Zaheer is 48 and works in digital marketing. He changed his diet overnight after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He is now on a mission to fight diabetes. He is very active on the Diabetes UK Forum as “finsit”. To help friends and family with diabetes, he has also set up a community diabetes awareness channel in Urdu at Sugar Free Pakistan.
I found out I had type 2 diabetes in December 2020 during the pandemic. It was lockdown but I still got the diagnosis and treatment.
I was asked to come in for a routine health check. When they tested my blood pressure, it was much higher than usual. And my HbA1c was 78. A few days later I got a call from the GP who told me I had type 2 diabetes and needed to start taking metformin. I had to go in for other tests – like a foot check, kidney check and eye check. Luckily everything was OK.
"I was surprised by the diagnosis because I was feeling well. I had no issues. But once I started lowering my blood sugar I started understanding. I didn’t know that I could do better!"
Looking back earlier that year, I remember two or three weeks of severe joint pain. I was working from home because of lockdown. Every joint hurt and I couldn’t open a water bottle. I'd also had fatigue and blurry vision.
But I didn’t make the link. I thought it was because I’m a marketing person working on computers and it was excess work. Everything was more intense than normal. And then I started feeling OK again.
And then in August 2020 when I was climbing Ben Nevis, a strange thing happened in the middle. I got cramps in my left leg behind the thigh. The pain was so severe I couldn’t move. I had to sit for 5 or 10 minutes before I could climb. I’m usually doing a walk of 10 to 15 miles every week with a friend and it was the first time ever I’d had to ask to stop and rest.
I thought it was a twisted muscle. Now, after my research, I’m wondering if it was what you call claudication or something like peripheral artery disease.
I could have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes two years earlier. I’d had a routine blood test at my GP surgery for diabetes in March 2019. They found my HbA1c was 50 at the time (putting me in the range for diabetes I know now).
I received a text message saying they’d need to repeat the test in a month’s time. And that was the last I’d heard. It was before Covid. No one followed up even though they knew I had a family history of type 2 diabetes. My father had it and most of my sisters and brothers have it. I thought if it was important they’d get in touch with me again. I was doing lots of travelling and forgot all about it. It's a bit disappointing as the delayed diagnosis might have put me at risk of complications.
Making the link with food
Because I’m very active physically I thought I wouldn’t get type 2 diabetes. I hadn’t realised how important what you eat can be.
I'd go jogging and go to the gym and my weight was under control pretty much. I have a tendency to put on weight so when my trousers were getting tighter I’d go back to eating sensibly.
"I was told that food basically was the key to managing my diabetes. I wish someone had told me about this 10 years ago. I have a scientist’s mind, and once I’d made that connection I changed my diet overnight. I went on a low-carb diet and lost weight. "
Within 3-4 months, I got my HbA1c below 30 which means my blood sugars are now in the normal range and I came off metformin. Even now I still check my blood sugar 2-3 times a day.
I also went onto the Diabetes UK forum to learn about diabetes. I chatted with people to find out about their experiences.
I see myself as being part of citizens scientists. You take your illness into your own hands. You look at scientific fact not Facebook wisdom.
"The first month on the forum I was doing more of the asking and the second month I was doing more contributing."
I’m a well-known member. I have a degree in genetics and an MBA and it makes me happy to share information. I’ve made it the mission of my life to help people with diabetes.
I started my own YouTube channel for my family members in Pakistan about diabetes a couple of months ago. They don’t have access to the right information for their diabetes. What I learn about diabetes I send back to them. It’s not medical advice, it’s my own experience. I’ll tell them about the right food and nutrition.
My blood pressure is now even better than when I was young. I want people who are where I was to know that they can do it too.
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