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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Jez's story: how a lifestyle intervention changed my life

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Jez Joseph

Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2012

When I was struggling with type 2 diabetes, I had a lot of misconceptions about the condition. It felt like I was stumbling around in the dark.

Jez Joseph was aware that his family history put him at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but his diagnosis at the age of 25 still came as a shock. After struggling to manage his condition for five years, an intervention from a friend put him on the path to a healthier lifestyle. 

Emotions

Emotions

I had a family history of type 2 diabetes and, as far as I could tell, I was doing more than most people to keep an eye on my risk. But I was still caught off-guard by my diagnosis. 

I said to the nurse, ‘What do I do? How do I get rid of it?’ She replied, ‘You don’t. You just manage it for the rest of your life.’ I’ve since learned it’s possible to put type 2 diabetes into remission, but even at that stage, I simply couldn’t accept that it was something I’d have to live with forever.

I didn’t want to be prescribed so much medication. I just didn’t know how to deal with diabetes. I had a lot of misconceptions about the condition. It felt like I was stumbling about in the dark.

Within five years of my diagnosis, I was in a bad place. My feet were swollen to the point that I couldn’t wear my own shoes. Everything was wrong. My granddad, who had type 2 diabetes and was a double amputee, had recently passed away. Imagine realising that you can’t wear your own shoes and knowing that your granddad has had amputations? I wasn’t even 30. I was terrified about where I was going to be in ten years.

Journey with diabetes

Friends and family

Growing up, I was aware of diabetes and its effects. My maternal grandmother was a nurse and she had type 2. She told me to look after myself and my diet. From the age of about 16, I would go to my local pharmacy roughly once a year for a free, fasting blood glucose test.

At the pharmacy, they’d say I was all clear, that things weren’t too bad. They’d tell me to keep an eye on my diet and your weight, but I was never advised I was in trouble or needed to go to the doctors or anything like that. 

In 2012, my maternal grandfather went into hospital. He was feeling a bit unwell and tired and in hospital, the doctors asked him how long he’d been diabetic. He said he wasn’t, but the medics thought he had been living with the condition for maybe more than 12 years.

He’s not my biological grandfather, so there wasn’t a genetic connection. It was just a situation that I was close to. I was diagnosed later that year. It was maybe three years since I’d last been for a check-up at the pharmacy, but I had a blood testing kit at home and when I checked, my blood sugar was 25mmol/mol. I thought, ‘this has totally snuck up on me.’

Food and healthy eating

Diet, nutrition and active living

I think I was naturally skinny as a child, but the moment I was able to make decisions about food for myself, things started to go wrong. It’s about the decisions you make daily. When you’re 12 or 13, there are tuck shops selling two pieces of cake for 40p, but there’s not a lot of education about the fact that will eventually catch up with you.  

I’ve always been active. But I haven’t always been aware of the correlation between the type of things I would eat and how much activity I’d need to do to burn them off.

When you’re young you eat because you’re a growing lad and you’re hungry. But then you get to a certain age and you can have other emotions. Comfort, sadness. Lots of other factors all come in.
At 6ft 2in and with a naturally broad frame, I didn’t notice myself gaining weight. I was always wearing baggy clothing. It’s only now when I look back at photos I can see it. 

Within two years of my diabetes diagnosis, my HbA1c had doubled and physically, I just couldn’t function. I had a go at writing a food diary, because I was taking so much insulin and although it was absolutely necessary, it wasn’t making me feel any better.

After I started to make lifestyle changes, I ran the London marathon to raise money for Diabetes UK. I did it to show diabetes who is boss. The truth is, if you want to improve your health, no-one is going to do it for you. You have to put your shoes on, get out, and do whatever you can. No-one is going to do it for you. You might be cold and wet by the time you finish, but you will have set out to do what you meant to do.

Diabetes UK and me

Diabetes UK and me

From what I’ve learned, Diabetes UK do phenomenal work. They fund lot of research and there’s much more to do before we start to understand this condition and truly make it a thing of the past. If I was going to run the London marathon, it was going to have to be for Diabetes UK.

Activity

Biggest challenge

Aside from overhauling my lifestyle, running the London marathon for Diabetes UK has been my biggest challenge. Did I have the mental capacity to run the marathon? Yes, 100 per cent. But I worried that I wouldn’t have the physical capacity. I started speaking to a running coach who talked me through the process of training. Did I have it in me to get up at 4am and go running? The truth was, yes, I did.

I think if you sign up to a challenge, then it starts to happen. I built myself up to a point where maybe once a week I was committing 20 per cent of my day, maybe a little more, to training. 

There’s no greater motivation than knowing you did something that you set out to do. Knowing you didn’t have to do it, but you wanted to get closer to your goal. The boxer Mike Tyson said, ‘I get up and go for a run at 5am because I know that my enemy isn’t.’ What was my enemy? Diabetes. 

Life with diabetes

What has helped me the most?

My friend’s offer to help me train at the gym me feel like someone who cared about me could see I was in a bad way and didn’t know how to ask for help. He’d probably seen me in decline for a couple of years. In that time, I’d been asking for help from my GP and my diabetes nurse, but just ended up feeling more and more lost. My friend didn’t judge me. He didn’t say, ‘I can’t believe you’ve done this to yourself.’ He didn’t even comment on about my diet. He just said he’d see me in the gym.

Training with him was intense, but what was the alternative? I couldn’t believe he was willing to put himself out to help me like that and I knew that no-one was going to do the hard work for me.

The NHS and GPs are stretched, so they’re not always able to give an exceptional level of care to every individual, but there was one Diabetes Specialist Nurse, out of the nine I saw, who really tried to help me. 

Jez's perspective

If I could go back in time, I would have slapped that chocolate cake out of my hand at 13 years old and said, ‘you have no idea what that’s going to do to you.’ 

I suppose the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that eating is not going to bring me long-term comfort. I got very philosophical when I started to make changes to my lifestyle. I already knew what happens when you give up, so I knew I had to carry on.

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