It took my stepfather, Keith Jones, 10 years to comprehend how his Type 2 diabetes was slowly destroying him. But today, I'm proud to write that Keith has purged many lifelong, negative habits and has dodged the clear and present danger of the disease!
We're more reactive than proactive when it comes to the prevention of these maladies. Keith didn't even look up the meaning of Type 2 diabetes until he was diagnosed with the disease, which poses a greater risk to African-Americans (like him), Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
What he discovered is that 25.8 million Americans – 8.3 percent of the population – have diabetes, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC defines diabetes as "a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal," stemming from the body's inability to produce or utilize insulin properly. Type 1 is found typically in young adults and children and represents 5 percent of diagnosed cases of the disease. Type 2 accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diagnosed diabetes cases. According to the American Diabetes Association, "In Type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy."
Here are a few more facts about the disease in the United States, as reported by the CDC:
• Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death.
• People with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
• Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and new cases of blindness among adults (ages 20-24).
• About 215,000 people younger than 20 years had diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2) in 2010.
Before Keith was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago, he unknowingly lived with the disease while enjoying tasty cakes, fried meats, hot dogs, dairy, white foods, enriched foods, fast foods, carbonated drinks and beer (that he drank with conviction). One day, he and my mother, Lorraine Jones, were on a road trip when they noticed that Keith needed frequent restroom breaks. My mother, who is a nurse, decided to have blood tests run, and they discovered his blood sugar was much higher than normal. Keith was in a diabetic crises and didn't even know it.
After this discovery, Keith's doctor immediately put him on medication. But it wasn't until a few years ago that my mother began switching out their diets. She slowed down on the pastas, cooked more veggies, swapped white for brown rice and reduced meat intake. Over the years, Keith's levels kept going down, but he still took the medication.
This is where I stepped in and gave each of my family members a copy of Neal Barnard's "21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart" for Christmas last year. Keith agreed to eliminate meat, dairy, alcohol and any Foods of Mass Destruction, while adding whole grains, fruits and vegetables – basically adopting the vegan lifestyle that I live. He enjoyed this new pattern so much that he continued the plan for another few months.
The results of his HbA1c – a type of lab test for blood sugar level – reflected his healthier lifestyle changes. A normal range for this test is 5.6 percent or lower, according to the National Institutes of Health. When Keith was first diagnosed, his HbA1c was a staggering 9 percent. After a few months of healthy eating, his level dipped to 6 percent. In March, Keith and my mother began following a meat-free diet, and now his HbA1c is at 5 percent! Astonished, the doctor declared that Keith no longer had diabetes! Keith also returned his medications, which he stopped using in March. Again, his doctor was in awe.
[See: Best Plant-Based Diets]
Today, Keith and my mother are happy, small-time farmers and manage a variety of their own gardens, which are flourishing with okra, string beans, lettuce, beets, carrots, cantaloupes, peppers, watermelons and tomatoes. Creating and maintaining gardens has also provided Keith with much-needed daily activity and exercise. Tilling land is very laborious!
Kimatni D. Rawlins played running back for Georgia Institute of Technology and is now the founder of the health, fitness and wellness website Fit Fathers (@FitFathers). After shedding 50 pounds through daily workouts and a plant-based diet to regain his high school weight of 201 pounds, Kimatni became a certified fitness trainer and received certification in plant-based nutrition from eCornell.com. Today, the married father of two young girls enjoys running, cycling, hiking, obstacle courses, boxing, basketball, yoga and strength training. He competes in races and logs roughly 30 miles a week on foot.