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Patients kick the insulin habit through diet, exercise

Counting calories -- and miles walked -- helped these people control their diabetes.

October 26, 2009|Marni Jameson

By harnessing the power of lifestyle, the following people are managing their Type 2 diabetes without insulin, and in some cases without any medication at all. Some made the commitment when they were first diagnosed, but others reversed a condition that had been spiraling downward for years. Here's how they did it:


"I'm controlled, not cured, but I'm not going back."

Aaron Snyder, San Diego

Age: 31

Occupation: Commodities analyst for Shell Oil

Diagnosed: 10 years ago. (Diabetes is diagnosed by a fasting blood sugar of higher than 126 and an A1C of 6.5 or higher.)

Weight then: 220 pounds

Height: 5 feet 6

Background: "I was a math major at UC Berkeley and the pressure was enormous. I solved a lot of problems with food." One evening, after he went out to dinner with a diabetic friend, she tested his blood sugar out of curiosity. It was 215. His A1C was in the 7s. "I had a long family history of diabetes; I just never thought I'd be part of it."

Lifestyle changes: Over the next year he lost 50 pounds on a low-carb diet, and 10 more pounds the year after that. His doctor put him on insulin and metformin, a non-insulin medication that decreases the liver's output of sugar and boosts cells' ability to metabolize insulin. He began exercising daily.

Today: He still weighs 160 pounds, and sticks to his low-carb diet. Two years ago, he stopped taking all his diabetes medications, and his blood pressure and cholesterol are normal. He works out every day, lifting weights four days a week, and riding a stationary bike 30 minutes three days a week.

Advice: "I wish people understood that what you eat now influences what you want to eat next. A low-carb diet is the best way to curb your appetite and maintain your weight."

What keeps him on track: His great grandmother had a stroke and lost a leg to diabetes, and his grandfather went blind and died of kidney disease, also due to diabetes. Besides, he adds, "I like how I look now, and more important, how I feel."


"I went from eating frequently from the vending machine to knowing where all the yoga classes and running trails are around town and shopping at the farmers market."

Howard Yosha,

Laguna Hills

Age: 37

Occupation: Cable consultant for Time Warner Cable

Diagnosed: Six years ago

Weight then: 240 pounds

Height: 5 feet 8

Background: While working at a communications call center, Yosha developed gout in his legs and feet, which triggered a toe infection that wouldn't heal. His doctor suspected diabetes. Tests revealed his blood sugar was 415 and his A1C was approaching 13. His doctor started him on Actos, a drug that helps reverse early diabetes and increase the body's sensitivity to insulin. He put Yosha on a 1,400-calorie diet and sent him to a hospital-sponsored class.

Lifestyle changes: He took the six-week class "very seriously," he said. He made losing weight a priority, joined e-diets and downloaded hundreds of healthy recipes. "I learned to cook and shop at the local farmers market." He got on a strict schedule, and programmed his Palm Pilot to sound every time he was supposed to sleep, eat, check his blood or take his meds. He started walking 2 miles at lunch and after work. He eventually lost 65 pounds and started taking yoga.

Today: He's medication-free and weighs 175; his A1C is 5.2 and his blood sugar stays around 98. He eats and sleeps at the same time every day. He takes two to four yoga classes a week and walks or jogs 2 to 8 miles a day. Last December, his employer sponsored him to run the O.C. half-marathon. He ran the 13-mile race again in May.

Advice: "Make moving more [of] a habit. I park on the top floor of my office's parking structure . . . and I pick the farthest parking space at the shopping center."

What keeps him on the program: "I will do anything to avoid that terrible foot pain I had. I had uncles lose limbs to diabetes. I never want that to happen to me."


"Don't underestimate the body's potential to heal on its own."

John Burgess, Irvine

Age: 43

Occupation: Accountant

Diagnosed: 18 years ago

Weight then: 220 pounds

Height: 5 feet 11

Background: For a long time Burgess controlled his disease with diet and exercise, but eventually he needed medication. He started taking metformin and Actos, and ultimately, in July 2007, insulin, which caused weight gain. By December 2008, he weighed 250, had become more insulin resistant and needed medications to manage blood pressure and cholesterol. His sedentary job didn't help. He ultimately needed the strongest insulin available, five injections a day of U-500. In six months he gained 50 more pounds, peaking at 305. In July 2009, he saw Dr. Wei-An Lee.

Lifestyle changes: Lee put Burgess on a strict, 700-calorie-a-day diet. One week later he was off all insulin. After two weeks, he graduated to a 1,000-calorie diet, and added some exercise. He got a pedometer and aimed for 5,000 steps a day. He lost 84 pounds in 85 days. All his numbers, which he charts meticulously, have improved.

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