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Ivor's story: getting fit at home and eating well to help prevent diabetes

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Ivor Heller

Found out he had a high risk of type 2 diabetes in October 2019

It’s an extremely strange time for everyone but I have decided to make the most of it, with exercise being the main thing I'm doing to pass the time.

Ivor isn’t letting the current (COVID-19) health crisis get in the way of his new exercise routine. The AFC Wimbledon Football Club director from Surrey made dramatic changes to his lifestyle following some tests which showed he was at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Here, he shares his story with us including details of the changes he has made and how he is coping with life in self-isolation.

Diagnosis

Feeling unwell

I had been feeling achy, tired, having night sweats, just generally feeling quite unwell in myself for quite some time. This in itself wasn’t a huge shock because I had been through a tough few months.  

A year previously I had major surgery to remove a tumour, and part of my lung. Following this we lost my mum very suddenly. She had been a carer to my father, so after this I started visiting him 4 or 5 times a week, combined with working full time. I was getting home late, not eating well or getting much sleep, and I was feeling terrible through these difficult circumstances.

I decided to go to the doctor to get checked out. The doctor ran some tests and told me I had a high blood sugar reading of 7.5 (mmols/l)  which put me in the high-risk range for type 2 diabetes. I googled lots of diets and advice but found it all confusing.

Food and healthy eating

Making changes

I was approached by the owner of a local cafe which offers healthy meals. For five weeks they made all my meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner which were fresh, low calorie vegan meals without any gluten, dairy or refined sugar in them. I thought I had nothing to lose and would give it a try. 

I learnt so much about foods I like, and those that I don’t like as much. I enjoyed pretty much all the meals and discovered things like black rice which is much lower GI than regular white rice and makes a healthier alternative. I really enjoyed the way they prepared vegetables, things like parsnips and I found myself trying new foods (some I liked a lot more than others).  

I also stopped drinking coffee and snacking just for the sake of it. The first week without coffee was so hard and I felt physically terrible, with really bad headaches. But now I don’t even fancy it, I sometimes have tea with a splash of oat milk or peppermint tea instead.

I don’t feel like eating red meat or processed foods like sausages, bacon or ham at all anymore, and they used to be a fairly big part of my diet.

I’m not saying I will never ever eat a sausage sandwich or a curry again, but I am thinking about what I eat a lot more now and taking it very seriously.

Challenges

There have been some challenges along the way. As visiting director, I attend a lot of away football matches. The grounds usually serve really nice meals but they were all very happy to accommodate me taking along my own food when I was following the plan. 

I really love a curry and it was hard to see everyone else getting stuck in to curries, with plenty of rice and naans, washed down with beers and wine, on our annual curry night.

I had my bottle of sparkling water and lentil and mushroom shepherd’s pie pre- prepared for me. Of course, people took the mickey but I am a strong character who can take public scrutiny.

I have received a lot of support and encouragement from my team AFC Wimbledon. Other people have since reached out to me saying they are worried about their own health and that I have inspired them to make changes, too, which makes it all worth it.

Activity

Self-isolation

As I have had part of my lung removed, I’m self-isolating for 12 weeks during the coronavirus outbreak.

I’ve decided to make my quest for fitness (and sanity) into daily videos that I am sharing on my twitter page. I've had so many great comments and lots of support from people.

They have also been sending me creative ideas of activities I could do – some better than others! I’ve had two people with diabetes reach out to me and say I have inspired them to do some exercise too, so that makes it all worth it for me. If you can think of an interesting activity for me to do indoors or outside, please send them to me @ivor27 on twitter.

I think if this crisis had happened a year ago, I would have sat on my sofa, feeling stressed, eating my way out of it. I am enjoying putting smiles on people’s faces and keeping myself healthy at the same time, so I hope it is having a positive effect all round.

At the moment I feel very safe where I am but I am worried about my family. My brother is a pharmacist and my nephew a doctor working on the frontline. I've been making more effort than normal to speak to friends on the phone, especially those I know are on their own. It feels like a natural thing to do, even if we don’t have lots to chat about apart from the current situation.

I am making a real effort to eat as healthily as possible too, and am so lucky to have my partner Lisa who is a genius in the kitchen. For example, we picked up some leeks the other day as there wasn’t much other veg available. She created a brilliant dish by wrapping strips of leek around sweet potato and baking them with a delicious tomato sauce, almost like cannelloni. Things like the black rice I eat now are much cheaper to buy in larger quantities, so I have plenty of that to keep me going.

Physical changes

Before changing my eating habits I suffered with horrible night sweats which went within three days.

I’ve had a painful knee for many years but since losing weight my pain has almost gone away and I am trying to walk as much as possible every day.

Sometimes I can easily do a 2.5 mile walk which was something that would have been difficult previously.

So far, I have lost almost 10kg (22lbs) in 6 weeks and am keen to continue. After two weeks I was wearing clothes I hadn’t fitted into for a while and felt so much better than I had in a long time.

I am cooking healthy meals at home for myself and want to lose even more weight. I am really loving life right now, I feel fantastic. If I can do it, anyone can.

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