Then two years ago, my doctor ordered an A1C test. He had a hunch I may have type 2 diabetes as a result of my weight. My score was a seven, which meant his suspicions were correct. (A normal A1C level is below 5.7. ) It got worse: Because I’ve had high blood pressure for so long, he said I could have long-term organ damage now that I also had diabetes. You’d think at that point, he would have sat me down and talked to me about how I could improve my diet, but he didn’t. He just said something like, “Watch your carbs and exercise.” That was it. So I basically kept living as I had before.
Then my doctor moved away, and I found another doctor in a larger town nearby. My new physician told me that I needed to go on metformin (the generic name for a drug used to treat high blood sugar levels) immediately. He also told me that I should ramp up my exercise routine. So last year, I started hiking and rock climbing with my neighbor, who happens to be a yoga instructor. I’m just a regular gal who sits at a desk all day, so this was not serious rock climbing or anything. But still, with the help of my new workout buddy, I lost 10 pounds. It felt great to be making progress, and my neighbor even started calling me “the amazing disappearing woman.” I have to admit it was a big ego boost.
I thought my doctor would praise my progress, too, but at my next appointment, which was this past December, he told me that my blood pressure was still too high. He said, “If you don’t make drastic diet changes, I’m going to send you to a nephrologist because your kidney function is very poor.”
That terrified me. I lost my pastor to kidney disease, and I knew it was a terrible affliction. So I Googled ‘What do you eat to improve kidney function?’. I found information on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is the diet recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for lowering blood pressure. In 30 years, no one had talked to me about a dietary approach to lowering my blood pressure. I started reading about it, and I thought, if it didn’t work, no harm no foul. I decided to start my new diet on January first, because everyone else starts their goals then, right?
My diet & exercise routine
The DASH diet is all about portion control and eating less fat, sugar, and salt. I bought smaller plates, spoons, and cups to make sticking to the plan easier. I also got smaller storage containers marked with various serving sizes so I could eat out of them and keep my portions in check. (Buy something similar on Amazon.com for $10.) I also posted to Facebook to let my friends know what I was doing and started keeping a food diary. These things helped keep me accountable—and continue to do so to this day.
On the DASH website, I also found and printed out this shopping list that provides a list of foods that fit into the diet. I took it with me to the grocery store and stocked up on everything I needed—which took me three long hours. (Thinking back on that now, it’s actually a bit humorous. Shopping is far easier for me now that I’ve been eating this way for nearly a year.) I bought lots of healthy grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat yogurt. I cut out cow’s milk and started using almond milk instead. I switched from processed peanut butter to natural almond butter.
I also started preparing most of my food myself, which is something I hadn’t done before. I’d always eaten out or bought ready-to-eat stuff. I found new things that I liked, and many were things I’d never eaten before. For example, I’d never had steel-cut oatmeal. As a Southern gal, I’d only had grits. I started eating strawberries and raspberries. I had never had asparagus or Brussels sprouts, but I started adding them to my shopping cart. I also began buying fresh meat and making grilled chicken or pork with cauliflower rice. (Which, by the way, is so good!)
I also started walking. Every two hours, I would walk for 10 or 20 minutes or even an hour. It didn’t really matter how long, it was just to get up out of my chair and move. I’d already proven I could hike and do more challenging forms of exercise, so walking seemed like a smaller task that would help me get healthier.
Come March 1st I had my next doctor’s appointment, and I was excited to see the changes. I don’t have a scale at home; I refuse to buy one. So it had been three months since I’d seen the doctor, and two months since I’d started the diet, and he said I’d lost 33 pounds. He was in shock. And not only that, he told me that if I stuck with it, I could reverse my diabetes. I was determined to make it happen.
Two months later I had another appointment. I found out that I had lost an additional 20 pounds. He also shared the most amazing news with me: I didn’t have diabetes anymore! My A1C was 5.3, down from 7. My blood pressure was also down to 115 over 30—healthy numbers I haven’t seen since I was 21 years old. I felt ecstatic, but also relieved.
Even though my health has improved, I haven’t stopped my medications; that’s not what my journey is about. With my long-term blood pressure issues, there’s no way to tell what harm’s already been done, so I need to continue taking them.
My doctor is shocked I’ve maintained my good health and weight loss for so long. He told me he doesn’t care if lose another pound; he just doesn’t want me to put weight back on. “You have made too much progress to go back,” he said. And I agree. I want to do everything I can to maintain my newfound health for the rest of my life.
How you can improve your diet, too
People will say, “I don’t have money to start one of these diets.” But don’t let that excuse hold you back. I shop for food at Walmart, and I promise that you don’t have to spend a lot on groceries. Just follow a healthy shopping list and find ways to keep your portions reasonable. One way I do this is by asking the butcher to cut things into really small portions. This way I don’t have to spend time measuring as many things at home, and I can cook only what I should be eating in one sitting. You just have to figure out what strategies work for you, and not let anything stand in your way.