My Diabetes Confession
On Sunday, June 17, 2018 I gave a talk at the ATX Alive potluck meeting titled, "My Type-1 Diabetes Confession". The talk was to tell my story about how I discovered the Whole Foods Plant-Based Low-Fat Oil-Free diet. I thought I would share the text of that talk here:
My Type-1 Diabetes Confession
Everyone in this room is here for some degree of interest in a Whole Food Plant Based Low Fat diet.
I am curious how this interest has come about for each of you.
With a show of hands:
* Did you Read about it in a book?
* Did you read about it in a magazine?
* Did you find it on a website?
* Was it suggested by a friend?
* Was it recommended by a medical professional?
* Did you learn about it from animal rights interests?
In my case; I didn't learn about it by any of these means. It's more like... I stumbled in through the back door. When I first went plant-based, I didn't know that plant-based was even an option. I didn't know anyone that was vegetarian and had never even heard the word, "Vegan". The very concept was completely foreign.
My name is Ken Thomas and I am a Type-1 Diabetic... and... I'm afraid I have a confession to make. But first, I have to tell you my story about how I discovered the Whole Food Plant-Based Fat-Free diet - because that is what my confession is all about.
I've been considering sharing my story - and confession for some time, but in addition to being a Type-1 diabetic, I am also a hopeless introvert which makes speaking in front of an audience stiflingly terrifying. With fear of freezing or sliding off into senseless babble, I decided to write my story and just read it to you... I guess we'll see how that goes.
My story starts in 1988, when I was 36 years old. It was November when over the course of about a month, I became very ill with extreme weakness and rapid weight loss. I was taken to the hospital after being found passed out at my work desk and too weak to walk on my own. I was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. During the following year, I beat the disease by starting a mono diet, logging all the different foods, insulin and activity and charting the effects. From charting the log results, I discovered that everything I knew about food and health was wrong. I learned that the human anatomy is in reality an herbivore whose optimum diet is low fat, starch-based whole plant foods. This test and measure effort not only saved my life, it profoundly enhanced it. Now, as a 30-year Type-1 diabetic, I have no diabetic complications, nor even any medical test results that suggests that I even have diabetes. Last year, I changed doctors due to my birth date putting me in Medicare status. During my bloodwork review, I had to convince the new doctor that I was indeed a Type-1 diabetic. She literally asked me, "Are you sure you really are diabetic?"
Well, all that may sound really impressive, but, I'm afraid there is more to the story. Each time I tell the story of how I learned, by trial-and-error logging, plotting and experimenting, to manage my Type-1 diabetes to non-diabetic levels and set my health on a three-decade ascent, all dependent on discovering the whole food plant-based fat free diet; almost everyone exclaims, "Wow, you must be really smart to have figured all that out entirely on your own!"
Which brings me to my confession. Yes, the "smarts" thing is very flattering, but, the truth is; my success was not due to any smarts, or actually any admirable attribute for that matter.
It was something else entirely.
As an illustration, I would like to tell you a story - a parable - to help clarify the real reasons for my success.
The Oil Well Fire - A Parable:
Once upon a time, there was an oil well at the bottom of a valley that blew-out and caught fire. Weeks went by with all the local firefighters exhausting all their efforts to extinguish the fire.
Eventually, Red Adair and his world-famous team was called in. Radio and TV news media gathered on top of the hill, along with a large crowd of spectators. But to no avail; even with all the massive tankers, pumpers and water cannon trucks, the fire simply would not go out.
Finally, a million-dollar reward was offered to any crew that could put out the fire. It became a viral media event. Firefighting teams came from far and wide to try their go at winning the reward, but so far, none succeeding. Near the end of the line of contestants was a small shabby team with nothing but an old, beat-up, rusted flat-bed truck filled with sand and a crew armed with shovels. As the line inched along to their turn, the crowd of spectators looked at them with grinning scoffs. Most eager to watch just for the amusement of the expected comical failure. Finally, it was their turn, but before they set off down the hill, the TV announcer asked the crew chief if he really thought they had any chance at putting out the fire. With a shrug of the shoulders, he just said, "well, we just thought we'd give it a try". Among lots of spectator snickering and laughter, they set off down the hill to the fire.
Partway down the hill the truck started speeding up. As they progressed, faster and faster, the spectator crowd began to cheer at the crew's obvious eager confidence as they were now standing in the back of the truck waiving their shovels in the air as they raced, faster and faster down to the fire. As they got closer, the crowd began to grow quieter watching in amazement as it looked like they were getting too close to the fire and still not slowing down. Then, sure enough, with all jaws dropped, the truck drove straight into the fire! But simultaneously, a huge plume of sand erupted from the back of the truck with shovels and crew a-blur in rapid motion. In a blink, the bulging sand-cloud grew to engulf the fire and with a Poof! It was out. Nothing was left but a huge mound of settling sand. The spectators and news media now aghast; dead silent in astonishment.
After a few moments, the truck slowly started back up the hill and drifted to a stop in front of the TV reporter. The crowd was still struck silent in astoundment. The out of breath crew climbed down from the truck with singed hair and smoldering clothes. The TV reporter still at a loss for words finally said, "That was the most astounding thing I have ever seen! You certainly deserve the reward". and then asked, "What do you plan to do with all that money?" "Well...", said the crew chief, "The first thing I'm going to do is take my old truck down and get them darn brakes fixed!"
Now that is a funny story, but there are some valuable life-lessons to learn from it. Their success was not due to any special knowledge or credentials or equipment or techniques.
The unlikely fire-fighting team was successful for two reasons:
1) Terror. Due to the truck's failed brakes thrusting them directly into the fire, their goal suddenly changed from a remote chance at winning a contest to something far more important; far more urgent. Their driving force suddenly switched to Terror. They were suddenly thrust into a fight for their lives, with no hope of any outside help.
2) Up-close and Personal. They succeed, where the others didn't, because their fight with the fire was intimately up-close and personal. The other crews fought the fire from a safe distance, shooting water and chemicals at it, but did not address the fire directly at its source.
Likewise, my success in discovering a Whole Food Plant Based Fat Free diet coupled with my non-traditional management method, saving me from the perils of diabetes, was not smarts - and certainly not bravery or any other impressive attribute; I was faced with those same two conditions:
Condition Number One: Morbid Terror
The diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks. The prognosis hit even harder. I did not know much about diabetes or even that there were "types" of diabetes. I had only heard it referred to as "sugar diabetes". My only knowledge of diabetes was about a distant relative - that I had never actually met, but I knew that his life was extremely limited. He was perpetually sick, and debilitated.
I did not want to be debilitated. I did not want to go blind. I did not want to be an amputee.
I did not want to be diabetic. I felt that this was the end of my life.
But then - it got worse. Much-much worse. My hospital stay, under total doctor's care, was a literal nightmare. With almost continuous attention from hospital staff, I was experiencing profound weakness and fogged mentality. I was so weak that even blinking an eye - was an exhausting, grueling effort. Then, I would have periodic bouts of searingly painful convulsions so intense to inflict muscle and tendon damage. This cycle continued throughout each day and night of my hospital stay.
I realized the tragic truth that if this is what Type-1 diabetes is under the care of a trained medical doctor and medical staff, then there was no hope that my life was going to be livable. Just as the shabby oil well crew; I was thrust into this. There was no backing out. There was no one to save me; The hospital crew; just as all the well equip, highly esteemed oil well firefighting crews were not successful. I was in the middle of this "fire" and on my own. I did not see any possibility of surviving. It was a horrible tragedy.
I'm afraid I have to admit that I am not a brave man.
On one of the later days of my hospital stay, my doctor was out of town. A substitute doctor was making rounds for him. When he came to see me, I expressed my fear and loss of hope, and then, very mater-of-factly, he said the magic words that was a revelation to me; he said, "No doctor can control your Type-1 diabetes. It's like balancing on a bicycle, you have to do it. No one can tell you how to balance." He suggested that I make a log of everything I eat, everything I do, all my activities and insulin doses. Then, use the log to figure out what does what and what works best. That was my first glimmer of hope - that I could actually have some control of my condition. Interestingly - the substitute doctor was a sports doctor with no experience with diabetes.
Condition Number Two; Up-close and personal
Immediately after discharge from the hospital, I bought a glucometer and a spiral bound notebook and started my log. I started a mono diet to test each individual foods effects, insulin doses and my activities. I completely dismissed my doctor, much to his angry chagrin and placed all my trust in my log. My log book became my truck-load of sand.
I came to realize that for all of my previous life, food was entirely recreational. If it tasted good I ate it. Anything goes as long as it tastes good. Well, I decided that that was now the end of that. Food was now entirely an instrument of blood-sugar control. I was in a fight for my life and food became intimately personal. For the following two years, I carried a grocery bag with me at all times. I never ate anything except from my grocery bag - dictated by my log. (That hospital terror had not gone away - still hasn't).
With all the trial-and-error experimenting, logging and charting, I discovered that different foods have different effects on insulin action. Some sharpen it with shorter reaction times and some dull it with longer reaction times.
Imagine listening to an orchestra where the musicians are all playing to a different timing. If it is off by just a little, it is annoying and hard to follow. If it is off by a little more, it is no longer discernable as music. How many of you drive a car? Imagine if your car's brakes did not respond until 10 seconds after you pressed the brake petal. Imagine if the car did not turn until 10 seconds after you turned the steering wheel. How easy do you think it would be to navigate across town in such a car? - In that same light, the sharper the insulin response, the easier it is to control my blood-sugar because the reaction time is closer to real-time. I call that insulin-sync. I found starches and fruits to provide the sharpest insulin sync thus sharpest control. I found meats (any animal products) and fats to be the dullest, thus hardest (almost hospital experience hard) with delays extending beyond hours - into days, weeks and months. Completely out of sync resulting in a perpetual, stubborn blood-sugar spike that never subsides, thus considered the normal "background". Meals are then just blood-sugar spikes on top of that perpetual blood-sugar spike, requiring many insulin injections throughout the day and living with a continuous fight against rising blood-sugar.
This, by the way, is why the insulin pump was invented and why it is so popular.
I discovered that I was not just controlling blood-sugar, I was controlling metabolism. I discovered that any out-of-range blood-sugar is a symptom of a compromised metabolic system. I also realized that non-diabetics suffer exactly the same, but because their metabolic control loop is "closed", meaning; automatically regulated, makes them like oblivious passengers in a windowless metabolic vehicle rendering them blind to the struggles their metabolic system is enduring. Even with diabetics, the timing is so far out, unless using a log, the cause and effect is never connected.
Discovering the hugely negative effects of animal products and fats was very perplexing to me because all my life, it was just a given "law of nature" that humans ate meat. I was born and raised in north Texas cattle country. I was sternly warned, by friends and family, that I would die if I did not eat meat. The problem was that the less animal sourced foods I ate; the closer to normal I could keep my blood-sugar - and the better I felt. It was also perplexing about carbohydrates. I associated carbohydrates with sugar and believed that sugar was very bad for diabetes. My logging, however, said something very different. Finally, after about a year free of fats and animal products and basing my diet on starch, I found that I could keep my blood-sugar within the non-diabetic normal range of 70 to 100 mg/dl before, during, after and between meals - always. I also come to realized that I felt better than I ever felt in my life. And on top of that, I discovered that the foods dictated by my logging; that was required for "normal" blood-sugar levels, turned out to be the most satisfying foods I had ever eaten.
At the start of this, I just hoped that diligently following my log results would, at least somewhat, reduce the ravages of diabetes. But, I could have never imagined even a fantasy dream of how it actually turned out. Before the diabetes started, I never would have imagined that any kind of diet could have resulted in me ending up more fit with more stamina, lighter yet stronger at the age of 66 than I was at the age of 20.
My diagnosing doctor told me that no matter how "good" my blood-sugar was controlled, I would still suffer diabetic complications. Now I know why he said that: because he believed in and prescribed a low-carb meat-based diet along with him in control of my blood-sugar. He did not know anything about a whole foods plant-based fat free diet nor did he believe that a type-1 diabetic could attain, or even should attempt to attain non-diabetic blood-sugars.
During all this, I had never known of anyone living on a plant-based diet - didn't even know if there was another plant-based person on the planet, and I had not yet heard the word "vegan". So, as a fat-free herbivore, I was totally alone. Then, 23 years later; the year 2012 was a stunningly big year for me. 2012 was when I discovered there was other plant-based people and even doctors and medical professionals that promoted a plant-based diet for health and medical treatment. 2012 was the year I discovered Dr. John McDougall, then a whole flood of other doctors, including our own Dr. Linda Carney. 2012 was the year I discovered there were so many other diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and so many more that are the result of consuming animal products and excess fats. 2012 was the year that I learned that the diet I had been on since 1989 was called a Whole Foods Plant Based Fat Free diet. Further, it wasn't until 2012 that I learned that there was a technical term for the poor insulin response, thus poor blood-sugar control, inflicted by fats and animal products. That technical term is Insulin Resistance.
So, here we are, all brought together from different experiences including cardiovascular, cancer, weight issues, digestive issues, chronic fatigue, arthritis, diabetes, animal concerns and many more, all solved or being solved by a Whole Foods Plant Based Low Fat Oil Free diet. I think the significance of that is in line with what I learned in middle-school math class. And that is: deriving the same result from two or more different paths is considered a "proof".
On the other side of that same equation; my niece, Melissa, confirmed the contrast between using a Whole Food Plant Based Fat Free diet with Type-1 diabetes self-control verses the conventional low-carb diet and doctor managed control. Melissa became a Type-1 diabetic in her mid-teens. She and her parents rejected my experience-based advice in lieu of the doctor's. I was disappointed, but I understood. They were professional doctors, after all. Indeed, I am not a doctor. I'm just an individual whose only knowledge of Type-1 diabetes is personal experience. But, Melissa indeed confirmed and demonstrated my original fears. Her life continually degraded, eventually becoming disabled with multiple diabetic complications. In 2009, five days after her 29th birthday, she died with liver and renal failure.
This experience has taught me that traditional medical doctors are people, just like all the rest of us, that went to medical school and learned the trade and business of medical practice. I leaned that the status of DOCTOR does not ensure they are all knowing healers. I learned that medical school provides no meaningful training on nutrition. I learned that doctors who do know about nutrition and its relationship to health, had to seek that education on their own - as it is not taught in medical school. There is at least one medical doctor with us here today that has taken that effort to heart. I won't mention any names, but her initials is Dr. Linda Carney MD... Oops! Did I say that? Oh, well then, I think she deserves a big applause! Do we have any other plant based medical professionals with us? Well, they deserve a big round of applause also!
Believe it or not, I have become very grateful for being a Type-1 diabetic, because I have no doubt that if not for the education that it forced upon me, at the very least, I would, now, be obese, chronically fatigued, debilitated with cardiovascular disease, arthritis and crippled with knee and back failures just like the rest of my family. Actually, I was already headed in that direction in my 30's. But most of all, I am very, very grateful that my diagnosing doctor was so unknowledgeable and unskilled at diabetic management and nutrition to have shocked the terror in me to test, measure and log my way to this path; away from the traditional low-carb path, escaping the horrors of Type-1 diabetes and not just saving my life but enhancing it and making me a non-diabetic diabetic.
I'd say that's even better than a million-dollar reward!