We’ve all heard the bad news: the percentage of Americans with diabetes has risen sharply since 1990. The CDC says over 12 percent of the adult population is estimated to have diabetes, and more than one-third of adults are now thought to be prediabetic. Two million more people are diagnosed with diabetes every year, and the rate is rising.
I’m talking about Type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance), which 90-95 percent of diabetics have, rather than Type 1 (in which the body no longer produces insulin), diagnosed in just 5 percent of diabetics.
Why is this alarming? Having diabetes increases the risk of serious health issues including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, amputation of toes, feet or legs, and early death.
Doctors now know that living a healthier lifestyle (that means watching your diet and exercising) is key to preventing diabetes. Exercise and diet are important. But once full-blown Type 2 diabetes has been diagnosed, can it be reversed?
I’m writing this to tell you it can. This is Part 1 of a four-part series on how Phyllis Lejeune reversed Type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise, and in the process got off twelve prescription medications and lost over 100 pounds.
If you don’t have time to read all these posts, here’s a summary of Phyllis’ hero’s journey back to health.
Someone I know is a Type 2 diabetic, and I observed him eating and drinking whatever he wanted (crème brulee, pancakes with syrup, alcohol). It was as if he was oblivious to the effect on his blood sugar (and health, and future, and the effect on those who cared about him). It was difficult to witness.
I knew he was going through a rough time, and I didn’t say anything, but this happened three times in a row when we were dining together. It wasn’t just an occasional backslide. It was his habit.
Frankly, it was shocking to witness such a display of denial, addiction, and self-destruction. Here’s a diabetic man seeking fleeting comfort through food and drink choices that are actually putting him at risk for serious health complications like blindness and amputation.
I finally did confront him. He didn’t like it. I have no clue whether it made a difference since he withdrew from my company. I’m still glad I said something, because I do care about this person. I can only hope he finds and commits to an effective path to heal himself.
To investigate the belief that “being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease is a life sentence to ill health, so why bother?”, I posted this on Facebook:
Dear FB friends: Have you, or do you know anyone who has, overcome or made a significant impact toward overcoming an autoimmune disease, such as diabetes, lupus, thyroid issues, etc.? I’d love to hear about your healing path. What did you try? What actually worked? There are people out there who have sadly given up.
My friend Phyllis Lejeune replied:
Me – diabetes – 12 RX meds for 7 years – all gone now! Also from 296 to 185 pounds & maintaining for 3 years. Yay!
I hadn’t seen much of Phyllis in recent years since she moved away from Austin. We set up a phone interview because I wanted to know how she did it.
Phyllis comes from a Cajun family in the Lake Charles, LA, area. Her father was a farmer. They grew much of their own food, including rice and wheat. “Everything we ate was out of the ground,” she said. They ate local food and cooked everything from scratch.
Cajuns love food, and their food tastes really good. Think of mouthwatering gumbo, sausage, crawfish, shrimp, okra, peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cayenne. It’s southern, country, hunting/fishing, and French cuisines mashed together. Yum!
Phyllis mentioned that her father, who died a couple of years ago, truly loved the earth, and that when she was a girl, every spring she and her dad would go to the field, pull up a bit of young, fresh grass, and taste it, as a ritual honoring the earth and the season.
She says that in years long past, Cajuns did hard physical work — farming, fishing, hunting, trapping — that burned off the calories they consumed. Now, more and more, they work in offices and go home to sit and watch TV, but they still eat the same way. One out of three Louisiana residents are obese.
Phyllis was a slender child and was very active in high school. In college she took some pre-med classes, which ironically required a lot of time spent sitting and studying, rather than being active. She started putting on weight then.
She married and had two children in her early 20s. She had gestational diabetes with each pregnancy. By age 23, she weighed in the mid-200s. She was diagnosed with dysglycemia, which meant her glucose levels were unstable. Now this condition would be called prediabetic.
A tendency to diabetes may run in her family. Her mom had hypoglycemia, and her grandfather had both legs amputated in his eighties as a result of Type 2 diabetes.
Knowing this, Phyllis was very motivated to control her diabetes through diet and exercise and the judicious use of medication, which she was later able to discontinue, getting completely off insulin.
So even though blood sugar issues run in her family, it is difficult to discern exactly how much that tendency is genetic and how much is about lifestyle choices. We now know that lifestyle often affects which genes get expressed.
Phyllis chose to control what she could — diet and exercise, with good results.
In 1992, when she was 37 and living in Austin, Phyllis’ OB/GYN diagnosed her with Type 2 diabetes. She was also suffering from thyroid problems.
“I just dragged my body around. I didn’t know any other way,” she recounted. “I had to fall down first,” she says, in retrospect about her healing journey.
That happened in 2003. She had been working 12-hour days at a stressful office job with a two-hour commute, and she wasn’t eating right. She was taking four prescription medications and says her regular doctor back then never once counseled her about lifestyle.
A different doctor, her OB/GYN, told her at the end of 2003 that she had a choice: she needed to either be hospitalized or see an endocrinologist. Her A1C level was 10.2.
The A1C is a blood test that measures a person’s average level of blood sugar over the past three months. Normal is below 5.7 percent. Phyllis’ blood sugar was nearly twice that. The higher the A1C level, the higher the risk of complications.
Next: Part 2, in which Phyllis starts taking measures to reclaim her health.