Diabetes Diary

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What happens when you live and breathe fitness, embracing a fit lifestyle to such a degree that you make it your life’s work — but still fall victim to diabetes? Jeff O’Connell, Men’s Health writer and Bodybuilding.com editor-in-chief, found out the hard way. In his book Sugar Nation (Hyperion, 2011), he undertakes a personal and careful examination of how the medical and pharmaceutical communities do not treat adult-onset (Type-2) diabetes as effectively as they should. O’Connell recently shared details of that experience with M&P.

Why did you decide to write Sugar Nation?
[Ernest] Hemingway said, “I never had to choose a subject — my subject rather chose me,” and that was the case for me. In the fall of 2006, having just moved to Pennsylvania to become executive writer for Men’s Health, I went for a physical exam because I felt sluggish, like something was amiss. Some blood was drawn, and I went on my way. Then, a week later, I heard that my father — who I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years — had lost his right leg. Diabetes. I was shocked and stunned, in part because he had always been tall and lanky like me. The next week I was even more shocked when I returned for the results of my blood test and the doctor told me I was well into pre-diabetes. I was completely blindsided even though I wrote for Men’s Health and had just heard that my father’s leg had been amputated. And if I didn’t know what was happening inside my body, then how would a stockbroker or truck driver know? I wrote a feature article to teach other guys what I had learned about Type-2 diabetes, and Sugar Nation expands on that feature.

What do you want people to understand about Type-2 diabetes?
Type-2 diabetes will only enter your body if you lay out a welcome mat by eating too many processed carbs and not exercising enough. You don’t have to do anything extraordinary to stay diabetes free or to turn back the disease at its inception. Just eat nutritious foods in reasonable amounts and exercise daily — like you’re supposed to be doing anyway. Your body will weigh what it’s supposed to weigh, and diabetes will look elsewhere.

What can we do to improve diabetes treatment?
We need to emphasize prevention and early detection and then acknowledge that the treatment for this lifestyle disease is lifestyle change, not whipping out a prescription pad, per the American Diabetes Association guidelines. The only prescription that truly works is aggressive carb reduction and daily exercise. That’s doable for all. If a doctor told you that that was the cure for cancer, you’d be thrilled. And you’d comply.