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Published on September 01, 2018

Diabetes: Living the Sweet Life

Strawberry-rhubarb pie may seem like an odd milestone marker, but for Gladstone resident Richard King, passing on pie more than 20 years ago was his first step toward living well with Type 2 diabetes.

“One of my favorite foods was strawberry-rhubarb pie,” Richard recalled. “I bought two pies right before my diagnosis, one for me and one for a friend. When I learned I had diabetes, my friend got both pies. I never took a bite.”

Go All In

Nearly 34,000 adults in Clay and Platte counties have diabetes. Type 2 is the most common form of the disease. It develops when the body doesn’t use insulin properly.

“When I first found out I had diabetes, it scared me,” Richard said. “I thought of everything that could go wrong.”

Richard was right to be concerned. Untreated diabetes can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It can also damage your kidneys and nerves, and cause vision problems and loss of limb.

“Type 2 diabetes is a preventable condition,” said Braden L. Dunbar, a family medicine physician with Meritas Health Vivion, and Richard’s primary care doctor since 2014. “By starting early and trying to live a healthy, active lifestyle, you can prevent serious health problems.”

That’s exactly what Richard did. “I walked out of the doctor’s office that day with my mind made up I was going to change how I lived. From that day on, I took a hardline positon because I wanted to live a healthy life, grow old and watch my grandchildren grow up.”

He read everything he could about diabetes. He convinced his doctor at the time to let him try managing the disease through diet and exercise instead of with insulin. Right off the bat, Richard stopped eating foods with refined sugar and began walking for exercise. He lost 30 pounds in the first 30 days. His doctor didn’t mention insulin again.

More than 20 years later, he’s kept it up. “I walk five miles a day most days, and I do strength training,” Richard explained. “Strength training is key because muscles help burn sugar. I don’t try to bulk up or be Mr. Atlas, but I do enough to keep good muscle tone.”

Eat Well

Passing on the strawberry-rhubarb pie and the processed foods was just the first step. “Before my diagnosis, if itlooked good, I’d have it,” Richard said. He knew that had to change. “When I was diagnosed, my wife and I learned how to cook without sugar, read food labels and count carbohydrates.”

“A diabetic diet is a lot about give and take,” he said. “You have to balance carbs. If you want a serving of no-added sugar ice cream, which does have some sugar because it’s naturally in dairy products, then you forgo the bread, potato or other starch. You have to pick and choose.”

Richard counts his carbs carefully, and eats plenty of salads, fresh vegetables, chicken and fish. He eats fresh fruit only in the morning so he can burn off the sugar during the day. And, he drinks about two gallons of water every day. “For me, my diet is very satisfying. It’s all about what you decide you want to do and how you want to live your life. I wanted to lose weight and be healthy.”

Yet, Richard is the first to admit the early days weren’t easy. “In the beginning, my new diet wasn’t very satisfying because I was giving up foods I loved. The biggest challenge is getting in the mindset that the foods you used to enjoy aren’t that great after all. Today, I can sit with someone who is enjoying apple pie à la mode, and it doesn’t bother me at all,” Richard said. “It has become my mindset and my way of life.”

Dining Out

Another challenge in the beginning was finding something he could eat at a restaurant. Over time, Richard learned to read the menu and ask questions. “For example, if something comes with a sauce, question it. Most sauces have some type of added sugar product.”

He also quickly learned that most restaurants are more than willing to accommodate specific dietary requests. “If you want a plain grilled chicken breast, a small baked potato and some broccoli, simply ask for it.”

Another challenge? Eating on the road, which is where Richard and his wife typically spend most of their time. “The biggest challenge is the change in eating schedule,” Richard said. “Even when we’re traveling, I try to stay on schedule and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time. And, I eat three meals a day.” If a fast-food restaurant is the only choice, he’ll order a grilled chicken salad.

As committed as he is to his diet, Richard does sometimes treat himself. “I’ll have a piece of sugar-free chocolate, drink a diet soda or enjoy a serving of no-sugar-added ice cream,” he said.

Make the Team

Behind every successful life-changing effort is a strong support system. “Whether you’re retired, or young or raising a family, you have to have family standing beside you,” Richard said. “My wife is a great support person and a big help.”

Dr. Dunbar is also a big influence. “We’re a team,” Richard said. “She encourages me and offers guidance. If I have a concern or question, I can contact her. I get an answer within 24 hours.”

In the beginning, Richard met with Dr. Dunbar every three months to review his blood sugar numbers and lab work. Now, he checks in every six months. He never misses an appointment, another secret to his success.

“I’ve known Richard for almost four years,” Dr. Dunbar said. “From the beginning, he and I have worked together, which has resulted in better outcomes. Richard really took the initiative to change his lifestyle. He eats healthy every day, not just a few times a week. He also exercises regularly and records his blood sugar. I can see what his blood sugar runs day to day and use that information to make changes.

“There are so many treatment options now for diabetes,” Dr. Dunbar continued. “There is something that fits every lifestyle. By working with your doctor, you can find a plan that works and that is easy to adhere to so you get better results.”

When he was first diagnosed, Richard’s A1C number, which measures blood glucose, was 10. The recommended number is 7 or less. Today, his blood sugar stays steady at 5.2. “I’m hoping to getto 4.8. I have lofty goals,” Richard said. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of discipline, but it’s going to give me a long, healthy life.”

Skip the Sugar-coating

Richard’s advice to others is short and sweet. “If you want to enjoy life, you have to make the hard choice to change your lifestyle,” he said. “You have to be more active, change the way you eat, monitor your sugar levels and learn everything you can about the disease. Do it for yourself so you can enjoy life with the people you love.”

“Type 2 diabetes is something you’ll have for the rest of your life,” Dr. Dunbar added. “It’s important to monitor it. Once your diabetes gets to that controlled point, you still want to eat healthy, check your blood sugars and see your doctor on a regular basis. You can live a healthy, active lifestyle with diabetes.”

Just ask Richard. “My quality of life is great! We have a fifth wheel that we spend more time in that out of, and we absolutely enjoy ourselves. We’re retired and doing the things we want to do together, like traveling and fishing. We’re enjoying every minute of it. Life is good.”

Richard King