I grew up at the tip of southern Texas with four brothers and three sisters. When I was eight years old, my father abandoned our family and my mother struggled to raise eight children on her own. In search of better employment, she decided to move us to the Chicago area in 1982. In high school I thrived as a healthy athlete and earned a football scholarship to The University of Michigan. In those days I could eat whatever I wanted and did not have health or weight issues because I was so physically active. At twenty-one years old I was 6’2″ and weighed 305 pounds.
During my years as a young adult I witnessed my mother’s battle with diabetes and its complications. She suffered from kidney failure, vision problems, and heart disease. She underwent a kidney transplant donated by my sister Jill. Jill is my only sibling who has not been diagnosed with diabetes, but she too felt its impact as she bravely donated a kidney to our mother. After over 33 years of fighting diabetes, my mother passed in April 2002 (she was the family rock and I miss her dearly). If that were not bad enough, my oldest brother David passed in June 2002, just 2 months after my mother, due to pancreatic cancer. My oldest sister, Carol, struggled with diabetes too, but she she started eating mostly plant-based and eliminated her medications. My twin brother, Joe, has battled diabetes for over a decade and just two months ago suffered a heart attack. Sandra, my youngest sister also has type 2 diabetes. Martin, our youngest sibling, suffers greatly from this terrible disease. He has had a pancreas and kidney transplant, is legally blind, had his right leg amputated, goes to dialysis three times a week, and takes 25 medications every day.
As the years progressed, I also found myself having high Hemoglobin A1C levels. The Hemoglobin A1C test is a blood result that diabetics are familiar with. It measures the average sugar levels in your blood over a 2-3 month timeframe. It indicates how much sugar remains in your blood and ultimately determines if doctors will consider you diabetic and begin prescribing medications. The current A1C range for a non-diabetic is between 4 and 5.7. I began taking the diabetes medication Metformin in 2004. My A1C level back in 2002 was 8.8 and ultimately rose to as high as 10.5 in September 2011. This is the point at which my doctor prescribed insulin injections (Lantus) and I had already been taking 4 oral medications for years — Metformin (for diabetes), Januvia (for diabetes), Simvastatin (for high cholesterol), and Lisinopril (for high blood pressure). Below is a picture of the medications I was taking in 2011. I included 2 pictures so you can see my name and then another that shows the dates on the prescriptions.
As my A1c levels gradually rose over the years, I tried to improve my health by dieting, exercising more, and cutting carbs. Unfortunately, these strategies did not stop the progression of diabetes. Later I learned that carbs are not the enemy—fat is. Eventually my doctor told me that I had to begin injecting insulin daily. I found myself feeling very frustrated and helpless. For years I had witnessed the suffering from diabetes in my family, and I saw myself as destined to walk down the same path.
It seemed like there was no cure and that diabetes was just something the members of my family had to deal with. I remember asking my doctor if I would ever stop taking the insulin injections and his response was “No.” This really pissed me off. But hey, what should I expect? I am Hispanic and belong to a culture that has a high percentage of diabetics. And my family was filled with diabetics, so I should just accept the fact that I was predisposed to having the disease.
In autumn of 2011 my in-laws gave Kim and I a copy of the dvd Forks Over Knives. It sat in our home for a few months before we watched it. One day, feeling somewhat hopeless about my diabetes, Kim and I decided to watch Forks Over Knives. This video was so inspirational that after watching it I felt I had to give it a try. The documentary was well done and it just made sense. I also purchased the book Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes. Between watching Forks Over Knives and reading Dr. Neal Barnard’s Progam for Reversing Diabetes, Kim and I decided to try this way of eating. On 12-3-2011 we both began our whole food, plant based diet and my life and health has not been the same since. I follow three basic guidelines for eating: I eat no animal products, I eat low fat foods, and I avoid high glycemic foods. I enjoy foods such as oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins, pasta prima vera with marinara sauce, bean burritos with jalepeno peppers, veggie subs, veggie burgers, and plenty of fruits and vegetables such as strawberries and sweet potatoes. (Notice that this is not a low carb diet. I enjoy a lot of complex carbs. Carbs are not the enemy. High fat foods are. Fat gets in cells and prevents insulin and glucose from working properly.)
In less than 2 months I was off of all my medications and have been medication free for over 3 years. It has been over 3 years since I began my new lifestyle and I am proud to say that I am no longer diabetic. When I began this journey I weighed 254 pounds and today I weigh what I weighed in 7th grade–207 pounds. Below are my most recent A1C and cholesterol levels taken on 9-16-2014.
I have learned that it is not because I am Mexican or because my family is predisposed to diabetes that I have this disease. It all comes down to the daily choices I make on how to nourish my body with the food I eat. By cutting out the foods that are nutrient poor and replacing them with foods that are nutrient rich, my body has responded positively.
My wife and I are empowered and liberated by our new whole foods, plant based lifestyle. We feel strong, healthy, and in charge of our lives. This lifestyle improves our health, helps prevent cruelty to animals, and is better for the environment. We want to help others learn about our successes and see if this type of lifestyle will work for them.
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