Diabetes Saved My Life

And no, that’s not hyperbole, but literal truth.  It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but then (given mankind’s perpetual disability when it comes to things like truth) that really shouldn’t surprise us, should it?  As it is with so many other topics addressed here, common sense will usually wrestle conventional wisdom to the ground.  Examples abound.

How do you solve a debt problem?  With more debt or less debt? 

How do you really help the poor and hungry?  Give them a fish or teach them to fish?

How do you solve a high blood sugar problem?  Eat more or less carbohydrates?

Some things are really dead simple.  (Some more dead than others.)   But, as most us know, conventional wisdom is often so heavily constrained by what is popularly believed (as intoned by experts) to be merely “realistic” and/or politically correct, that it really does us no good at all.   We usually end up only treating symptoms anyway.

We might, for instance, consider that sex education as taught in the public school system – supported as a means to combat rising teen pregnancy and STD transmission – hasn’t really been all that successful.  Nor have most anti-poverty campaigns.  Nor have monetary stimulus or nation building or progressive taxation strategies.  Nor have anti-gun laws, or CAFE standards, or so-called public “liberal arts” education programs, and most (perhaps not all) environmental, drug, land use, energy, financial, banking, capital, food safety, parenting, broadcasting, or labor regulations.     

Oh, you can almost always cite some number of examples where the merits of almost any inept plan can be argued.  Of course, that stance is always enhanced by the virtual absence of meaningful and comprehensive data to the contrary.  Take the government’s claims that their policies have “saved” XXX millions of jobs as just one of the more recent egregious examples.  Sure, things would have been much, much worse if we hadn’t shut down oil drilling or bailed out corrupt financial or labor interests.  

And, so it is with most of what passes for conventional wisdom regarding diet.  Don’t you think it would be appropriate to ALWAYS ask “whose interests are really being represented” whenever the government or other self-appointed experts step up with a point of view? 

Afterall, these were the folks who gave us this:

As it happens, the best advice from the ADA is to pretty much follow that “normal” diet along with taking the now “necessary” medications, of course.  And, under those guidelines I’d still be suffering – to one extent or another – a variety of diabetes related ailments, all hidden, maintained, mitigated by a cocktail of wonder drugs.

Now, it’s not as if any successful propaganda can ever be completely devoid of truth.  And, some of what gets passed along as conventional wisdom will also have at least a sprinkling of it too.  But, the challenge for all of us – whether in trying to understand politics, economics, religion, parenting, or basic lifestyle choices – is to first give it the sniff test of common sense and, ultimately, resorting to a reliable foundation of the tried and true. 

As many of you know, I really like the Bible as one such foundation, but I also refer to a vast array of other basic references:  Thoreau, CS Lewis, Hayak, Von Mises, Burke, Hobbes, Locke, Franklin, and Jefferson, to name just a few who have excelled in the arena of common sense.  And, today, I am inclined to add Mark Sisson to these ranks, at least in matters of diet and nutrition.

None of the above, of course, are perfect examples of the union of reason, intellect, insight, and character.  That’s a bit much to hope for in any human being.  Still, they each bring to the table (pun intended here) something that – against the drab backdrop of conventional wisdom at least, can only be regarded as simple brilliance. 

So-called “fad diets” (as compared to the FDA’s pyramid) are often maligned.  Some might put Sisson’s “Primal Blueprint” firmly in that class.  It is, after all, a significant departure from the “Standard American Diet” (SAD, ha, ha).  One friend’s observation:  “he’s just trying to sell his book”.  I suppose there might be some truth there…just as Franklin’s occasional huksterism served to put “food on his table” too.  But, as I’ve argued time and again, you have to glean the nuggets from the tailings where ever you search in this world.

Sisson’s approach is, in my opinion, still somewhat flawed – at least to the extent that it reflects an unfortunate belief in man’s multi-million year’s of evolution as a species of hunter/gatherers.  But, in the end, this particular “religious” bias (his or mine, take your pick) doesn’t overturn the essentials of common sense that his perspective brings to the diet/exercise/lifestyle debate.   Fortunately, if you spend the time to actually read the data presented on his website (or others) – and I have – you’ll find that, his bias’ notwithstanding, science is actually on his side of the debate almost all of the time.  

But, hey, common sense is almost always like that…assuming you can find truly fair science.  (Ahem, global warming.)  I don’t recommend that you simply take my word for it either, but, rather, take the time to read the literature and the study results that are (now) widely available on the web. 

But, today, I will simply resort myself to the tried and true propaganda of the personal anecdote….that is to say, I will report on my own “battle with diabetes”.  A few days ago, I received my first “post-diagnosis” blood test results.  Here are a few of the highpoints (old/new):

Fasting Glucose – 213/84 – normal (non-diabetic)
HbA1C – 10.0/4.9 – normal (non-diabetic)
Total Cholesterol – 169/149 – still “normal” but still improving
HDL – 18/30  still too low, but a huge improvement
Triglycerides – 226/86  – huge decline well into normal range
LDL –106/108  virtually unchanged and still only just a tad on the high side
Total/HDL Ratio – 9.4/5.0  now in the (high end of the) normal range
To which, I’ll add these additional observations.  Total weight-loss since diagnosis – 35 pounds (overall 70 pounds).  BMI (body mass index) down from (peak) 35.9 to 26.4.  Estimated body fat down from (probably) near 40% to closer to 17%.  And, oh yeah, I’m running again for the first time in 25 years.  My sinuses have completely cleared, I hardly snore, I sleep very well, wake fully rested, and (rarely) get tired in the afternoon and never after a meal.   That and a whole host of other nagging (I thought age-related) problems are virtually gone.
So, for the record, all of this was accomplished by firmly rejecting the not-so-sound guidelines of the American Diabetes Association.  By God’s grace, reliance on common sense, and my own willingness to “show up”, my diabetes might well be effectively “cured”, subject to a future glucose tolerance test.   For those who are unfamiliar with this disease, the above numbers, in a nutshell, are not only normal but “optimum”.  The cholesterol numbers are approximately (or near) normal and still improving.   
Mind you, all of this was accomplished in only 3-1/2 months, in a process that continues.  In addition, I fully expect to be off my blood pressure medication and to achieve a stabilized body fat percentage in the range of 10% to 12% (or so) within the next couple of months. 
It’s not as if I believe that I’ve somehow turned back the clock and repaired every bit of 51 years of damage, but – I gotta tell you – it surely feels like it.  So, yeah, diabetes saved my life.
So, what’s the secret?  You could simply call it a “low carb” diet, but that’s really not the whole story.  It is true that my intake of carbohydrates has been cut back by roughly 80% (averaging around 110 grams per day), but that only tells a minor part of the story.   It is still worth noting the, I think rather obvious, “common sense” issue here though.  How do you solve a carbohydrate problem?  Well, how do you think?
Of course, even though my total caloric intake is calibrated (with exercise) for modest weight loss at a fairly steady rate of 2 lbs per week or so, there would still be a pretty siginficant calory deficit without resorting to some other useful macro-nutrient.  What do you imagine that might be?  Well, there are only two other possibilities and both have played a role.  Still, a  goodly hunk of those missing carb calories were made up with…what else?  Fat.  And, if the fact that losing weight (i.e. burning fat) and improving your cholesterol while eating a relatively high-fat diet doesn’t give you any thoughts on the subject of conventional wisdom, I don’t know what will.
With apologies to the likes of Mark Sisson, my approach isn’t purely “primal”.  I’ll get into a few more details in the future, but let’s just say I reject all parts of the “caveman/paleo/primal” dogma that would choose to ignore God’s intelligent design and, at the very least, the thousands of years of (micro) evolution sustained by herding and poly-cultural, organic agriculture.  It’s still true that we’ve not, in my opinion, adapted well at all to a hundred years or so of factory-based, monocultural, chemical and genetically enhanced farming.  But, hey, let’s leave some of that for another conversation.    
In the meantime, how about just a few other quick gems?  Without all of the carbs, I don’t get anywhere near as hungry.  It’s been surprisingly easy to lose weight, retain plenty (even a surplus of) energy.  And, when you understand just exactly how carbs and, more critically, insulin, work in the body this whole thing becomes one huge “ahah” style epiphany.  
Insulin, as I now understand it, is NOT intended to help you eat all year-round as if it were the harvest season when every fruit and grain suddenly ripens and becomes available for you to store as much fat as possible for the long-cold-dark winter months ahead.  It seems far more likely that it’s role is to help us briefly (or periodically) eat more than you really want or need and make it easy to convert as much of those calories as is possible into good, long-term fatty energy stores for those seasonal or otherwise periodic times of shortage.  
Should this surprise us?  Even the FDA will concede that only fats and proteins contain “essential” nutrients.  Carbs are, to one extent or another, actually optional, from a pure survival point of view.  Some processes are better served by modest carbohydrate consumption…but, the point here is that they’re not essential.  Not essential like fat and protein. 
As for the subject of animal fats and protein, we’ll leave that for another day as well.  But, it is still worth noting that any argument that says “hey, you should absolutely eat some carbs because they are the most efficient way of meeting the body’s minimum glucose requirements” carries the same weight (with me) as “hey, you should absolutely eat some meat because they are the most efficient way of meeting the bodies minimum requirements for protein and essential fatty acids”.  I mean, we are trying to be reasonable here aren’t we?
So, we need balance in our approach.  What we don’t need is regular abuse.  I don’t care what your particular vice might be…I’ve had a few myself, obviously….they all amount to the same thing.  Too much of even a supposed “good thing” will create a hostile environment for your body, given a long enough time horizon. 
The literature that I’ve reviewed, then, would clearly seem to indicate that even a moderate carb-heavy diet necessarily depends on adequate production and responses to insulin.  Unfortunately, very few doctors or researchers stop to ask whether or not the insulin process has any other critical roles or whether or not it shouldn’t be resorted to in such extreme ways day in and out. 
We might note, for instance, that insulin triggers your hunger responses and it helps to convert (the mostly seasonal bounty of simpler) carbohydrates into:  a) the little bit of glycogen that you might need to not resort to fat burning (thus, helping you retain it) and b) the rest straight to brand new fluffy fat stores. 
So, on a carb heavy diet,  how can anyone really expect to:  a) lose (or even) maintain weight while the body is, in effect, in a fat storing/preserving mode, b) sanely ignore their hunger signals and resist the urge to overeat, c) get the body to burn it’s excess fat without, in effect, working out all day long, and d) not – sooner or later – completely exhaust the pancreas and/or insulin sensitive receptors in the muscles and liver?  In other words, how can this process not lead to any other outcome (at least for most Northern European genetic types) than a metabolic crisis, such as diabetes?
Like I said, we’ll leave more of this for another day or, better yet, you can read more about all of these subjects on Mark Sisson’s very good blog.  In the mean time, I suggest that most of us could do much better by:  a) not being utterly dogmatic about dietary issues and b) not taking the government’s word as gospel about ANYTHING.  Duh.
So, as it often is on the road to a reasonable life, sometimes you must first get sick and tired of doing the unreasonable thing.  And, we can expect that, as long as we’re kicking even a little bit, God will probably throw us some kind of rope.  We might just consider catching it.

One response to “Diabetes Saved My Life

  1. Pingback: Diet Wars – Round 1 | A Reasonable Life

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