Updated May 6, 2013
When I was in my teens, I was a thin kid, in good health, and very active. I am still amazed that, ten years later, I found myself in a hospital in Austin, Texas, well over a hundred pounds overweight, being treated for an infection, and being told I was diabetic. I was more than scared when I found out, I was ashamed. I was under 30, diabetic, and looking at the prospect of having to take medication for the rest of my life. More than ashamed, I was desperate. I know how I caught the disease. Diabetes was in my family for at least two generations before me and now it looked like it had hit a third. My maternal grandmother was diabetic, both of my parents are diabetic, and my middle brother had many of the symptoms of the disease. I’m fairly certain I had it at least two years before I was diagnosed with it. I was overweight, unnaturally tired, prone to energy spikes and sudden crashes, my intellect was slowing down, and my eyesight was going terribly. That, perhaps, was the most visible (pun intended) symptom, having gone from 20/15 vision down to at least 20/30. Since a number of my family members wore glasses, I just thought I was now going down the same road. I never associated these health issues with diabetes because I simply didn’t know any better. The highest blood sugar I can remember was 290 mg/dl. In hindsight, it may have been a good thing that I was in the hospital being treated for an infection (another symptom of diabetes) because, had I not been diagnosed with it then, the damage to my body would have been far worse.
Family history wasn’t the only reason, though, and it turns out it wasn’t the main one. It was what I was eating.
I was already on my way to becoming overweight in my late teens. By the time I was in my early 20’s, I had a bulge for a stomach, although it wasn’t too bad. After I became vegetarian, though, is when I really started to see my health deteriorate. What? I got unhealthier after I became vegetarian?! That’s right. It’s because I did one of the most foolish things a new vegetarian can do. I replaced most of the meat I was eating with heavily processed foods and cheese—along with a minimum amount of exercise. It wasn’t uncommon for me to take a can of vegetarian refried beans (with vegetable oil), a small block of cheese, and a tiny bottle of Cholula hot sauce and have that for lunch. Pastas were my new friends, soy-based meat substitutes my pals, and any cheese I could get my hands on was a constant companion. Moderation? I rarely talked moderation anymore nor did I want to have much to do with anything low in fat. Of course, pasta and cheese had to introduce me to a couple of their other friends and I soon came to know morbid obesity and diabetes very well.
That is, in short, how I found myself in that hospital in Austin confronted by one of the most trying situations I had confronted in my life. The next step, after getting over the shock, was to figure out what to do about it. Fortunately, I had a friend who gave me the little bit of help I desperately needed. It turns out she had been through the exact same thing. We had both become vegetarian together and we both made the same mistakes together. She had become overweight as well. The difference between our situations was that she was diagnosed with the disease about one year before I was (you would think I would have picked up that I had it, as well, at that point). Having been told that she would have to take medication the rest of her life—she chose, instead, to treat the problem through diet and exercise. She fastidiously did research at the library and across the Internet. That was how she came across the McDougall diet. After picking up several of Dr. McDougall’s books, she put herself on a low-fat, vegan diet.
Within just two months, most of her diabetic symptoms were gone and not long after that, she managed to cure her diabetes. Having seen her do that, I chose to do the same. It was a difficult journey for me. Giving up eating meat was much easier. One day I was a meat-eater and the next day I was a vegetarian. Not so for being vegan. I was what I call a “cheating vegan” for about a year—I sometimes didn’t look at labels so that I wouldn’t have to know if I was eating dairy products. The all-you-can-eat enchiladas served at a local Mexican restaurant were my downfall. Despite these obstacles, I still managed to drop a significant amount of weight and I, too, saw the symptoms of my diabetes begin to dissipate.
I cut down on the pastas almost entirely, stopped drinking sodas, and tried to concentrate on preparing my own meals with fruits and vegetables that looked appetizing to me, flavoring them with rich sauces that didn’t rely on fats and spices that made the meals spring to life. I began to explore various ethnic cuisines to see how they prepared their vegan meals. After almost a year, I finally got rid of the enchiladas and fastidiously checked labels.
Even as a “cheating vegan,” I still lost a substantial amount of weight, got rid of my diabetic symptoms, and saw a tremendous increase in energy. This became even more pronounced when I got rid of dairy entirely. Since then, I have lost over one hundred pounds, cured my diabetes, regained my eyesight (it’s even improved to 20/13), achieved the ability to think quickly again, and I’m in better shape than when I was an athlete in high school. In fact, with just two months of training a couple times a week, I was able to hike the Grand Canyon from the North to the South Rim. My blood sugar is now 89 mg/dl. Being vegan (cutting out eggs, dairy, etc.) is absolutely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
Type-2 diabetes follows in the footsteps of becoming over-fat. With two-thirds of people in Western society overweight and one-third frankly obese, future sales of diabetic pills, insulin, blood-sugar-testers, and gadgets to treat complications of diabetes, like plugged heart arteries, eye damage, and failing kidneys will be huge. Presently 10% of people living in Western societies have type-2 diabetes. This percentage is expected to triple over the next generation.1 A cynical person might think medical doctors and people working in the pharmaceutical industry are happy about this expanding marketplace. Making money from people’s suffering is wrong.
The cost of diabetic medications (Glucophage, glyburide, Actos) can easily be $200 a month. Most diabetics must take additional medications that are supposed to protect their hearts, brains and kidneys (statins, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and diuretic drugs) which could easily cost another $200 a month.. Over 30 years that could mean $144,000 on medications and diabetic supplies.
Diseases of the large blood vessels (macrovascular disease) such as heart attacks, strokes, and gangrene of the feet account for most of the costly complications of diabetes. Diseases of the small blood vessels (microvascular disease) are seen as damage to the eyes and kidneys. The total costs of all complications have been estimated to be $47,240 per patient over 30 years, on average. 2 Presently, more than 16 million people in the USA have type-2 diabetes. With the cost of medications and complications for 30 years of treatment amounting to nearly $200,000, this translates into 3.2 trillion dollars ($3,200,000,000,000) spent on an entirely preventable, and largely curable disease. Triple that number to see the financial burden this disease will place on our children and grandchildren. The future could be changed, just like it has been happened for tobacco-related diseases—fewer people smoke now than during my parent’s generation. With education people can change their diets, too.
A study of 582 individuals, 45 years of age or older, found people were willing to pay approximately $1,500 over 3 years to participate in a lifestyle intervention program with diet and exercise to prevent type-2 diabetes.3 Those with the largest weight loss goals were the ones most interested in the program. The study also found, not surprisingly, that people wanted a program with few restrictions and great benefits. Contrary to their wishes, the truth is; big changes beget big results.
But big changes do not have to be unpleasant. I know the diet that prevents and cures type-2 diabetes is also the most interesting diet. The undeniable fact is that a diet of starches, vegetables and fruits is made up of thousands of appealing tastes, aromas, textures, and colors—where as the meals that cause diabetes (made up of meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and processed grains) are mostly yellow and brown with flavors of grease and salt. The problem is we were all raised on these dreary foods, and we know no better.
Enjoyment of “obesity-curing,” “diabetes-curing,” foods is only a matter of exposure, so where will the motivation to change come from? Money! The present health delivery system is failing under the financial burdens of chronic, lifestyle-caused diseases. Employers and insurance companies are transferring health-care costs to the patients. When the day comes that the patient is faced with spending $1500 for education to prevent and cure type-2 diabetes versus $200,000 to pay for this disease and its complications, sensible care will win out.
For much more information on the cause and treatment of type-2 diabetes see my February 2004 newsletter article: Type-2 Diabetes – the Expected Adaptation to Overnutrition at https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2004nl/feb/040200.htm
For a free McDougall Program that prevents and cures diabetes see my home page instructions at