Success Stories: Tackling Diabetes with Simple Diet Changes
The calls and e-mails have been pouring in to PCRM since Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes hit bookstores in January. Individuals with diabetes from all over the United States are contacting us to share their success with Dr. Barnard’s program.
We’ve heard from people who began the program the week they were diagnosed with diabetes and people who sought a change after battling the disease for 10 years or more. Some people were already eating fairly healthfully, and some people had never before heard the word “vegan.” But one person after another has shared a story of weight loss, improved health, reduction of medications, and a renewed faith in the power of nutrition.
Following are the stories of four very different people who all experienced powerful improvements in their health with simple diet and lifestyle changes.
Ira Goldberg never imagined the difference a healthy diet could make. In fact, when the 41-year-old high school history teacher first heard the word “vegan” mentioned in the diabetes class he had enrolled in, he turned to his wife and said, “I don’t think so.” That was one year and 65 pounds ago, and today Goldberg proclaims that having become a vegan is one of the things he is proudest of in his life.
Goldberg enrolled in Caroline Trapp’s Food for Life to Prevent and Reverse Diabetes, a PCRM-sponsored pilot program in the Detroit area, five years after he was diagnosed with diabetes. His A1c (a commonly used index of blood glucose control) was through the roof at 10.8. Trapp told him about a lifestyle he could take on that didn’t involve counting calories or limiting portion sizes. With his wife’s support, Goldberg decided to jump in.
After the first few weeks, Goldberg realized that the diet was something he could do. As someone who eats out several times a week, realizing that he could easily find something to eat at restaurants was a turning point. “I never came close to not finding something to eat at restaurants,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg counts cooking at home, finding the perfect tofu, and making sure that everything he eats is truly low-fat as among the most challenging parts of the diet. “But I have the vegan part down, no problem,” Goldberg said. In fact, he says that eating animal products now seems foreign to him.
“This journey started off as a way of fulfilling a health need, but has really evolved into a personal awakening that has left me a more well-rounded person, and I really feel good about what I’m doing for other living beings,” Goldberg said.
When Anne Herndon was diagnosed with diabetes in June 2006, her doctor gave her three months to lower her A1c. The 61-year-old retired psychologist started making changes right away: She followed the dietary guidelines of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and cut out “white” processed foods, cut out wine, and began exercising every day. By October, her weight had dropped but her other numbers hadn’t budged. Impressed by Herndon’s weight loss, her doctor gave her three more months to get her numbers down before turning to medication.
Herndon wasn’t really sure what else to do besides continuing to follow the ADA dietary guidelines and keep exercising. In November—two months before Dr. Barnard’s book appeared—her friend pointed her to Dr. Barnard’s research about a low-fat vegan diet. Figuring she had nothing to lose, she began the new diet right away.
Herndon was already eating plenty of fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables and only had meat (usually fish) a few times a week, so the transition for her was quite simple. She cut out the meat, began putting soymilk on her breakfast oatmeal instead of skim milk, and continued to eat an abundance of produce from her local farmers’ market.
When Herndon went back for testing in January, not only had her weight dropped but this time her A1c had fallen to 5.8. Both Herndon and her doctor were impressed.
Herndon has been enjoying every aspect of the diet and is “thrilled with what’s in the refrigerator.” She’s so enthusiastic that she has offered herself as a guide for anyone wanting to make the transition to a low-fat vegan diet. “I would love for someone to say to me ‘I want to change to a vegan diet, will you help me?’” Herndon said.
John Beale was already taking medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. So when he was diagnosed with diabetes this past January, Beale was not thrilled with the thought of taking more pills. A dietitian who looked at his already fairly healthy diet and active lifestyle felt that medication was essential. Beale was frustrated, and he knew there must be something else he could do. He went home, got on the Internet, and began educating himself about diabetes. Within 48 hours, Beale had read Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes cover to cover.
He took Dr. Barnard’s advice and began the program without compromise: The first day he and his wife replaced all the “no” foods in the kitchen with “yes” foods. After one week on the program, his blood sugar and weight began coming down. After eight weeks, his blood pressure was below normal, he’d lost 32 pounds, and his doctor cut his cholesterol medication by half. In the class he participated in at the clinic for all newly diagnosed diabetics, two-thirds of his classmates ended up buying the book after talking with Beale about his progress.
Beale’s biggest challenge was learning to read labels and shop for food, “but in hindsight it was a wonderful education,” he said. Beale begins his day with oatmeal and fruit, has a salad for lunch, and has anything from pasta to homemade soups to cheeseless pizza for dinner. He and his wife are even making their own homemade veggie burgers.
Beale has found people to be very inquisitive about Dr. Barnard’s program, which Beale believes is the only hopeful message for diabetics out there.
Jane Peters has been a vegetarian for 15 years. So when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in September 2006 and her doctor said that vegetarians can’t control their diabetes, she became frustrated. When a nurse at the diabetes education center gave her the same news, she felt dejected. That afternoon, the Autumn 2006 issue of Good Medicine arrived in her mailbox with a “Targeting Diabetes” cover story detailing Dr. Barnard’s findings that a low-fat vegan diet works to control diabetes better than the traditional diabetes diet. “I felt like someone had thrown me a lifeline,” Peters said. “I started the diet that day.”
After Jane switched her diet, she also switched her doctor. She found a doctor who was very supportive of her new lifestyle. And after just four months on the diet, Peters’ numbers were so low her doctor took her off the metformin that she was initially prescribed. “I was very surprised and incredibly relieved,” Peters said of her immediate improvements. “I just didn’t think that for someone who hadn’t eaten meat in a very long time that just cutting out the cheese and the eggs could have such an effect.” Peters’ physician was so impressed by Peters’ improvement that she’s “going to read Dr. Barnard’s book from cover to cover,” Peters said.
Peters has cut out dairy products, cut back on refined carbohydrates, and is eating many more fruits and vegetables. She’s also discovering foods like quinoa and ethnic foods that she probably would not have found before. An added bonus: Her 53-pound weight loss has given her renewed energy and a new wardrobe. “I never ever thought I’d feel this good again,” Peters said.
“As discouraging and as frustrating as it can be to be newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, people should realize there is a very simple way back to a healthy life,” Peters said. “For the payoff you get, it’s not that hard.”