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Paul's story: Finding the motivation to put my diabetes into remission

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Paul

Diagnosed in August 2018

People don’t even recognise me and I feel so much younger and fitter – I’ve rewound the clock at least 15 years.

Paul, 59, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 21 and a half stone. He completely changed his diet and increased his exercise and lost 7 and a half stone and has put his diabetes into remission. He was had some awareness of the condition as his mum had it and his several members of his wife's family have it, with one having had an amputation.

 

Diagnosis

Delayed diagnosis

Looking back, I suppose I was always in what you would call the high-risk category of developing type 2 diabetes – I ticked just about every box. I was overweight, my mother had diabetes, I’m of African descent on my father’s side, and I suffered with sleep apnoea.

Warning signs

But I never really had any of the classic symptoms. In fact, what prompted me to visit the nurse was a nasty rash on my shins and really swollen ankles. I was prescribed cream for varicose eczema, but when I got home and looked on the internet I realised this wasn’t a skin complaint, it was due to problems with circulation. I went back to see the doctor, who did a Doppler test on my feet, which measures the amount of blood flow through your arteries and veins, and was also given a blood pressure monitor to wear for 24 hours. At this point though, diabetes wasn’t suspected. 

It was when I went back to have my monitor removed that the nurse noticed I hadn’t been going for my regular health checks. If I’m honest I’d received the letters but decided to ignore them. I’m required to have annual medicals for my job, so I assumed the urine tests I had would’ve detected diabetes. I now know you need a blood test for reliable diagnosis, which is what the nurse arranged for me. I feel indebted to her for her vigilance. 

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It was a few days later when I was on the train to Newcastle with my wife and two daughters that I got a phone call from the doctor. It was a Sunday, so I remember thinking to myself that it was probably bad news. It was then that I was told I had type 2 diabetes. At the time I was 21-and-a-half stone. When I got off the phone, in an attempt to make light of it, I tried to laugh it off, but my daughter who works in health and wellbeing wasn’t happy.  

Family history

I think the problem is that many people don’t realise how bad diabetes can be. You think type 1 is serious but not type 2. Several of the chaps at work have had it for a long time and just talked about taking a few tablets. I actually felt quite guilty that I hadn’t taken more of an interest given that my Mum lives with the condition, and many of my wife’s relatives have diabetes. Sadly, one member of her family needed an amputation and passed away three years later. 

Activity

Making changes

I got back from Newcastle on the Monday and decided I needed to get started. I went to see the diabetes nurse who talked about control with diet and exercise only, but there wasn’t a lot of in-depth information. I’ve never had diabetes medication prescribed. Looking back, I don’t think people are made aware of just how much they can do themselves. I never got a huge sense that I could change much or put myself into remission. I was also put on blood pressure medication.

I went on the DESMOND course but didn’t learn a great deal, as I’d done a lot of the research myself. In fact, the research frightened the life out of me. The thought of losing my eyesight was the key motivator. I thought to myself, if there’s anything I can do about this then I’ll do whatever it takes. 

I started out simply by walking. I used to be pretty fit when I was younger and would go to the gym four times a week. But now I wanted to take up exercise that was realistic and I could incorporate into my day. 

I knew that my diet needed to change drastically, too. A typical meal before my diagnosis was lots of carbs – always big portions of bread and potatoes. So I changed to a low-carb, high-fat and low in saturates diet, and cut out sweet stuff altogether. I also loved salt, which is why my blood pressure had always been high, but I haven’t touched a salt cellar since my diagnosis. Diabetes UK’s website and the Carbs & Cals book and app really helped.
 

Food and healthy eating

Seeing results

I lost around 12 pounds in my first week. From my research I knew that a lot of people who had managed to put themselves into remission tended to initially lose weight very quickly. When I returned to see the nurse after three months my HbA1c was down to 42 – it had been 51 when I was diagnosed. The nurse thought she was seeing things on the scales. I had lost around four stone in the first four months. 

I’ve now lost around seven-and-a-half stone and my HbA1c level has stabilised at 37 to 38. People don’t even recognise me and I feel so much younger and fitter – I’ve rewound the clock at least 15 years. I notice little things, like when I’m walking with work colleagues who I used to lag far behind but now they can't keep up with my natural walking pace. I’m also cycling again, sometimes up to 40 miles, which is something I never thought would be possible. I’m even finding myself running upstairs two at a time – the things I thought were long in the past.

I’m now confident in knowing what I can eat. I only eat small portions of carbs, like bread, potatoes and rice, but large helpings of green vegetables. Sweet stuff is mostly out, though not entirely off the menu. 

Remission

Going into remission - and staying there

It felt amazing to be told I was in remission. My family were so pleased for me. The nurse said I just need to go back once a year, but I asked if I could go back in three months. I’ve read on forums people talking about remission and someone said, “Even when you’re in remission, psychologically you’re always diabetic,” and I knew what they meant. I feel like I will always be looking over my shoulder. It doesn’t get me down, as you come to terms with it, but it’s always there. 

To begin with, if I went out for coffee and got the little biscuit on the side, I wanted to eat it but knew it was a slippery slope. I’m absolutely determined not to let things slip and go back to how they were. Now that I’ve sustained my lifestyle and it has become second nature, I have the confidence to not be quite so stringent, and have treats occasionally. 

It’s not exactly been a walk in the park but a lot easier than I ever imagined. I do realise that it’s a change for the rest of my life, so I make sure that all my initiatives are realistically sustainable and not too onerous.

Health benefits

My efforts have paid off far beyond what I could have hoped for. Besides being in remission, I no longer need blood pressure medication, my cholesterol is reduced to optimum levels, my back, knee and hip pain has disappeared. I’ve also recently had it confirmed that I no longer have sleep apnoea (stop-start breathing while asleep), so I don’t need to use a CPAP mask – this is life changing in itself. 

 

Diabetes UK and me

What I found helpful

Diabetes UK’s forum was great and enabled me to get advice, as well as hear about other people’s experiences. To begin with I found it hard to actually post something myself. I think I was struggling to acknowledge my diagnosis – I was watching as a third party. But after a while you start getting people’s opinions, which is great.  

I went onto the Diabetes UK website as I was hungry for stories like mine – to see if it was possible to achieve what I wanted to do. That’s why I want to share my story now, so I can hopefully inspire others.

My advice to anyone who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is to not bury your head in the sand – you need to face up to it. Arm yourself with information and realise that there’s a massive amount you can do yourself. Even if your blood results don’t return to normal levels, you can still make one heck of a difference. The inclination is to not think about it, but sooner or later you’ll have to and by then it could be for all the wrong reasons. 
 

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