Diagnosis diabetes: Changed man with new attitude

Story Image

Rev. Jerry Clark, who lost 100 pounds since Jan. 1, after being diagnosed with diabetes. Tuesday, August 7, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Article Extras
Story Image

What does it take to finally succeed in your battles with weight and perhaps, adult onset diabetes?

A wake-up call, your “aha moment” as Oprah likes to say. And then, as Jerry, my husband of 41 years so unceremoniously puts it, “You need to find someone — or something — worth more to you than your selfish choices and habits.”

“Selfish” choices and habits? Yes, gorging and relying on food as we did — when we were happy, depressed, stressed, bored — when our emotions could only be comforted by food.

Then came last Dec. 27 when physicians at Northwestern Memorial Hospital delivered grim news: Jerry’s blood tests were proof he had Type 2 Diabetes, the onset of the serious disease limiting a person’s ability to move sugar from the bloodstream into the cells that need it. At 62, and with heart problems (he had a stent implanted in 2009), Jerry was putting his health in serious jeopardy.

We no longer could fool ourselves — we were playing Russian roulette with our food addiction. We had heard the horror stories of diabetics having their toes, feet or legs amputated. Jerry’s primary care physician Dr. Chris Konstantelos of Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group (known to his patients as Dr. K) calls diabetes “a silent killer because it eats up the body from the inside out” and can lead to accelerated heart disease, kidney disease, the loss of limbs, even blindness.

On our two-block walk home from the hospital a day later, we vowed to lose weight and exercise — again. After all, we were professionals at losing weight (18 years earlier, I had lost 160 pounds; Jerry had lost 100) and professionals at packing the pounds back on (60 for me, 90 for him).

Confused by conflicting information about a proper Type 2 Diabetes diet, we decided, instead, to exercise daily and follow our tried-and-true low-cal, low-fat diet to whittle away pounds. Dr. K approved.

We purchased a pedometer and increased our brisk walking to 10,000 steps (five miles) a day until I interviewed Bob Greene (Oprah’s trainer) who wasn’t impressed. “At your ages, I want you each walking at least 18,000 steps [nine miles] a day,” he said matter-of-factly — so we conceded he knows best. We invested in a stationary bike that we ride daily, constantly trying to improve our speed or resistance.

On a February Caribbean cruise, we exercised and resisted the all-you-can-eat buffets, opting instead for fruit at breakfast, salad at lunch, and the nightly salmon entrée in the ship’s dining room. We lost weight.

In April, we headed to Washington, D.C., and Florida for a three-week business trip. We lost pounds by eating Cheerios, salads and non-cream soups while pounding the pavement in D.C., and by choosing low-fat chili, salads or entrees under 500 calories from two chain restaurants and walking nine to 10 miles daily inside a Florida mall.

By June 4, when Jerry returned to Dr. K, he had dropped 84 pounds, his blood glucose reading had dropped from 333 in December to 91 (the normal range is 60 to 99), his cholesterol had dropped, and his body mass index had decreased from 38.1 (obese) to 25.9 (overweight). Dr. K took Jerry off his medication for diabetes, one medication for blood pressure (and reduced his primary blood pressure medication by 50 percent), and one medication for high cholesterol. On July 9, when Jerry had lost 95 pounds, Dr. K reduced his primary blood pressure medication by an additional 30 percent. Jerry has gone from testing his blood sugar three times daily to once each morning. Since then he’s gone on to lose another five, making him 100 pounds lighter.

“It’s pretty remarkable what Jerry has accomplished since his diagnosis,” Dr. K says.

“Jerry really decided to take the bull by the horn and, by exercising and with a dramatic amount of weight loss, was effectively able to reverse the diabetes. I’m very, very impressed. His blood pressure is down; his mood, his energy, his sleeping and his joints have improved.”

Along this journey to wellness, I’ve lost 65 pounds.

We’ve both needed new wardrobes — Jerry’s waist has decreased 14 inches, and he’s gone from a 2X to a medium shirt; I’ve gone from size 18 to 10 – but it’s money better spent on clothing than on deteriorating health, medicine and hospital bills.

We had to put aside our false beliefs that diabetes just happens to “other” people, that everyone puts on pounds as they age, that we would start exercising and eating better “tomorrow,” and that we weren’t in control of our health.

With resolve and commitment, you too can put aside your false beliefs and begin a journey to a healthier you. Dr. K says even a 10 percent weight loss — going, say, from 250 to 225 pounds — will have significant health benefits.

You can decide to eat to live, rather than live to eat. We know.

Sandy Thorn Clark is a local freelance writer.