Exercise to lose weight to avoid or treat diabetes? Give me a break

A few years ago, a missionary friend of mine visited us here in Ontario.  He was keen to go fishing, and so one early afternoon, we rented a canoe at Lake Opeongo and headed towards North Opeongo beyond which was located our campsite.  But the winds were against us and soon they had driven us to the far shore of East Opeongo; and so we had no choice but to make camp there despite not having a permit for that area.  My friend was in pain, especially in his shoulders and he slept badly.  I thought it odd that a few hours of paddling had put him in such agony.  The next day, he called canoeing an “extreme sport”.  A few years later, this same friend had to leave the mission field for a medical furlough.  His vision had clouded over and the diagnosis was Type II Diabetes; his hbA1C was 14%. He had undoubtedly been suffering from hyperglycemia and experienced a bout of severe tendonitis from our little excursion.

I remembered this story recently, as I was thinking back about the many sports injuries I myself had suffered trying to stay active to lose weight.  Peripheral neuropathy destroyed my ability to canoe–the tingling in my hands was too severe; it also hindered weight training.  Later, weight training became impossible when I experienced debilitating rotatory cuff tendonitis.  Often, after playing basketball, I couldn’t even walk for three to four days, and I frequently suffered from Achilles tendonitis, a couple times so bad that I needed crutches.  I had lost most of my flexibility, but if I stretched, I could cause severe injury to my tendons.

It is commonly thought that an effective treatment for diabetes is exercise.  That’s fine and may help, but if the patient has tendonitis, peripheral neuropathy, or loss of proprioception (loss of coordination–I often fell inexplicably when working around the house, walking up steps or when doing sports), then the devastating effects of high blood sugars would make exercise at best difficult at worst impossible.  Diabetics and prediabetics who like me suffer from tendonitis must first control their blood sugars before they can expect to exercise.  In his book, Why we get fat and what to do about it, Gary Taubes makes an important point:  We don’t get fat because we don’t exercise.  We don’t exercise because we are getting fat.  In other words, therapists (e.g., physicians and nutritionsts) who recommend losing weight and exercise to treat obesity and diabetes–i.e., the vast majority of the imbeciles who practice medicine and nutrition–have a buggy-driven horse.

As soon as I gained control of my blood sugars I began to notice major improvements.  After a couple weeks, though I had the energy to walk, I still suffered injury to my knees and Achilles tendons, but now these problems are much less severe after exercise.  Before I started to low-carb, I tried to do my rotator cuff exercises after a hiatus of many moons; I suffered an immediate relapse of the tendonitis which took a couple weeks to lessen.  It is clear to me that I couldn’t exercise to lose weight that way.  But now that my blood sugars have normalized after four months of low carbs, I can pretty much exercise every day as necessary.

I am exercising in the evening to achieve perfectly normal over-night blood sugars and I am having considerable success with it.   This is about fine tuning the blood sugars. That is impossible on a high carbohydrate diet, and it is often cruel to recommend to diabetics that they must exercise to control blood sugars.

I become angry when I read that diabetics and prediabetics must exercise and lose weight to control their diabetes.  Rather, those of us who suffer from hyperglycemia must first achieve normal blood sugars via low carbohydrate diet, and then the weight loss will take place naturally and exercise will become possible.  I look forward to going canoeing again now that my peripheral neuropathy is gone.

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How I came to know that I am diabetic

Last November I realized that I had diabetes.  For years I’ve worried about becoming diabetic because it runs in my family.  Since about last summer, I’ve suspected that I might be diabetic but put off going to the doctor, for the ailments from which I suffered were not so acute that I felt compelled to consult the medical profession.  A good friend who is a missionary in Africa told me last Spring that he had returned to the US to deal with his failing health and learned that he was diabetic.  When he described his symptoms, such as constant thirst and blurred vision, I wondered if I too was becoming diabetic.

Finally, it came to a head in November because my wife asked me to put some carriage lights up on our garage.  After the first weekend of some minor work around the garage, my feet were in pain which seemed disproportionate to the level of exertion.  Not only so, but I fell off the ladder twice and also stumbled on the last step leading down to the garage.  I was wondering if this lack of co-ordination could have anything to do with diabetes.  So I looked it up and found that it was so.  I then investigated each of my other problems to see if there was a relation to diabetes and concluded that I had such a convergence of symptoms that I should get myself tested.

Pre-Diabetes or just Diabetes?

So I went to a walk-in clinic and asked to be tested for diabetes.  The physician took my blood pressure and filled out an order for blood work which she told me to take to nearby blood lab after fasting twelve hours.  When the lab work returned the clinic called me back in to inform me that I was not diabetic.  My blood worked showed a HbA1C of 6.0 and fasting glucose of 6.0 (108).  All clear, the doctor said.  But since I had elevated cholesterol levels he suggested avoiding saturated fat, high cholesterol foods, and since uric acid levels were higher than normal, he suggested eating less red meat.  (On my low carb diet, I’m actually doing nearly the opposite of what he suggested).

If not diabetic, I asked him, then why did I have symptoms (viz. peripheral neuropathy) consistent with diabetes.  He seemed to have no answer.  One conspicuous problem with his diagnosis, was that he did not even mention prediabetes.  Prediabetes is a condition of having abnormally high blood sugar but not at levels that the medical profession or the diabetes associations would consider diabetic.  At present, however, there is some dispute as to the accuracy of the term “prediabetes” since some therapists today would consider it only a milder form of diabetes.  Indeed, Dr. Richard Bernstein, who has a very successful practice of helping his patients control their glucose levels, says that he would treat prediabetics as diabetics (see The Diabetes Solution, p. 35).  I conclude that prediabetes is merely a less severe form of diabetes.  The prediabetic’s glucose levels are above normal but not so high that the medical profession, in general, is happy treating you.  You aren’t dying fast enough for them.  To be sure, I was sick, but not sick enough.  To relieve any doubt that I am diabetic, I will now explain the many diabetic symptoms that I had which are caused by elevated blood sugars, and I urge anyone with the same symptoms to take them more seriously than I did.  The websites which I link to are by no means definitive but merely representative expressions of how each symptom is potentially caused by diabetes.

My Diabetic Symptoms
citizenship day

On citizenship day, 28 February 2011, Petros showing visceral obesity

  1. Obesity:  According to Gary Taubes’ research, the main cause of obesity is insulin resistance resulting in elevated blood sugars.  This is also what causes the cravings and any excessive eating.  Thus, obesity is a symptom not a cause of diabetes.  I was 65 lbs overweight and had a waist measurement (pants size, i.e., not true waist) of about 43 inches.  The pot belly (a.k.a. visceral obesity) is the most dangerous form of obesity.  I have struggled with my weight during my childhood and it started to become a problem again in my late twenties.
  2. High blood pressure:  In November when the physician tested me, I had a reading of 140/90.
  3. Peripheral neuropathy:  I had frequent and debilitating tingling in my hands when holding steering wheel, canoeing, playing guitar, or typing on a keyboard.  I’ve had this problem for about the last ten years. Peripheral neuropathy also probably explains the pain I had in my feet after doing the work in the garage.
  4. Skin Tags: I seemed to be getting a large number of these in the last few months.
  5. Dizziness:  I had a single incident of dizziness last summer that caused me considerable concern.
  6. Sleepiness:  I became sleepy after every meal except, most of the time, breakfast.
  7. Dry mouth and bad breath:  I experienced dry mouth that drinking seemed to help only a little.  Also, my wife began to complain that I had persistent bad breath.
  8. Loss of proprioception:  This is also related to peripheral neuropathy.  But I felt that I should explain why I fell three times as I explained above.  Proprioception is the sense of where the different parts of your body are, and I had apparently lost some of my sense of where my feet were and where they were going.
  9. Scalp acne: I have had chronic scalp acne for about ten years.
  10. Diabetic dermopathy (shin spots) and other sores that take a long time to heal.  I have a line of about four inches long of scars on both legs, right along where the shin bone is closest to the surface of the skin, which was caused by frequent scabbing.  I only learned today that this condition is called shin spots or diabetic dermopathy.
  11. Arthritis:  My pain was similar to a basketball injury of spraining a finger (finger jam).  But I couldn’t remember injuring myself.  But it was so severe in both hands that, if I shook hands with someone, I would winced in pain.  It wasn’t until I went on the low carb diet and lowered my glucose levels that I realized this arthritis was related to diabetes, because it has nearly completely disappeared.  I had had the arthritis for about 9-12 months.
  12. Athlete’s foot:  I have this condition frequently; blood sugars apparently feed the fungus.
  13. Ingrown toenail infection:  I had my worst infection ever last Fall.
  14. Tendonitis:  I had a couple years ago a very bad rotator cuff tendonitis and often experienced severe achilles heal tendonitis.  These injuries occurred especially when I was a member of a gym.  Here is the dilemma:  I thought that exercise was necessary for weight control but my high blood sugars were making it difficult to exercise.  Now I am able to control my weight through low carb dieting, and I believe I will be less susceptible to injuries.

These symptoms are all related to elevated glucose levels, and many of them are going away now that I am on a low carb diet leading to much lower blood sugar levels.  While in the prediabetic range, my average blood sugar was nearly double normal.  The percentage of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C) of 6.0 showed that I had an average glucose of 7.8 (141) for the last three months, while normal levels are much lower (4.6 (83) fasting glucose is normal).  So for quite a number of years, my glucose levels were causing problems to my nerves, to my skin, and likely to many other tissues and systems.  Problems to the kidneys and arteries, for example, are less discernible but much more dangerous.  So it is important to take visible manifestations seriously and to control them through the reduced intake of carbohydrates.  Carbs are poison.  Well, they are to those with diabetes, even those like myself who are in the prediabetic range.