For years, as a reporter, I’ve talked to people who have “reversed” their type 2 diabetes. Talking to medical experts, I learned to replace the word “reverse” with “remission”, since once you have diabetes, it can always return.
But whether you call it reversal or remission, I never thought it would happen to me.
When these people talked about getting off or reducing their meds, I applauded them, but thought they had more willpower, stamina, or fairy dust than me. Often, they had been extremely overweight or obese, and had cut their diets back in ways that seemed rather unhealthy, subsisting on meal substitutes or apples or all protein.
I was neither extremely obese nor extremely overweight. I carried a few more pounds than I wanted to, but that had been a problem for years. I wore a size 12, which seemed normal. I didn’t have trouble finding clothes, as long as they weren’t closely fitted. I had perfected the art of dressing five pounds lighter, draping fabrics just so and wearing shirts that hit my thighs with skinny jeans. At five foot 5, with long arms and legs, I could, in certain lights, be perceived as looking about right, even if my BMI was creeping toward overweight territory.
And I was pretty healthy. At their worst, with medication, my highest A1C’s skirted 6.5. Because I exercised, I had great HDL’s. My blood pressure was stable as was my overall cholesterol.
I was in decent control of my diabetes. Yet remission – or reversal – seemed a dream.
But a year or so ago, I decided to give up meat and chicken. I added a weight lifting class to my regular twice weekly schedule. I moved the resistance meter on my stationary bike, which I pedal four times a week, to the highest level.
The results weren’t immediate. I didn’t always stay on my plan. But slowly, the numbers on my scale steadily dropped and this spring I emerged 23 pounds lighter and a size 6.
And then something more amazing occurred.
At my regular six-month endocrinologist’s office last week, he looked up from my lab test results.
“Hey,” he said. “Do you know your A1C is 5.7?”
He looked over the pages as I digested the news. Since I had started my self-made program, the numbers that should be up were up, and those that should be down were down. I swallowed and took the plunge.
“Does that mean I can drop some meds?”
He looked up.
“I don’t see why not,” he said. “I think I’d keep you on metformin to fight insulin resistance. But the repaglinide can go.”
It was the first time since I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes in 1985 that anyone had reduced my meds.
On that morning, I left my doctor’s office in a semi-daze, the pills and shots that I had taken over the many years flashing before my eyes. Insulin during my pregnancy with my youngest son. Amaryl, repaglinide. Byetta, which made me so nauseous I couldn’t leave the house; Bydureon, which left small swellings on my stomach.
Look, I know it’s only remission. That if I return to my former way of eating and let up on my exercise everything could head south.
But what I want to tell you is that it can be done, and not only with extreme diets that cut out every food you love.
I want to tell you remission isn’t impossible, because it happened to me.