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How My Dad Beat Diabetes!

I am so excited to share with you a little bit about my dad’s recent diabetes diagnosis!  And, I am so thankful my dad is allowing me to share this story with the hope it might help someone else!

Picture this…a hot steaming cup of coffee, a package of mini powdered sugared donuts and the morning paper...this was my dad's breakfast routine.  One hour later…two Reese's peanut butter cups.  Lunch included a regular Coke, maybe a sandwich (on white bread) with a Hostess cupcake for dessert...

We would always say "we wish we had his metabolism…he can eat anything he wants and he doesn’t gain any weight!"  But, three months ago after some bloodwork at the doctor’s office...the dreaded news..."You are diabetic."

Now, my dad wasn’t significantly overweight…at 5'11" and 186 lbs, his body had adapted pretty well over his 75 years of eating this way.  He has always been active -- for years he worked in the grocery business, which meant he worked hard and was always on his feet.  But it also meant with his crazy hours, he would routinely have a Coke and Hostess Suzy Q…for breakfast.  This is why we called him "Mr. Hostess"...I secretly thought he would cry when they almost stopped making Twinkies a few years ago!

His doctor encouraged him to try to control his diabetes with diet.  His advice was to cut out the candy, junk food, and soda and suggested he also cut out the "white" foods like white bread and french fries.  His doctor also mentioned he could talk to a nutritionist...this is where his "just eat REAL food" daughter swooped in!

Now, I had already been talking to my parents about eating REAL food and reading the ingredients, but now they were REALLY listening!  Getting them to rely more on the ingredient label vs. the "promotion on the label" was a little challenging -- it took several attempts to find REAL maple syrup at the store!  My mom would say "it's sugar free" or "it's low in sugar" or “it says ‘all-natural’” and I would always respond "but what do the ingredients say?"  I know she got sick of hearing this and, after about the third time, she said "OK, OK, I get it!"  Now, they will say things like “Do you know how much sugar and other junk is in the barbecue sauce we usually buy?”  Now, that is progress!

My parents also watched the documentary "Fed Up", which they found eye-opening!  It does a great job explaining why processed sugars are causing damage to our health and why eating REAL food is so important.  My dad told me he thinks “everyone should watch it!”

I am so incredibly proud my dad rose to the occasion!  He told himself he was going to make a change, and he did!  He stopped eating all of the Hostess, Coke and Reese's products.  He started paying attention to the amount of sugar in other foods too.  My parents started eating more fresh vegetables, and they especially love the veggies they grill or roast in the oven.  Instead of regular potatoes with butter and sour cream, they started eating more sweet potatoes…including roasting sweet potato fries in the oven, simply seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper!

A few weeks after the diagnosis, my mom was making their favorite 3-bean salad.  She had never really focused on it before, but was concerned it included a cup (yes, 1 cup!) of added sugar.  We had a discussion about added sugars vs. natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.  I love my mom…after our conversation, she adjusted the recipe to use 1 Tbsp of pure maple syrup in place of the 1 cup of sugar!  They both said the new salad tasted just as good as the old one!  That inspired us to come up with a healthy alternative for other people who love this type of salad…the "Healthified" Three Bean Salad!

What happened next?  My dad went back to the doctor just three months later...his blood sugar levels are within the normal range and he has lost 19 lbs!  No more diabetes!  Plus, his bad cholesterol has gone down and good cholesterol has gone up!  All this in just 3 months!  Needless to say, I am very, very proud of him!  When I asked what motivated him to change vs. turning to the medicine, he said "I can’t stand taking pills and medicine, there is no way I want to take a bunch of medicine for diabetes!"

Here are a few key things that led to my dad's success:

  • Avoid mindless eating. "I feel like I am eating less, only because before I was eating out of habit…because it was there."
  • Control your cravings with an "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy.  If it is not in the house, it is easier to make better choices.
  • Focus on your goal, especially in challenging situations where unhealthy choices are readily available.  At one of my mom's doctor’s offices, they have a cooler full of soda and chips and “food-like” snacks (great place for this, right?).  This is where you have to ask yourself "is eating the junk really worth it?"  Having other options available also helps to reduce the temptation to dig into unhealthy options.  See more about why It's Not You, It's Our Environment!
  • Minimize added sugars…instead, eat natural sugars and fruit.  Instead of the sugary breakfast routine, my dad now mixes it up and enjoys eggs, toast, bananas, and healthier waffles (with a little pure maple syrup of course!)
  • Don't believe all the hype on the front of the package!  Based on what my dad has learned over the last 3 months, he says “all those health claims on the front of the package are a bunch of BS…they are trying to trick you into thinking it is good for you!”
  • When eating out, stay away from the "I’ll have a soda" trap -- order water or iced tea to avoid the continuous soda refills.  And, order healthier sides such as veggies, a sweet potato (ideally, without the brown sugar) or a salad with dressing on the side.

What I love about my dad's new routine is he is not depriving himself.  He still lets himself have one Coke, and a small bowl of ice cream, but now only once a week.  And, he doesn't stress about it…he simply picks a day, once a week, to enjoy these treats in moderation and then stays on track paying attention to what he is eating.  He says that if he does have a little sugar, he watches everything else.  And, my parents still enjoy lots of the things they have always loved, such as grilling ribs, hamburgers and tacos.  But they have also discovered how delicious veggies are on the grill, plus they are continuing to try new things (many from, of course)!

Another surprising change?  My dad's sweet level changed!  On a recent trip to eat out, my mom ordered a Beer-Rita drink (you know the margarita with an upside down Corona in it), and when she asked my dad to have some, he took a drink and said "that is way too sweet!"  He sweet o-meter has completely changed!

When I asked what advice he would give others who might be struggling or in his same situation, he said "Do you want to live a little longer and live well?  I wish I would have made this change sooner.  Listen to your doctor (and your body) and change your lifestyle -- you can change it all by changing what you eat!  If I can do it, anyone can do it!"

I hope this might help someone find the motivation to make that change you have been thinking about!  Thanks, Dad, for letting me share your story…we are so proud of you and we love you!

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