When Bonny Damocles was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he asked his doctor if he could try diet and exercise before starting the recommended medications.
Granted a reprieve, he immediately began the most grueling workout he could think of: running stairs. Because his export business allowed him to work from his Midland, Michigan home where he served as the primary caregiver for a son with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he broke his workouts up into segments totaling two hours per day. He quit eating sugar and most processed foods. When he reported back to his doctor ten days later, his blood sugar had dropped from 468 to readings in the 130s and 140s.
“Continue what you are doing,” his doctor told him. “These are very encouraging results.”
Twenty-five years later, the 80-year-old still runs stairs and watches his diet rather than using medication to control his diabetes. His a1c tests typically range from 5.2 to 6.3 percent; his most recent result was 5.8. He reports no diabetes complications and considers himself in excellent health.
But he knows he hasn’t conquered diabetes. About 3½ years after his diagnosis, after a long streak of excellent blood sugar readings, a friend suggested he was cured. Damocles believed him.
“So I drastically reduced my stair-running time to practically none on some days and started eating the wrong foods for me: steaks, fried chicken, pork chops, and other high-fat foods.” Then one day, out of curiosity, he tested his blood sugar. “It was 486 mg/dl. I nearly fainted.”
These days, Damocles does his stairs exercise in four 25-minute increments, primarily before meals. He knows better than to let up.
“I know, as all type 2 diabetics know, that once a diabetic, always a diabetic. I will never get rid of this disease.”
Too much of a good thing
When Damocles and his family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1972, the 5-foot-7 management analyst weighed less than 130 pounds.
“Where we came from, we seldom ate chicken, beef and pork because they were expensive,” he said. “We had no pizza and no packaged foods like corn chips and tortillas. We ate mostly leafy vegetables, dried beans, fish, nuts, fruits, seaweed, canned sardines, canned salmon, and once in a long while, canned corned beef.”
Damocles had worked in the Manila mayor’s office. His wife worked in the Philippines Patent Office. Both had engineering degrees. “Although we felt then that we were doing well in life,” he said, “we had no house, no car, no jewelry, no savings, nothing except the big dream to reach the U.S. someday.”
When that opportunity came, through a U.S. program that encouraged Filipino degree holders in certain fields to immigrate, they went for it.
Though their family of six arrived in America “totally broke,” owing thousands of dollars for plane tickets, they quickly found jobs that paid much better than what they were used to. Suddenly even the most decadent foods were easily affordable. Over time, Damocles’ weight crept up to 165 pounds.
When he suddenly lost 20 pounds within two weeks in 1991, despite nearly constant hunger, he feared he had cancer. His son Arnold’s courageousness in dealing with a debilitating, eventually fatal condition put every other problem in perspective, but Damocles couldn’t help worrying what this might mean for his family. Given his initial fears, he was “very, very happy” to learn he had type 2 diabetes instead.
Dietary changes pay off
Looking back, Damocles blames his diabetes on a lack of physical activity combined with too much of the goodies he came to love in America: hot dog sandwiches, pizza, fried chicken, potato chips and his personal favorite from their early years in Chicago, “big beef sandwiches with jalapeno peppers.”
These days he indulges in fresh fruit. When he and his wife go out to eat twice a week, he sticks to unsweetened dishes low in fat, salt, and MSG. He knows from the diabetes forums he regularly consults that his carbohydrate intake, which he estimates at 60 percent of his diet, is higher than recommended. His blood sugar typically rises to 180 after each meal. But because he now eats only twice per day interspersed with vigorous exercise, his evening readings invariably fall below 100.
Damocles describes a typical meal as two bananas, a grilled chicken breast, a scoop of nonfat plain greek yogurt, a plain cheese or peanut butter sandwich, and some unsalted cashews.
“Avoiding one meal a day is giving me more time to be more productive, healthier and have an easier time and effort to manage my diabetes,” he says.
He now tests his blood sugar only periodically, to make sure his diet and exercise program is working. But on testing days, he may use up to 10 strips, to see how his readings fluctuate.
His regimen may sound like a lot of work, but to Damocles, it’s worth the effort.
“I save a lot of money for not using pharma drugs, not going to the gym, not needing nice shoes and nice clothes by exercising in our house, for eating carbohydrates – which are the cheapest foods – and for testing my blood sugar only 100 times per year.”