Category Archives: Health & Fitness

This section is to discuss health & fitness. Specifically mine of course!

Here’s How I’ve Effectively Beaten Type II Diabetes

Last month The County Press, our local newspaper, ran an article on me and how I overcame diabetes. Here is a link to the story and here is a link to download the pdf article.

Boot Camp 1997

After I left active military duty in the US Marines I landed a job as a 911 dispatcher in my hometown county. The job is a sedentary one where you sit at a console for 10, 12 or up to 16 hours a day for a shift taking emergency calls and sending the appropriate responders out and later on being promoted to systems administrator, taking care of the 911 center and all of its technology. It’s a fulfilling job helping people out that are in need. But it also takes a toll on you physically if you don’t do something to mitigate the non-active times.

260lbs in 2006

Like most people I fell victim to sitting around for long periods of time and eating too much junk food. When I graduated Marine Corps boot camp in 1997 I weighed 160 pounds. I left active duty in May of 2001 and by 2006 I weighed 260 pounds. That’s 100 pounds of added weight over a decade I had put on. I was 28 years old at that time and when I had to renew my driver’s license that year they took an updated photo of me. When I saw it I was totally disgusted with myself for going from a trim and fit Marine to what I had become.

I decided at the time to start dieting and eat only healthy foods and reduce caloric intake. I didn’t follow any particular plan or fad diets and just made up my own as I went along. I basically ate a lot of vegetables and some cereals and drank water or iced-tea. As I recall I restricted my calories to between 700 and 1200 calories a day. After about 9 or 10 months I had lost 91 pounds and weighed 169 pounds.

While I had lost a lot of weight, I still didn’t look good. During that time I had done absolutely zero exercise. So while I lost a lot of body fat, not all of it, but I also lost a lot of muscle mass as well. Someone remarked that I “looked like an AIDS patient” because I was so gaunt looking.

That kind of highly restricted diet of very low calories, especially for a 6 foot tall man wasn’t healthy nor sustainable in the long term. I then slowly began eating a bit more again and eventually slipped back into eating too much and too much junk food and put on some weight but not nearly as much as I had before.

Me at Castaways restaurant in 2010 in decent shape.

Then I joined a gym at the behest of a friend and we became workout partners. I was renting part of a house from his aunt and uncle and he ended up moving into one of the other apartments in the house downstairs so we ended up living under the same roof as well. After work we’d meet up at the gym and workout. Then we started eating very healthy and finding creative ways to have some variety and good tasting food too. This worked out well for a long time and I started to get into decent shape.

As time went on my friend had moved out and back to college and I fell off the exercise wagon because I lacked enough motivation to continue on my own. Over the course of a few more years I put on more weight and ended up around 220 pounds. By this time I had moved into the city much closer to work and the gym but I wasn’t going to the gym.

My diet had gotten really bad and I was consuming a lot of soda pop and other sugary foods.  I had developed a sinus infection and had to go see my doctor because of it. At the time I was getting suspicious of my health and started having some of the common symptoms like extreme thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision and neuropathy of the feet. While I was at the doctor’s office I asked the nurse to check me for diabetes. She took a blood sugar reading and said “oh my” and quickly walked out of the room around the corner where the doctor was sitting. The next thing I heard was him shout “What?!” My reading was well above 500mg/dl where normal is considered to be below 100mg/dl. He immediately put me on medication and told me to lose weight and eat right. I knew I had to do it without him telling me so, I mean don’t we all already know what we have to do?

For the first year or two I didn’t take the diagnosis too seriously and only made very minor changes to my diet which did not have much of a positive effect on my sugar levels. I was still above 200 on every check of my sugar.

In 2015 I finally decided to start regarding my diabetes seriously and cut out all the junk from my diet and I re-joined the gym. The knowledge I gained over the years about exercise and proper diet would be brought back into play and in a years time I lost 45 pounds and with the guidance of my doctor I eventually was able to come off of diabetes medication altogether. My hbA1C which is long term sugar readings are now at levels that are consistent with someone who does not, nor ever had diabetes. My last reading was 5.4%, compare that to when I was first diagnosed where it was over 10%.

My VA doctor was so happy and proud of my accomplishment to come off of medication like this because she said that most people never achieve what I have. Well I think that’s because most people are unwilling to do what is necessary to beat back the disease that they, like me, gave to themselves. A proper diet and exercise combined with a lasting discipline is what it takes. I don’t say that its easy, because it isn’t. Keeping your diet in check is the hardest part; much harder than getting to the gym and lifting weights.

I’ll always be a diabetic for the rest of my life due to the damage I’ve done to my pancreas over the years, but as long as I continue to eat right and exercise like I am right now, I will be a ‘diet-controlled’ diabetic.

Losing Weight

The key to losing weight is no secret and people ask me all the time how I did it. Put most simply, burn more calories than you consume and you’ll lose weight. It’s how I dropped 91 pounds in less than a year’s time. But there is more to it if you want to do it the healthy way.

First one has to keep in mind that you didn’t get heavy overnight and therefore you won’t lose all the excess weight overnight either. It takes time.

One of the things fitness and medical experts will tell you is to drink more water and exercise. The exercise can be anything that gets your heart rate up, be it cardio like jogging, walking or running to anaerobic exercise like lifting weights. The reason for this is because there are two ways the body loses weight, 1) through the breath and 2) through urine. A common myth on how we actually lose that body fat is that you poop it out or sweat it out. That’s not true. When your body burns fat (or muscle – catabolic state) through the process of biosynthesis it converts that fat into energy and the by-product of that conversion is CO2  – carbon dioxide. The body eliminates CO2 when you exhale and when you urinate.

When you’re told to get your heart rate up, pumping faster and working up a sweat, you’re also breathing harder and expending energy and thus increasing the amount of CO2 you’re eliminating from the body which is the fat. The same goes for drinking more water since CO2 is dumped into the bladder and washed away by water when you go to the bathroom.

So if your goal is to lose weight you need to exercise a little as well as eat properly and that means getting your heart rate up and breathing heavier for a period of time.

At the gym in 2016

If you decide to lift weights as a form of exercise it can help speed up the process as you build muscle mass. The increased muscle requires more energy to build and maintain and thus helps you burn more calories and excess body fat. Plus you’ll look a lot better in the mirror or on the beach too.

Fitbit Surge

Another thing I did this time was to purchase a fitness tracker. I bought a Fitbit Charge HR and then later a Fitbit Surge. These help track calories burned, steps taken, floors climbed, track workouts, runs, bicycle rides and measure your heart rate. You sync it with your smartphone or computer and get a great display of all your results. The fitness tracker really helps me keep my goals in mind and at the forefront of everything I’m doing. With the smartphone app and the website you can also track all your food intake and see breakdowns of the nutrients and calorie counts. This is extremely helpful in planning your meals out and staying on track to meet your daily food goals. I strongly recommend investing in one whether it be a Fitbit, an Apple Watch or other tracker. It’s just one more tool you can use to help you on your fitness journey.

Sugar

I discovered an interesting thing about my body and sugar after effectively being “off of sugar” for the past 2 years. Sugar is a lot like some drugs in that your body builds up a tolerance to it and over time you need more of it to get the same effect, feeling or rush that you did the first time you had any of it.

Since I adjusted my daily diet to be healthy and free from as much sugar as I could I am averaging around 50 grams of sugar per day consumed and that is for the whole day! That’s about as much sugar as is found in a 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew, of which I used to drink several per day, then factor in all the junk food and sugar-laden food I was eating and it was no wonder I gave myself diabetes.

The interesting thing I found was that one day not too long ago I checked my sugar and I was at a low 57mg/dl and 60 is typically the lowest you want to get to before you start having low blood sugar problems. I felt just fine and had no adverse effects at that reading, but I thought I should eat something to raise it up a little. I haven’t had any candy in a long time and I thought why not now? There is a candy box outside my office door and I bought a pack of Rolo’s. I didn’t bother to look at the label to see how much sugar was in it. I ate the candy and after a few minutes I physically felt the rush of sugar throughout my body and even a tingling in my eyeballs! I looked at the wrapper and saw that the little package had 30 grams of sugar in it! That was almost as much sugar as I consume in a whole day now and I consumed it in a matter of minutes. Plus that first Rolo I had was so super sweet too. I wasn’t used to milk chocolate anymore and it didn’t taste nearly as good as it once did.

I used to hate dark chocolate because it was too bitter, i.e. not sweet enough. But now, I buy 90% coca dark chocolate to have with my espresso once in a while. A single serving of that, 4 squares, contains a mere 3 grams of sugar. That is totally acceptable to eat for me and with such a minimal amount of sugar in it, it tastes great and tastes just sweet enough to enjoy. I don’t seem to enjoy milk chocolate anymore and especially with the ultra high sugar content of candies I don’t want to like them anymore since it is a determinant to my health now.

Final Thoughts

As the newspaper article title suggests, and quotes me, ‘your doctor can’t do it for you,’ it is solely up to you to take control of your diabetes and weight. Your doctor can only make recommendations, encourage you and give you medications. Medications can only do so much to help mitigate the problem and oftentimes lead to adverse side effects as well. Only you can control your exercise levels and what you eat and both are the keys to success.

Lastly, I have extra incentive to maintain a healthy diet and weight and that is I am and forever will be a diabetic. That means if I stray back into my bad habits I’ll have blood sugar problems again and worse yet I could lose toes, feet, legs to amputation even go blind or even die. I’m going to die someday, but I don’t want it to be because I failed to control my diabetes, and until then I want to retain my vision and keep all my body parts in tact.

Adventures in City Riding

Since I have had my new bicycle, I have been enjoying riding it all over the city. A few days after I bought it, I went back and bought a speedometer/odometer for it. As of this writing I have logged 97 miles, averaging about 8-10 miles per day of riding; weather permitting of course. I’m not as hardcore as I used to be therefore I won’t go riding in bad weather or rain. But I have been riding to work nearly everyday and leaving the truck sit. I have found that it takes me only 5 minutes longer to ride to work than it does to drive the 2.2 miles.

I did some figuring of my driving since March this year. In March I drove 1,620 miles, used 139 gallons of fuel, averaged 13.7mpg and the average cost of fuel was $3.75 and I spent $521 on that fuel. This was what truly compelled me to move into the city and get a bicycle. Then in April, the month I moved into town, on the 15th to be exact, I drove 1,006 miles, used 91 gallons of fuel, averaged 14.4mpg and the average cost of fuel was $4.12 and I spent $375 on that fuel. Although the average cost of fuel was higher, I drove 600 miles less and I cannot figure out where I did all that driving in March. Then in May, things got even better. I drove 1,038 miles, used 85 gallons of fuel, averaged 15.2mpg and the average cost of fuel was $4.23 and I spent $360 on that fuel. So far this month, I’ve only filled up once and spent $64.01 for 15.391 gallons and I averaged 17.3mpg on the last tank.

Yesterday I had to drive to work and the reason was two-fold. First it was rainy and cold and second I had to bring the bike into the shop for a tune-up. After 80 miles of riding the cables had stretched and needed adjustment. They told me that was normal for a new bike and that now it should last much longer before it needs adjustment again. Thursday, riding around it was getting bad enough where it would jump gears on its own between 3rd, 4th, & 5th and on all 7 gears the de-railer was out of adjustment. So I dropped it off in the morning and picked it up after work and it is much better now.

I took it out this afternoon for a 12.7 mile ride across town. Every time I go out, I try to go down a different street that I hadn’t been on before. This helps me learn the side streets better and also gives new scenery to view. The town is only about 2.5 square miles so I must zig-zag all around to get the distance I want without leaving the city limits.

I must say that I am really glad I moved into town and got the bike, I feel so much better being able to get out and ride around, feel the wind in my hair and see the town up close.

New Ride

As I said I would do when I moved into town, I bought a bicycle. At first, my boss said he had his son’s old bike which he said was hardly used that he would sell me. So he brought in to me to try out. Once I saw it, I thought it was more used than he led on; but it was still in decent shape. I was thinking I would offer him $50 for it, but he wanted $70. He said to take it home, try it out and see what I think. It was a few days before I took it out due to poor weather.

This bike has those quick release wheels. Ever since I was a kid I never wanted a bike with those because I worried that something would happen and the wheel would come loose and cause me to crash. This bike which I will refer to as “the black bike” because of it’s color, had an issue with the quick release levers not staying tight as I would soon find out. The first morning (Friday) I took the black bike to work on the 2-mile trip. I tightened down the quick release levers once more and took off. I got down halfway of the first street and the rear wheel came loose and started rubbing on the frame. I stopped and realigned it and tightened it down again. I made it about 1 3/4 miles to the biggest and busiest intersection in our city and even in the county. I waited for the signal to cross the street and started to pedal away. About halfway across the street the rear wheel gave way again only worse and I almost fell into the street in front of a lot of morning traffic! I tried in vain to go again hoping it would turn and just rub on the frame as it did before. But no luck, I almost fell again. I then hopped, yes hopped the black bike the rest of the way across the street like a crazy fool. I can only imagine what all those people in their cars were thinking. Most were probably laughing at me, as I would have done if I saw someone else go through that! I spent about five minutes on the sidewalk trying to get it back on. Hands and pant leg greasy from the chain and I am on my way again. Thank God nothing serious happened to me. I had some scrapes and cuts on my leg from when my foot came off the pedal and that was the extent of my injuries.

I’m glad I didn’t fall down in the middle of this street as I did once long ago as a kid on the country road I fell on before. Back then, we were always doing tricks and stunts or other dumb things with our bikes. This is how I got one of my earliest nicknames, “looney von jif.” My two best friends and I would take a sheet of 4×8 plywood, prop it up on some blocks and then I would get my bike going as fast as I could and jump the makeshift ramp. We all would take turns and jump our bikes. Eventually we started taking extra blocks of wood and 2×4’s and putting them as obstacles on top of the ramp. Here is where the nickname came from as I was the only one stupid enough to run my bike over the treacherous ramp! My two “friends” were either too chicken or too smart and never jumped the ramp with the obstacles on it. Oh I made quite the spectacle of myself when I crashed off that thing and we got plenty of laughs from it. I never got hurt real bad which was fortunate. Some short years later I was all about trying to see how low to the ground I could get my bike without losing balance in a turn. One time I was in the middle of the road doing this and got so low that I lost my balance and tipped over right in the middle! I lay there for several seconds on the road laughing, while my friends laughed along. Then I looked up and here comes a car at 55mph! Quickly I get up and move off the road. I did not want to repeat that event on the busiest street around here.

I told my boss what I thought of the black bike and said thanks but no thanks. Later that day on a break, one of the girls had to go to the Walmart so I went with her to look at other bikes. I really didn’t want to spend a lot for a bike so I figured I would spend only about $100 for a new one. I found a bike which I will call “red bike” for $105 out the door. It is an 18-speed and had suspension on the front and rear wheels; something I never had on a bike before. The red bike also had the wheels attached with traditional nuts and lock washers. It also had a gear shifter like that of the throttle on a motorcycle which I had never seen before. All my bikes as a kid had the old thumb shifters. We then took the red bike back to the office in her Mercury Mountaineer. Later that day I rode the red bike home from work. It was a much safer feeling ride than my morning experience. But I noticed two things that I didn’t like about it once I got started riding. The first was the front de-railer would keep rubbing on the chain no matter how much I adjusted the shifter. It wasn’t bad, but annoying none-the-less. The other was noticeable about a mile into the trip, my butt really hurt from the unpadded small seat. It hurt enough to be sore into the next day. In the morning I went back to the Walmart and bought a nice gel-padded, wide seat and put that on the red bike. Then I went for another ride around town. I went much further around than 2 miles which took me to the north side of town (I live on the south side), out to one of the parks, through the park and out by the hospital and then headed back south to the apartment. My bottom felt much better with the new seat. However, the rubbing chain I found out was caused by a bent hub. The hub is the part where the pedal shafts connect at the middle of the frame. A bent hub is not an easy fix and it takes getting a whole new one and disassembling and unpacking the bearings etc… It’s not something I wanted to do, especially on a $100 Walmart bike. Lastly about the red bike, the kickstand seemed too short and the red bike was always very close to tipping over which I didn’t like. Being in my mid-30’s now, I am not a kid anymore and my body doesn’t take the beating riding a bicycle can give as well as it used to and I feel every bump in the road now for a while. This never used to bother me when I was younger.

After the long ride, my hands, wrists and arms were tired and sore from the angle of the handle bars compounded by the height and angle of the seat. I had the seat raised up as high as it would go so that my knees weren’t in my chest as I pedaled and so I could get full extension while pedaling. It all added up to being uncomfortable to ride, save the new padded seat. I decided to return the red bike back to the Walmart. I did so and went back to look at another bike that I looked at the day before. It was a taller bike (29″ vs. 26″ on the red bike) and it was white. It had a front disc brake and was a 21-speed. I rode it up and down a couple of aisles and decided that I didn’t like it. A white bicycle seemed too feminine and although it was new, had a lot of deep scratches on the handle bars. Plus the front disc brake was not very good at stopping the bike. This white bike was $200. I decided to pass and headed downtown to a dedicated bicycle shop. I knew going there would be more expensive than anything at a “big box mart.” I had to have a bike that wouldn’t kill me and was of decent quality.

I walked into the bike shop and they had a lot of bikes ranging from over $300 to $800 that I saw; there were probably more expensive ones too, but I didn’t notice them. The cute girl there came over and started to show me around, asked what I was looking for in a bike and so forth. I found one that I thought looked good and was reasonably priced compared to many of them there. This bike I call “the silver bike.” The silver bike is more of a cruising or touring bike I guess; I’m not really sure what to call it. It’s not a speed or long distance road bike and it’s not a mountain bike. The silver bike is a 7-speed which only has a de-railer in the back and none in the front. It came with a wide padded seat and the handle bars were much higher up than the red bike and the black bike. The cute girl let me ride it through the store and out the back into one of the city parking lots. It was a very comfortable ride and felt real solid. I knew it was a keeper right away!

We brought it back into the store and I said I’d buy it. The other thing about the silver bike is that my friend “clearance” was selling it for the low price of $339! Even on clearance it was more than I initially wanted to spend on a bicycle, but after my experiences with the other two bikes, I saw that I had no other choice. I added a water bottle holder to my purchase and I was about to be on my way. The cute girl also told me that I get 1 year of free service with the silver bike. Should anything go wrong with it I can bring it in and they will take care of it for free. That was comforting to know.

Trek Navigator 1.0 “The Silver Bike”

I took the silver bike home which is branded by Trek and the model is Navigator 1.0. I added a cable bike lock which I bought the other day with the red bike to the front handlebar stem, right under the reflector. Then I took it out for her maiden voyage. It is a real dream to ride! It was so smooth, comfortable and the changing of gears was quick and solid. It is also quite quiet with no clanging of the chain or other parts. It’s a real solid bike and I rode it all over the east and south sides of town for about an hour. My trip to work is about 15 minutes by the way. I really love the high handle bars which makes me sit more upright like a chair instead of bent over like a traditional mountain bike. I guess the only thing I would have liked to have with it is the front and rear suspension for added comfort, but that probably would have added a couple of hundred dollars to the price tag. But it’s not that big of a deal to me.

I am very happy with this bike! Now I can ride to work on nice days, save fuel in my vehicle and get some needed exercise too. Plus, because it is so nice to ride I plan on just taking it for rides as often as I can.