Diabetes prompts positive lifestyle change for Montgomery man

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Sometimes it seems life is just like coasting along. Then there’s that big bump in the road.

When Carlos Gravis, 49, of Montgomery, went for a routine physical in 2002, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

“My first reaction was there must be some mistake,” Gravis said. “At that time, I weighed 137 pounds. I have always been on the slim side.”

According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin.

In Type 1 diabetes, the body cannot produce insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin that is produced.

Some of the complications from diabetes include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease and amputation.

Carlos knew nothing about the disease when he was first diagnosed. His doctor said it was most likely due to a combination of an unhealthy diet, stress and a sedentary lifestyle.

“I work in an office setting,” Carlos said. “I am a manager at a commercial food coatings and seasonings manufacturing company based in Chicago. I have a long train commute each way. This leaves little time for exercise.”

Carlos knew he had to make some changes in his life.

“At first, I tried to control my sugar by diet alone, but I had little success,” Carlos said. “I was always angry because I was always hungry. I do have a huge appetite. The diabetes was affecting my interactions with my family and coworkers.”

The doctor added Metformin medication to the treatment plan Carlos was following and relaxed his dietary restrictions.

“This helped. But my glucose levels were still higher than we had hoped,” he said. “My doctor then stressed the benefits of regular exercise in controlling blood sugar. With my long work hours and long commute, however, I had a difficult time fitting exercise into my regular schedule.”

Carlos started riding his bicycle as part of his daily commute.

“I began riding four miles each way, two or three days a week,” Carlos said. “I began to feel better. I was more alert and energetic, and my glucose numbers quickly improved. Today, I ride up to 22 miles a day, five days a week — weather permitting — between April and October. I also make it a point to go to the gym at least two days a week in the winter.”

Carlos said his wife has helped him deal with diabetes.

“Marlene has been my strongest champion and supporter,” Gravis said. “She is always mindful of my diabetes when shopping for groceries and preparing meals. She has also ‘rescued’ me on numerous occasions when I’ve had a flat bike tire or the weather turned against me.”

Carlos also has a supportive group of friends and coworkers.

“Many of them ride with me on the ADA’s annual fund raiser, the Chicagoland Tour de Cure. Others are either generous with the donations, or they volunteer at the event.”

When asked for advice on dealing with diabetes, Carlos said, “With exercise, diet and proper medication, you can live a full and rewarding life. I urge people to contact and get involved with the ADA. They are a wonderful source of information and advocacy. They are a tremendous resource in our everyday life.”

And he added, “Don’t let the disease dominate you!”