Dr. Osama Hamdy explains how losing just a little bit of weight – the healthy way – can change your medical outlook.
By Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD, and Sheri Colberg, PhD
Meet Jim. With his heart pounding, chest heaving and legs aching, Jim has never felt as alive and accomplished as the day he crossed the finish line—of his first 5k race. The 51-year-old’s story starts with a bad checkup and some serious prodding by his family that convinced Jim he needed help getting his diabetes back on track.
“The doctors weren’t very happy with me because of my A1C results.” (In case you don’t know, your A1C reflects your average blood glucose levels over the past two to three months and a number more than 7 percent indicates uncontrolled diabetes.) As Jim says, “I knew then that I’d better start making some changes if I wanted to walk my daughter down the aisle or become a grandparent.” Enter the Joslin Why WAIT™ program and Jim’s story does a U-turn to get him across that finish line.
All good men want to live long enough and be healthy enough to raise their kids and take pleasure in seeing their grandkids grow up. But if you are overweight, you should know that you are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is also a leading cause of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes—all of which may shorten your life considerably, or at least make you less able to enjoy the time you have left.
The accumulation of fat in your body, especially around your waistline, can contribute to making your body resistant to your own hormone called insulin, which is critical for your body to use and store the carbohydrates you eat. If you become insulin resistant (meaning the insulin doesn’t do its job as well), you may develop diabetes or may already have prediabetes. The good news is that you can reverse prediabetes and prevent or better control type 2 diabetes—if you take the right steps.
The key to preventing diabetes and improving your blood glucose levels is to make your body more sensitive to insulin. Amazingly, we found that when people lose just 7 percent of their body weight, their insulin sensitivity improves by around 57 percent—which may be enough to prevent diabetes or reverse the progressive course of the disease. But how can you lose that weight? And, once you do, how can you keep it off?
In The Diabetes Breakthrough: Based on a Scientifically Proven Plan to Lose Weight and Cut Medications we explain step-by-step how you can lose those extra pounds over 12 weeks. Here are some important facts you may not know and some steps you can start taking now:
- The key to healthy weight loss is to keep all of your muscle while losing the fat.
As you age, you lose about three-quarters of a pound of muscle every year, and diabetes makes you lose it even faster. Most diets also make you lose too much muscle: 27 percent of weight loss in men on most plans. To keep your muscle, in this book we recommend increasing your daily protein intake to 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram (which is about 17 to 21 ounces of protein for the average 100 kg, or 220 pound, guy) and start doing strength training to maintain your muscle mass while dieting.
- If you have diabetes, your meds may be undermining your attempts to lose weight.
Many of the diabetes medications cause weight gain. Our book has a guide you can share with your doctor that tells how to reduce the medications that cause weight gain and replace them with ones that control diabetes equally well and either have no effect on weight or cause you to shed pounds.
- Attempts at losing weight can also fail when you make the wrong type of weight loss goals.
It’s not enough to just say you’re going to cut back on your eating or exercise more. You need to start your successful weight loss journey by defining SMART goals for weight loss, which means that your goals must be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-limited. For example, you may want to lose 20 pounds using a low-calorie diet and exercise plan over the next 6 months, but how you’re going to do that has to be spelled out in actionable steps to make it work.
- Exercise is a critical part of losing weight and keeping it off for good.
The exercise goal by the end of 12 weeks in The Diabetes Breakthrough is 300 minutes per week. Of course, you will start out gradually and increase the amount of exercise you’re doing until you reach 60 minutes most days of the week. Unlike most exercise programs associated with weight loss, though, this one is more effective mix of stretching, aerobic exercise, strength training, and more.
- You can be successful at losing weight and taking fewer diabetes meds at the same time.
People who did the Why WAIT program at Joslin Diabetes Center (The Diabetes Breakthrough is a home-based version) lost an average of 25 pounds over 12 weeks—almost 10 percent of their body weight—and the majority kept that same weight off for 5 years or more. They also cut their diabetes meds by 50 to 60 percent. Just think how much money that can save you on meds over time.
Remember Jim, the runner? He not only reached the average goals of the Why WAIT program, but he also vastly exceeded them. By the end of the 12 weeks, he had shed 40 pounds and soon thereafter dropped his blood glucose into a normal range—despite having been taken off all of his diabetes medications and one for high blood pressure.
When he started the program his goal was to run a 5K (5 kilometer or 3.1 mile) race. He hasn’t just met that goal; he has since participated in other 5K and 10K (6.2 mile) races and has consistently placed first or second in his age group. What’s more, he is currently training for a half marathon that he plans to run with his oldest son this year. Now that’s an example of a well-defined SMART goal.
How did he do it? Jim says, “Determination is what it finally took for me to make these changes for the better in my lifestyle. I am now more determined than ever to stay on my path to keep myself healthier.” Diabetes can lead you across the finish line, too—and to a healthier and longer life in the process—even if you don’t take up running road races.
Photo: Flickr/ N. Feans