivated.

This was the tipping point in changing my health. This eating plan was the number one reason I dropped weight and changed my blood numbers.

For those wanting the absolute basics, this is what it looks like for me:

Daily Carbs = 0-25g - Just what I get in green leafy vegetables (otherwise the number is ZERO).
Daily Protein = 1-1.5g protein/kg of lean body mass. For me, that is approximately 90g protein.
Daily Fat=  As much as I can eat to satiate me.

Yes, it's a high fat, low carb and low protein diet.

As I type this right now, I'm down nearly 50lbs from where I started. I'm rarely hungry and my energy level is sky high. My exercise level is never inhibited by my eating or lack of eating. I fast intermittently and really only eat when I'm hungry. Which causes many to ask where all my energy comes from?

FAT BURNER
When you switch to a ketogenic diet, you no longer rely upon glucose to burn for energy, so you no longer convert your unused glucose to fat storage. Since you don't have excess glucose, you don't need as much insulin to deal with the extra glucose in your blood. (If you have paid attention, this means your liver is also not stressed out and throwing high enzymes).

Here's what changes: Your body stops looking to glucose for energy and learns to burn your stored fat for energy. Remember all those years you were eating Krispy Kremes, pizza and slurping down beer? All the extra glucose in those foods was stored as fat for future energy. When you convert to ketogenic eating, all of that stored fat becomes your primary source for energy. 

The truth for me: I HAD A TON OF STORED ENERGY (which is the new politically correct way to say that I was FAT!)  I have an untapped source for energy and it's all the fat I've stored around my belly, my liver, my other abdominal organs. As the weight has come off, my fat stores are being depleted.

The before and after photo above says it all. The proof is in the picture. My story is done!

I cured my Type2 Diabetes by taking control of my life, diving into the dark corners, allowing others to help and support me, taking on an exercise routine that worked for me, changing my diet, and remembering that each day was a new day and I had to make changes. 

Thanks to everyone I've previously mentioned for helping me make so many positive changes in my health, but especially my wife Kendra (go read her stuff - she's brilliant), my friends/doctors (Blankenship, Beech), my cancer doctor at Stanford (Dr. Peter Whang), all of my friends at Mid-Aged Maniacs (especially Laura), and my dogs Betty and Rasta!

Thanks for reading along...but don't leave just yet!


Now is the time for you to make a decision.

Do you want or need to make a change? It took me a long time to get there. Maybe this blog series has pushed you over the edge? Maybe it's the other mid-aged maniacs you read about? Maybe it's your own blood tests? I don't know.

Do you want to join me?
Do you want my help?

I'm not running classes. Just helping friends who were stuck like me. I've seen the changes and I think you will see them as well. If you want help, click this button below. Let's do this!

Part 8: Get Out and Get Walking!

Living life large with my Pop!

Living life large with my Pop!

If you are anything like me in my 40's, than you know how hard it is to find the motivation to start exercising. What made me think that I was suddenly going to start working on my health from the perspective of better exercise? Here's what it took and what I finally did to change things.

BOB
Bob was a wonderful friend and dental patient of mine. I met Bob in Bible Study Fellowship and he was already in his 70's. He was a true gentleman. He was sharp, polite and always well put together. Bob was also in great shape for his age. I remember mentioning that to him at one of his dental appointments and he remarked how he had a real turn around in his 50's. 

Prior to that, he had been a smoker and a real Type-A personality who travelled the world for business. I forget what it was that motivated him, but at some point he decided to start running. On the first day, he put on some tennis shoes and tried to run around the block. He made it to the mail box about three houses away and walked back, but that did not dissuade him from going back out the next day. So, he threw out his cigarettes and quit smoking. By the end of the week, he was running down to the corner and walking back. By the end of the month, he was able to run around his block.

By the time I met Bob, he had run in the San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston Marathon races. Bob taught me that you are never too out of shape and you are never too old to do something big.

MID-AGE MANIACS
Speaking of doing something big, I joined a Facebook group called Mid-Age Maniacs that was started by a few friends. Here is the description from the page:

Do you recognize the need and benefit for men and women to be pushing physical limits into and past middle age? From physical benefits, to mental and emotional health benefits, to setting an active example for our kids and grandkids, middle age guys and gals need to spend less time on the couch and more time out there crushing it.
It doesn’t matter what you’re into: 5k’s or marathons, MMA or tai chi, Crossfit or yoga, trail running, mountain biking, rock climbing, 100 mile craziness, calf roping, or whatever. Just be into SOMETHING! And CRUSH it.

This group was full of stories of people in their 40's and beyond who were doing big and scary things. Some were taking on a marathon or a half-marathon, others running a 5K/10K, some walking, some hiking and others were just taking on a big task. I lurked, I read, and I got inspired by others stories.

LAURA'S STORY
One of those people who inspired me was a friend named Laura. She had started her transformation several years prior. Like Bob, Laura was also a dental patient. What makes the stories of my patients so interesting is the noticeable results based on the gaps of time between visits. When you only see someone every six months the changes are very evident.

At one point, Laura came in my office and the physical change in her body was clear. We asked her to share her story and she told us that she had lost 125 pounds using Weight Watchers. I was absolutely blown away. First, we calculated that she had technically lost the weight of my dental assistant. As if the physical changes were not dramatic enough, just recognizing that she had been lugging around another human being was incredible. Second, was the knowledge and understanding that Laura had been at it for several years. She was a picture of determination and her story was inspiring to me.

Laura's story and transformation pushed me over the edge. She was looking and more importantly feeling better. It was because of her that I was inspired to make small changes and wait for the results. She eventually joined the Mid-Age Maniacs and I still continue to be inspired by the things she knocks off her list of big scary things. She has gone from a non-walker to a bad-ass runner! Such an inspiration to me and I hope to you too!

ARTHUR'S STORY
One morning I was scanning Facebook and I came across a video. If you are on social media, I'm sure you have seen the same video about a guy named Arthur who discovered yoga. I will post it here. Watch it now!

Arthur's story continues to amaze me. He went from being injured to be an amazing practitioner of yoga. To say that his transformation encourage me was an understatement. I purchased the videos and began practicing DDP Yoga.

Did I see the same transformation? Not quite, but I did realize a few things. I was horribly out of shape and I did find small changes in my body. I was able to touch my toes and my flexibility improved.  It also proved to me that change was not going to happen over night. It took long term commitment and an element of sticking to it.

WALKING WALKING WALKING
All of these stories started fitting together at the same time that I was being hit by waves of depression and stress. I have posted about this before, but this is where my need to get out and walk took off. Taking the kids or the dogs on a walk really helped me battle my stress and depression. I would often drive to the local college and walk anywhere from 1 to 5 miles with my dogs or kids.  

Hitting the trail with my big sis!

Hitting the trail with my big sis!

One of the things that I began to notice was that walking causes you to slow down. You see more things, you smell more things and you experience all the things you miss when you speed by in a car. It was intoxicating. Suddenly, I wanted to walk more and more. I asked everyone I knew to join me. Cold, Rain, Heat or Fog. I found myself waking up at 5AM so I could get in a few miles before work. I planned long walks into my vacation time and kept pushing myself to get faster and walk farther.

You would think that life out in the country would make walking fun. Nope! There is something about roaming dogs in the country that takes all the fun out of a walk in the orchards. Instead, I got to know the neighborhoods around my office and found myself walking everyday at lunch too.

I also took up hiking and found myself driving out to the local river where I could hike for miles at a time. The kids came regularly and the dogs loved being free to run in and out of the river. Everytime someone came to visit I invited them out for a walk in the trails and rivers of eastern Stanislaus county.

I don't want to miss one other result of all this walking. I remember reading the biography of Steve Jobs where he mentioned taking walks to work through ideas and creative projects at Apple. When people came to visit him, he would ask them to take a walk.  Friends, co-workers, family members, ministry partners were asked to join me. It works! Don't believe me? Give it a go.

CH...CH...CH...CHANGES
I'm not sure what exactly changed in me, but I did begin to recognize that people were asking me if I had lost weight. Talk about motivation! That was like pure gasoline in my tank of motivation.

The patients were the first to notice. Again, 6 months makes a difference in the way someone looks. Eventually it was friends and then family members who noticed that my clothes looked and fit my body differently. It seemed that everyone wanted to know what I had done. Thanks to Bob, Arthur and Laura I was able to share the truth: Slow and Steady Wins the Race! There is no fast solution to reversing 45 years of bad habits.

I started a hashtag on Instagram and Twitter: #walkingawaymyType2 so I could go back and chronicle my efforts. Follow the links to see what I am talking about! 

There was only one problem with all of this: My blood sugars were still not dropping. There was one final change I needed to make. In my next post, I'll share the biggest component that helped me turn the corner in my transformation: an entire new way of eating!

Quietly making noise,
Fletch

 

READ THE WHOLE SERIES
Introduction
PART 1: Middle Age Status
PART 2: Fatty Liver Disease
PART 3: Ironman Is Here
PART 4: Hypertension
PART 5: Bloody Noses and a Tumor
PART 6: Stress and Depression
PART 7: Diagnosis: Diabetes!
PART 8: Get Out and Get Walking!
PART 9: Kicking Sugar to the Curb!

Part 3: Ironman is Here

For those of you just joining us, please go back and read the beginning of the series. For the rest of you, let me catch you all back up to speed. Remember in my last post, I took you back in time to explain how and when I developed Fatty Liver Disease (FLD). My story picks back up where I left off as a fat and happy guy in my late 40's. Knowing that my liver enzymes were affected by my diet and health, I continued to monitor those numbers with regular blood tests over the years. Since I knew I could control the health of my liver, I didn't think too much about the stress I was putting on this important organ until I had a conversation with my friend (and functional medical practitioner) about my liver enzymes.

I AM IRON MAN
This doctor had been concerned about my health ever since my initial FLD diagnosis and asked if I would have an extended liver panel and more blood tests completed. He seemed to be very interested in my iron levels and how those could be affecting my liver. I took the blood test and sure enough, my iron levels were through the roof:

Blood Test Results Showing High Liver Enzymes and High Iron Levels

Blood Test Results Showing High Liver Enzymes and High Iron Levels

My liver enzymes were also high again, but that wasn't what concerned him. He actually phoned me at home with the results in his hand and told me that it was time for me to see another doctor. Not only were my liver enzymes spilling into my blood stream, but my iron levels had sky-rocketed. He explained that high iron (elevated Ferritin) could lead to increased risks of cancer and that having this treated was very important and that quickly landed me in the office of an oncologist/hematologist. 

"YOU NEED A PERIOD!"
I met a wonderful older Chinese physician who spoke very broken English. He was also concerned about the ferritin levels and began a series of blood tests to see if I had a genetic condition called hemachromatosis to explain why my body did not break down the iron like normal. That test came back negative and I do not remember any radioactive spider bites that would have led to my superhero status, so I was given the same basic diagnosis for an unhealthy liver.

I'll never forget what this funny little doctor said next, "Mr. Fletcher, you need a period!" It was as funny then as it is now (remember he said it with very broken English). At the time, I reminded him that I lacked the appropriate female plumbing and hormones and questioned his treatment plan. He went onto explain that the only way to lower my iron was to lose blood regularly (similar to menstruation).

BLOOD-LETTING AND LEACHES
When describing their doctors, plenty of patients will use the phrase: "old school." That is exactly how I felt when this guy recommended monthly blood donations, because it sounded eerily similar to medieval blood-lettings and leach treatments. Have a headache? Throw on a few leaches. Suffering from painful joints? Give a few pints of blood. If you have seen Steve Martin's rendition of Theodoric of York from Saturday Night Live, this is exactly what I pictured.

Regardless, this was the treatment recommended and off I went to our local blood donation center for regular blood donations. They only allow donations once every eight weeks, so I became very routine in my donation cycle and I would follow-up with blood tests to look at my ferritin level. After just one donation, I was pleased to see that my ferritin levels dropped in half!

Ferritin Levels Drop, But Not Enough - More Periods!

Ferritin Levels Drop, But Not Enough - More Periods!

I had simultaneously decided that lowering my carbohydrate input was a good idea, so my liver enzymes responded as well. It was definitely a wake-up call. Clearly I had a liver that was stressed and showing signs of disease. 

If only I had been more forward thinking and considered my body "as a whole."  I believe that at this point in my life I could have prevented my Type 2 diabetes diagnosis all together. Unfortunately, I was still unwilling to take things seriously. My attitude and lifestyle was way more attractive.

In my next post, I will talk about the effect my lifestyle choices and weight was having on my cardiovascular system.

Quietly making noise,
Fletch

READ THE WHOLE SERIES
Introduction
PART 1: Middle Age Status
PART 2: Fatty Liver Disease
PART 3: Ironman Is Here
PART 4: Hypertension
PART 5: Bloody Noses and a Tumor
PART 6: Stress and Depression
PART 7: Diagnosis: Diabetes!
PART 8: Get Out and Get Walking!
PART 9: Kicking Sugar to the Curb!

 

 

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Part 2: Fatty Liver Disease

I began this series of posts talking about middle-age and anchoring this story near my 25th wedding anniversary which placed me in my late 40's. For this post, I'll need to jump back in time just a few years.

Fatty-Liver Disease (FLD) entered the picture more than a decade ago. The diagnosis actually came when I was about 30 years old and I was purchasing my dental practice. When you take out a 10yr SBA business loan, the lender needs to know that you can pay it all back and that includes an inspection of your physical health. My lender required me to get a life insurance policy and with that came a complete physical exam.

I was shocked to discover my premium quote came back much higher than expected. As I researched, I found out that my liver enzymes were the culprit. My first stop was an appointment with my family doctor. For those of you who like to see blood test results, this is what I found:

BLOOD TEST SHOWING HIGH LIVER ENZYMES

BLOOD TEST SHOWING HIGH LIVER ENZYMES

I'll never forget what he told me: "Fletch, with enzyme levels this high, you are either 1)A closet alcoholic, 2)Exercising to the level of an Olympian, or 3)You have fatty-liver disease." Now, I don't know where my doctor went to medical school, but I could have diagnosed this one from across the room.

I've always been a "thick guy" when it comes to my neck and shoulders, but in my 20's I did my best to turn myself physically into a square. One look at me sitting on his exam table and any first year med student would say: "Uh, I'd go with #3."

My doctor told me there were two ways to confirm FLD. The BEST way to diagnose if your liver was marbleized with fat was with a biopsy. I felt the need to remind my doctor of two simple facts: First, my liver was on the inside of my body; and second, a biopsy did not sound fun at all. In order to confirm my suspicions, he proceeded to describe the biopsy procedure: "It's all done as out-patient surgery, they will locally numb the area and then insert a biopsy needle to pull a plug of your liver...blah blah blah"

My doctor did not even need to describe the risks to me, because he had already convinced me that this was something I was not going to do. I typically choose the "best option" and truthfully if I had any need for my abdomen to be opened up in the near future, I would have gladly agreed to the biopsy and would have allowed them to take as much of my liver as they needed. But, since I didn't foresee any need for random exploratory surgery in my abdominal cavity in the near future, I decided to have him describe the "second best" option.

He explained that the second way to determine if you have FLD was to go on a strict low-carb and high protein diet. The theory behind this plan is simple: Decrease the stress on your liver and it will stop throwing out high enzymes. Truthfully, I wondered why he even mentioned the first option. When faced with choosing between a plug of my liver being removed or eating a high protein diet, I chose the "eat more bacon" option. Duh.

ATKINS, PROTEIN POWER, DISEASE REVERSAL
With the help of Kendra as my chef, I jumped into the world of Atkins and Protein-Power meal planning. It was really very basic. Eggs for breakfast. Salads for lunch. Protein and veggies for dinner. No carbs. No starches. No sodas. As a disciplined guy, it was fairly easy to follow. It just required faithful eating.

After 8 weeks of this diet and change in lifestyle I noticed a few things. First, my weight dropped dramatically. Initially from water and then throughout my face, neck and torso. Second, all of my systems felt better, but mostly my gastrointestinal system and my muscles and joints. Third, my sleep patterns improved and my energy went through the roof. Lastly, I took a second blood test. Here are the results:

Follow-Up Blood Test Taken 8 Weeks Later

Follow-Up Blood Test Taken 8 Weeks Later

Wow! With a little discipline, I learned a huge lesson. I was able to change my health. I also proved to myself and my doctor that the issue was not liver disease, but a liver incased and marbleized with fat.

The only problem for me was that the lesson did not stick. Eventually, my old habits drifted back into place and the lifestyle followed. Within a short amount of time, all the markers for fatty liver disease returned as well.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of liver issues for me. I'll continue the story in my next post where I was mistaken for a Marvel superhero.

Quietly making noise,
Fletch

READ THE WHOLE SERIES
Introduction
PART 1: Middle Age Status
PART 2: Fatty Liver Disease
PART 3: Ironman Is Here
PART 4: Hypertension
PART 5: Bloody Noses and a Tumor
PART 6: Stress and Depression
PART 7: Diagnosis: Diabetes!
PART 8: Get Out and Get Walking!
PART 9: Kicking Sugar to the Curb!