About: This blog discusses my path to a healthier lifestyle by controlling the foods I eat and getting my diabetes under control.
“Take care of that body, son. It’s the only one you’re getting and spare parts don’t come cheap”, my father once told me, remorseful in his own life choices. That was the day he told me he was a diabetic. At 12 or 13, I didn’t really know much about diabetes except that it wasn’t good. Dad called me into his room to tell me that and to show me how to give him insulin in case of an emergency. I hated needles when I was a child, but being just the two of us, it would have been up to me if anything happened to him. While I understand how difficult that must have been for him now, it was shocking and horrible for me at the time. His words stuck with me my whole life. Well, I heard them in my head. I just didn’t listen to them. Until recently.
Flash forward 25 years. My father had since passed away. I was sitting in my doctor’s office. “Josh, I’m going to prescribe you a medicine called Metformin…” the doctor’s words trailed off. I heard “pre-diabetes” and tuned out in shock. I asked questions and was given some answers but nothing I felt I clearly understood. Just that I needed to lose weight and get more exercise and watch what I eat. Take pill. Feel better. Diabetes fixed. Sounded simple, even if I was hearing what more of what I wanted to hear than what was being said.
For more than a year (because adulting is hard), of the two daily doses of Metformin, I probably took one dose about 75% of the time. I felt horrible, but by then I had retired from my radio broadcasting career and was in automotive sales. Both careers do not lend themselves to healthy lifestyles. I attributed any pain or lethargy to my work schedule, not my diet.
In 2014, I married and moved. I took a different job with a more flexible schedule. I also got a new doctor. She reviewed my chart and bloodwork history. By this point my disease had worsened. I confessed to being forgetful with my evening Metformin. Once we discussed the irregularity of my taking the medicine, I realized I had carelessly and senselessly allowed this disease to progress. I didn’t take it seriously. Thankfully, it wasn’t too late. Eat healthier, take your medicine regularly. No needles, just pills. “Buckle down, Brandon” would become my mantra. So I buckled down. I took Metformin twice a day. For nearly a year. The next year, things turned more serious.
In the Summer of 2015, I took my family on a Caribbean cruise. None of us had ever been on a ship before, much less to the islands. In pre-vacation plans, we had shopping, packing, haircuts and I had an appointment to have my blood drawn for an upcoming exam. On Thursday I got my labs drawn and Friday morning, we drove south to port. We enjoyed days of sun, fun and lots of delicious food. Unlimited amounts of delicious food. Elegant dining rooms where you can order whatever you like. Ask for another main course, it will be brought to you. Pizza and salad bars that stayed open nearly all hours and a sandwich/panini shop, too. The ice cream bar was 24 hours and drinks were flowing. I’ve never been a big drinker, but I bought my wife and I an alcohol package and “when in Rome…”, right? The kids were going to be off doing their own activities, so let’s enjoy a cocktail by the pool, right? It was a week of indulgence in every sense of the word.
The following Friday, we returned to port. After being out to sea with no connection to the mainland, my phone reestablished signal and began vibrating. I had nearly a dozen voicemails, texts, and emails urging me to contact the doctor’s office immediately. Blood pulsed through my ears as I could feel the thump of my heart pounding at my ear drums. Anxiety crept up and a sense of dread filled me. My mind raced with the worst possible scenarios. We disembarked, obtained our luggage, got to the car and on the road before I had the opportunity to call and find out. Then I heard it. Type-2 Diabetes. My fasting Blood Sugar was 267. That was BEFORE the endless food and alcohol from the cruise. Appointments were made on the spot. I spent the 11 hour drive home contemplating how my life was getting ready to change.
In what amounted to a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, I was prescribed a new combo medicine called Glyxambi, a combination of Jardiance and Tradjenta. I was also given a 12-month-free discount card. I told myself “you have a year to turn this around”. I didn’t. Neither did my insurance. Once the 12 months was over, a whopping $700+ bill for this medicine meant I had diabetes and no way to regulate it. I wasn’t testing daily and hadn’t need to. I was completely regulated and felt ok with 2 Metformin and 1 Glyxambi. I just couldn’t afford that bill. An adjustment was made to prescribe me the two medicines that made up the combo. Those were still nearly $100 a month. I couldn’t afford to be “fat” anymore. I didn’t like the way I felt or looked and now, it was costing my family money.
In December of 2016, my wife began researching something called a “Ketogenic Way of Eating”, or eating “Keto”. She made the decision to give up certain things and adjust the way she viewed food. I watched her in the first weeks of her journey, making separate versions of dinner for her than we would eat. I asked questions and she explained what she was doing, without trying to sway me. She was constantly reading and joining social media groups, sharing ideas and support. I can honestly say she did not push or pressure me into this. I simply watched her success. She dropped weight fast and was almost a different woman. Her energy was up, her mood was better. She was inspiring and not mopey and miserable as I had always been when I dieted previously. One night, she made me a “crustless pizza”. In a skillet, cover the bottom with mozzarella cheese and cook until the bottom is brown. Add pepperoni and a little more cheese, pull out and slice. No crust, save the caramelized cheese. I was sold. We watched a few documentaries (“Fathead”, “Forks Over Knives”, “Sugarcoated”, “Fed Up” just to name a few). Then she explained, from a medical perspective, how this way of eating (WoE) could benefit me. I took her hand and said “wherever you go I shall go”. We were now ketogenic.
Here is what I know about my body so far just from trial and error: I am allergic to sugar. My body reacts, as most human bodies do, negatively to sugar. We aren’t made for it, folks. Our bodies, even as we have evolved, were never made to process the chemicals that our foods contain. My research showed me that it wasn’t just sugar that was so sinister. Sugar is white or brown, crystalline and sweet. No one had ever shown me The Glycemic Index of foods. Carrots are sugar. Tomatoes are sugar. Bread and pasta and cornstarch is sugar. It isn’t just sweet foods. Once this revelation kicked in, I began reading labels. I treated myself with sugar like a parent of a child with a peanut allergy. I learned the different “sugars” (Dextrose, Sucrose, Maltodextrin, Cane Sugar, etc.) I became aware of chemical compounds that are actually sugars but called something else. Face it, if it spikes your glucose, it is “sugar”. I differentiated between sugar (white and grainy) versus sugars (ingredients in foods or foods that turn to sugar in my body). This began my new and empowered Food Philosophy.
We all have a Food Philosophy. You may say, “I don’t really have a food philosophy. I just eat whatever.” Then that is your Food Philosophy. Vegan, Organic and Gluten-Free are all Food Philosophies. Even diets like Weight Watchers, Atkins and the like are all Food Philosophies. Your Food Philosophy is Your attitude about the fuel You feed Your machine. I specifically use “You” statements because this lifestyle is all about personal accountability. If you need an “accountability buddy”, go look in the mirror. Having a support system around you is vital, but you will never truly change your health until you go “all-in”. Now, my wife is a tremendous support system, but this decision had to come from within and I had to adopt a Food Philosophy, just as you will.
My Food Philosophy is simple: Rather than the External perspective of food I have had for years (in that, I mean how it looks, smells, tastes, feels, etc), I will look at food from an Internal perspective. What that means is I will examine any food I consume and evaluate it for how it will be processed once it is in my body. Simply put, gooey cinnamon rolls dripping with icing may SMELL and TASTE good. Few things look as delicious, to me. However, none of those experiences eclipse how badly that doughball of death will make me feel. Sore joints, swollen abdomen, leaving me feeling lethargic. How is anything worth that?
The second week of January of 2017, I began this path to a healthier lifestyle and new Food Philosophy. I am living a Ketogenic Lifestyle now because it works for me. High fat, moderate protein and minimal carbs is the formula I use. I have lost over 35 lbs, dropped 3 pants sizes, two shirt sizes and even shoes that were too big 6 months ago are now a little loose. In the past, I have had knee surgeries and a neck surgery with some spinal cord issues from a car wreck a few years ago. I live with pain daily and I understand the challenges trying to exercise with those types of complications. However, since cutting out inflammatory foods and living ketogenic, I have gone from three 800mg doses of Ibuprofen a day to just one. The pain I felt before is so minor now I barely think about it. No more aching joints and swelling or inflammation. I’m not pain-free, but the pain I do have is explainable through surgeries. Eczema has improved. No longer am I plagued with reflux and indigestion. I eliminated my Omeprazole. I slowly, with my doctor’s advice, came off ALL of my diabetes medicines. My blood sugar has maintained reasonable without having taken medicine for diabetes since February. My cholesterol took a tick up with the last bloodwork I drew, but this is a work in progress. I know how closely I have followed this way of eating in the last few months and must be accountable for that. I also know that exercise is the next key element of this path to a healthier lifestyle.
My results are not typical, I’m sure. However, the research I have done shows that they very well could be. Are you reading this thinking “I really want to try and do this for myself”? Step one: Eliminate processed foods! This isn’t advice just for us diabetics. This is advice to anyone who is on the path to diabetes, which is most Americans today. Look at labels. If you can’t pronounce it, put it back. There are other ways to prepare delicious foods that won’t do harm to your bodies and you don’t have to shop at expensive boutique markets and farmer’s markets to do so. Though some of those places are really wonderful, my wife and I manage on shopping mostly at stores we normally shop. There are some items and ingredients I end up on a wild goose chase for, but the way I feel, it is worth it. Yes, concessions must be made and I hear those statements most when people discuss wanting to get healthier. “I can do that but I just can’t give up _____!” Understanding what that does to your body on a chemical level will help you want to give that up. I learned through this what I hope you learn: As much as I may love some of the foods I used to eat, it was clear they didn’t love me back.
There is hope! There are ways to indulge some of those urges. There is even a brand of chocolate bars which are really good, in moderation. There are just some things I cannot eat. I don’t eat potatoes. I don’t eat wheat. I don’t eat sugars. It’s almost impossible to avoid Maltodextrin, an additive in processed foods which is used as a thickening agent and is higher on the glycemic index than sugar. Many prepackaged spice mixes have it. Read the label. I search recipes. I have my own homemade Ranch dip mix, guacamole seasoning mix, taco seasoning mix, etc. I do a lot in advance and it’s often cost effective buying all the different spices in bulk. There is a lot of prep work involved. Preparation is key. My wife and I create a menu every two weeks. This gives us all peace of mind knowing what’s for dinner and makes it easier on our grocery bill with less opportunities to “cheat”. We prepare foods in advance. Remember, if a food is convenient, it’s probably loaded with ingredients we weren’t designed to digest. We are living in an age where medicines are expensive and so are groceries. Buying groceries to live healthy seems more expensive than buying junk, on the surface. Yes, that should make you angry but don’t let it deter you. Budget out your food and see just how much you save buying fresh, cutting the processed garbage foods and getting in better health. Make the decision to think before you let food cross your lips, “what will this do inside my body?” You may think having a dozen small crackers with some cheese isn’t bad, but those crackers turn to sugar in your body, making your glucose spike and triggering a series of events within you that leave you feeling horrible. That alone will make you reach for the cucumbers or celery.
I’m not a doctor, dietician or even a self-help guru. I am less than a year into my journey with results that may be atypical. Regardless, I’m not looking back. I won’t allow my hard-earned money to be spent on medicines that do more harm to my body just to make it so I can eat garbage. I don’t ever want to feel the way I felt 12 months ago. Today, I have never felt better in my whole life. I have more energy, I don’t hurt nearly as bad and I am more alert and focused. I’m not promising you that if you just do what I do then you can have my results. Keto may not be right for your body. You may fare better with Low-Carb. Maybe Gluten-Free. What I am saying is this: “Find and Define your Food Philosophy”. The sooner you do, the sooner you’re living the best, healthiest life for your families. For me, the money I have saved in the multiple medicines I have eliminated more than makes up for the groceries. Plus, we aren’t spending money on garbage food. We perceive it as costing too much. However, when you put pen-to-paper, as I did, it makes more sense to eat healthier.
My name is Josh Brandon and I am a diabetic. That may never change, but I refuse to take this disease laying down. I refuse to eat myself into worse health. I’m not a health nut or fitness freak. I’m just a regular person, like you, who got tired of paying for prescriptions to fund my unhealthy eating habits. I am just a guy who got tired of feeling tired all the time. I made a choice. You CAN do it, too. But you must commit to it. You must be serious about it. Stop looking at food Externally and begin seeing food Internally. Whatever choice you make in your diet, let that dictate your new Food Philosophy.