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My First Three Months as a Type 2 Diabetic: Or How Life Insurance Saved my Life

Pete Brown - 08 July 2011

On the Friday before I left for MIX11 in Las Vegas, I received a letter from our life insurance company. It said they were denying my request to max out the life insurance due to weight and blood glucose level. My (non fasting) blood glucose was 290 or so, and my weight was pushing the same numbers. Normal people idle with a blood glucose level around or under 100.

This was late on a Friday, and I was traveling Sunday through Thursday the following week. I did the usual internet searches as I had a pretty good idea of what these numbers meant, but I had to confirm. The consensus (if there is such thing on the internet) was that any number greater than around 175 is really bad, and means you're a diabetic. Great.


I was really depressed for a couple days. Finding out that the life insurance company isn't betting on you living is depressing. Realizing you have a disease that affects everything in your system, and is guaranteed to shorten your lifespan is even worse. It was easily the worst personal health news I had ever received. I'm 39 years old, not 65.

I was pretty upset. While this explained a number of health problems I had really started noticing over the prior 8 months or so (painfully dry mouth, vision going blurry (I got glasses), more hearing loss, a daily recurring pain in my liver, etc.) I hadn't previously put those together. The liver pain was pretty new, and was hard for me to nail down. I called and made an appointment with my doctor for the Friday when I return (I hadn't seen him since 2007, as I've been bad about wellness checkups), and decided to do a very low carb diet for the week I was at MIX, hoping for the best.

My grandmother on my mother's side has type 2, and has to inject insulin daily, but she's in her 70s. My father got type 2 a while before he passed of pancreatic cancer in early 2010 at the age of 59. My family, on my mother's side, tends toward being overweight unless they really work hard not to be. My father's side was all skinny, but has a long history of heart disease. While much of it comes down to personal choice, the single largest factor in being overweight is whether your family is also overweight. (That's not just diet, it's genes, as it affects people who live apart as well)

Far more people have Type 2 than you know. It turns out that my doctor has it, and my dentist has it. Many people have it, and like me three months ago, simply don't know.

My First Quarterly Doctor Appointment

I had my first appointment in years the Friday after I returned from MIX. The doctor took one look at the blood test paperwork from the life insurance company (showed very high glucose, protein in urine, high triglycerides etc.) and said yes, there was no doubt I am a diabetic. He said as well that when my blood is tested, they'll see a thin layer of cream at the the top due to the triglycerides. Pretty nasty, but I found that amusing for some reason. We fat people would make a good vampire desert.

He took some additional tests himself to check some other numbers. He also tested my cholesterol since I had been on a low carb diet for the week prior.

The tests showed that yes, I have damaged my kidneys and, to an extent, my liver. Yes, just by eating like crap. I don't smoke, I don't drink. I don't do drugs. What did this? Me and crackers, breads, candy, and other high carb/sugar foods. No, I don't need a transplant or anything at this point, but I likely took some years (no idea, really) off their useful lifespan.

My cholesterol is, as it has always been, extremely low. So low (under 90 total), that if I didn't have diabetes, he'd be treating me to try and raise it. What I eat has no effect on my cholesterol. My blood pressure was good, also as it always has been, which is surprising for someone who weighs what I do. You have to take what you can get :)


My follow-up was just after the tests arrived. The main number he was interested in was the A1C, which measures average sugar in your blood over the past three months - the lifespan of a red blood cell. Mine came back way too high for me to continue to treat just with diet - almost the max on the scale indicating an average blood sugar level of above 300. As he didn't want me to have to do insulin injections unless there was no choice, he put me on the max dosage (4 pills a day) of Metformin. Metformin is a wonderful drug, but really tears up your digestive system.


My doctor's single biggest piece of advice was to lose weight. At my peak in 2010, I weighed 285 pounds, which is pretty big. Ok, it's huge. It's like a hippo. I always knew I was big, but was just never motivated enough to do something about it. While diabetes never crossed my mind (I don't know why), the other health risks associated with it did.

I also spoke with my good friend (and former manager) Scott Hanselman, who is a well-known Type 1 diabetic. While he and I have very different diseases, he was able to help with sound advice on dealing with elevated sugar levels, plus moral support :) Thanks for your help, Scott.

I've had a lot of great support from my family, and the few friends and coworkers I've told this to. Thanks to them for helping me make sense of it all.

My Family

My wife was pretty upset about the whole thing. Happily, she's been much better about diet than I have. Unfortunately, we have fairly incompatible diets now, as she has very high cholesterol in her family, and also can't have anything with lactose. I eat a fair bit of cheese and meat, but also a lot more vegetables than I used to. Oh, and bacon. Nom nom.


One thing this made us do immediately was reevaluate how we feed our two children. While my son, like me, is not a fan of most veggies, his diet has gotten a lot better over the past three months. The trips to McDonald's when he's out with mom or me on errands have stopped. In general, we've cleaned up their diets, and with my wife's plate and mine visible to them at every meal, have set a much better example. Ben is already showing some weight loss as a result; it's amazing how quickly things affect kids.

Where to go from Here

I'm still pretty embarrassed about the whole thing. I haven't told many people until now, because type 2 diabetes like this is absolutely the result of just treating your body like a dumping ground. It was entirely preventable - caused by weight and very poor diet. Even with the hereditary aspects of both weight and diabetes, it came down to personal choice.

Sites tend to sugar coat it (ha! see what I did there?) as no one wants to hear that it's their own personal life choices that did this. Hearing that will likely be unpopular with some people, but the fact of the matter is that this is completely avoidable at my age. Of course, our country doesn't exactly make healthy food choices easy (compare our food marketing and choices to France for a good example. I was amazed both times I went there), but it still comes down to personal decisions.


I've been on a very low carb diet since April. I haven't had any real amount of sugar/rice/white flour since then. Once in a while, there will be a small amount of sugar in a sauce at a restaurant (and corn syrup is in everything in the US and has a really strong lobby spreading misinformation so big farmers can continue to grow corn; I do my best to avoid that). The only fruit I've had are blueberries every once in a while, and as I continue to lose weight, I'll add more relatively low glycemic fruits. I haven't had any candy (I used to have a jelly bean jar on my desk), or crackers (I lived on crackers) the whole time, and I no longer miss them.

…and no tacos. I do actually miss tacos, but corn is really high up on the list of things people should avoid, especially people with diabetes. When I go to the local Mexican restaurant with the family, I get the fajita and eat it right from the skillet, no sides, no tortillas. It's actually pretty good that way. It's no taco, but I deal.

That has helped immensely both in helping to control sugar levels as well as weight loss. I'm down something like 40 pounds from my peak (down two shirt sizes from 4x to 2x), but need to lose another 60-70 to be down at the healthy weight for my 5' 11" 1/2". Perhaps, when I hit that target, the Metformin will no longer be required. It all depends on how my body responds. I've tested my blood sugar many times, and it (with the diet and metformin) is always between 90 and 100, which is respectable.

In the end, the distressing and cold letter from the life insurance company almost certainly saved my life. At the very least, it made me switch things around enough that I'll likely live longer now than I would have had I not known. I've been on diets in the past, but never had the willpower or motivation to stick with them. This news was exactly the kick in the ass I needed to start behaving.

Unfortunately, I'll always have this mark against me on my life insurance regardless of where I go and regardless of whether or not I succeed in getting rid of diabetes. I'll never be able to get as much insurance as I want to; I'll only be able to get whatever amount they'll give without asking for personal history or a blood test.

My next quarterly doctor appointment is next Friday. At least I see my doctor on a regular basis now :)

UPDATE 7/19/2011

Good news from my doctor. My A1C test, from my first three months of diet and medication, came back a solid 6.0 - exactly where he wanted me to be. He didn't think it could be done at my weight, but was really excited to see it happen. I was told "don't change a single thing" and to keep going.

Oh, and my cholesterol was even up a little: 124 instead of the 90 it was before. For a value that low, it's really good to see it come up a little into a good range. He was happy about that as well.

posted by Pete Brown on Friday, July 8, 2011
filed under:      

29 comments for “My First Three Months as a Type 2 Diabetic: Or How Life Insurance Saved my Life”

  1. Jeremy Liknesssays:
    There's nothing to be embarassed about. I know it's embarassing, as I was there myself many years ago. Our society and culture makes it way to easy to accept this. It's the irony of people sitting around the fast food table drinking milkshakes while talking about how horrible it is that kids do drugs ... without realizing that their food is a drug.

    I am so glad you made this post because it WILL change lives. People need to understand how serious this is and unfortunately most won't change unless they are shocked into it. It took courage for you to turn the flashlight back on you and expose some habits you've felt guilty about, but that courage is exactly what will help make a difference.

    Besides thanking you for your courage in posting this, I also wanted to add encouragement. When I was a full time trainer back in 2004, the byline was still "We can't say diabetes is caused by diet" and "it's a disease and it is never cured." Now I think people realize there is an impact and while the medical community won't acknowledge you are "cured" of a disease, I can tell you first hand that I had many, many clients in those days who were type 2 ... some who had to inject insulin ... and by and far those who transformed their lifestyle through diet and exercise had their symptoms COMPLETELY disappear.

    I'm not anti-drugs. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism myself and the main solution is synthroid. Turns out I could have used the "I have a slow metabolism excuse" for my weight after all (but I didn't). Drugs can help in the short term but my point is that if you stay focused and keep at it, there is good chance you can overcome it and be drug-free in the long term. Obviously there is a lot of damage and that always changes the game but you'll be amazed at how well the body heals itself when given the right chance.

    Again, thanks for sharing and here's to your health, Pete!
  2. Ben Hayatsays:
    Pete, one important fact that you should also take into consideration in order to give you positive feedback, is that, the body also heals itself and recovers. You may have done some damage, but now that you're on the right track, your body will heal itself.

    I read an old Chinese book on "Self Healing", and it's amazing how the system re-builds itself. There are only certain cases where the DNA gets damaged due to extreme cases like drugs, usage of Tobacco and Alcohol, where the body has become damaged permanently, other than that, if you feed it right, elevate your Oxygen intake by regular exercise and proper nutrition, you'll recover.

    Green vegetables are going to be very important, because they carry live energy in them as you consume them, where as cooked food, doesn't.

    It's all in your hand and it's good that you freaked out. Wake up call, that's what I call it!!!
    You can do it!!!
  3. Corrado Cavallisays:
    Thanks for sharing Pete, a famous Latin quote says: "Mens sana in corpore sano" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mens_sana_in_corpore_sano) unfortunately unfortunately we tend to forget we should take more care of ourselves.
    Glad to know your doing well.

  4. Petesays:
    Another reason to want to get off Metformin: I burn if I'm out in the sun for just a few minutes. While on campus last month, I got a sunburn just walking across the street from building 40 to 42. One day at the park, I burnt a nice deep red just playing with my son for 45 minutes. The beach vacation this summer is going to involve a big hat, and lots of sunblock.
  5. RMBrunetsays:
    Pete, you may find this blog interesting as there is a lot of information about all things related with blood sugar, diabetes, etc...


    The Diabetes category: http://www.trackyourplaque.com/blog/?cat=23

    Good luck!

  6. Paulussays:
    Dear Pete,

    Thanks for sharing and my total support in these more difficult times. For sure, you and your family will find the strength for shaping a new modus vivendi that copes with this situation.

    Kind regards, Paulus
  7. Scott Marlowesays:
    My advice, take it or leave it, is start reading labels. You'll be dumbstruck at the crap we put in our bodies via processed/packaged foods. Much of it is unpronounceable or requires research just to find out what it is and why it's in the food. Specifically, look for high fructose corn syrup. It's in everything, literally. Also, watch for items such as "pancake syrup". There's nothing syrupy about pancake syrup. It's a bunch of chemicals. Same goes for most soft butter products (like Promise, for ex.). Nothing buttery about it (again, lots of chemicals). Coffee creamer? Add some years to your life and just use the real thing (should be nothing but cream and milk).

    The kicker for me was Nabisco fig newtons. Just for grins, my wife and I took a look at the label: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and, because there just isn't enough sugar already, plain old sugar, too. Ridiculous. It's no wonder the U.S. is such a fat nation.

    If you have some time, watch the movie "Food, Inc.". Pretty good documentary about where our food comes from. As a result, we're buying our meat from the local farmer's market (free range, grass fed, etc.) and looking at labels more than ever.

    I should add that I don't live in Colorado ( :-) ) nor do I eat granola every day. But my dad is dealing with cancer (no idea if chemicals in food is related, but one never knows) and my wife has severe food allergies, so we walk the walk as much as we can.

    Good luck, Pete.
  8. Petesays:

    Thanks Scott.

    My wife and I were vegetarian for 5 years a while back, so we got very used to reading labels. She's also pretty good about that in general. So, I totally agree with what you're saying. Plus, there's lots of misleading marketing info disgused as nutrition info like "made with whole grain" as seen on so many cereal boxes.

    Unfortunately, you can still get fat on organic crackers, if you can afford them :)

  9. Andrewsays:
    Totally know where you're at with this - I love my white bread and snacks and hate my vegetables... I have no idea how I would start a low carb diet, because my diet is carbs.

    And yeah, I'm bigger than you were at your worst :(

    The thing is though, for the most part I don't feel it - I just feel like I always have, but then someone will ask me why I'm so puffed just walking, or I get way out of breath with not a lot of exercise and it takes a lot to recover.

    On top of that I'm convinced I have sleep apnoea, and I don't have any energy through the day.

    Anyway, I took friday off and saw the doctor, and I got a blood panel done saturday - so we'll see what happens.

    Strange timing that this would then be in my feed, but yeah, it's good to hear good news from your side of things, and I hope you post a bit more about your journey now and then - I'm really hoping this latest round will finally start getting me motivated, because that's the hardest thing, and I've done the exercise kick a few times and just given up each time and gotten worse.

    It sounds like you're on the right track though, so I hope you stick to it.
  10. Jon Gallowaysays:
    Thanks for sharing this Pete. We all need a kick in the pants from time to time as we get older, so thanks for sharing this with us. Congrats on the weight loss so far - that's a lot for such a short time!

    If you're like me, book writing makes it more difficult to keep healthy. It's stressful, time consuming, and it interferes with routines, schedules, and sleep. Book prices should factor in hazardous duty pay for the authors.

    Through all of this, you've been a great, committed manager - thanks again for that. All the best to you as you continue to get healthier in the Year Of The Blueberry.
  11. Mario Vernarisays:
    Pete, try the Italian-style food...I mean the *real* Italian food, not the fac-simile...also mediterranean dishes: buffalo mozzarella, pasta, tomatoes, olive-oil (instead of any other fat), etc.
    Maybe one of the few things we are still proud about!
    Corrado, do you agree?
    Good luck anyway.
  12. ed.castaneda@gmail.comsays:
    Hi Pete,

    I saw this link from some RTs in twitter... and I'm glad I did.

    It's a great post and congrats on the movement forward. I had the same news hit me in November of 2009. I think my A1C at that time was 13.something... ouch.

    It has been long journey since then, some uphill and some downhill slides... but my last checkup last month I was at 5.9 for my A1C. Like you, I have been doing low-carb and even gluten-light in some cases. I have discovered a fantastic brand new way to cook, and as a lover of all things food, that was one of my biggest challenges. I started seriously exercising for the first time in my life earlier this year. I'm now riding my bike to work and hope to complete the Seattle To Portland event next year.

    Anywho, thanks for posting and good luck. My goal is to be off metformin by January, 2012. I wish you the best on your journey and congrats on the changes you've already made.


    P.S. - Quinoa. Love it. It is such a versatile super-food it's great. It has become my replacement for rice/pasta dishes for the most part. If you want any recipe ideas let me know. I even have the stuff for breakfast with some raisins and coconut milk... tasty.
  13. Stephensays:
    Pete, this appeared in the Daily Telegraph in the UK late June


    Britain's 2.5 million people with Type 2 diabetes are offered new hope today as scientists show the disease can be reversed in as little as seven days by going on a crash-course diet.

    Adhering to the strict 600 calorie-a-day diet causes fat levels in the pancreas to plummet, restoring normal function, found Prof Roy Taylor of Newcastle University.
    The discovery, a "radical change" in understanding of the condition, holds out the possibility that sufferers could cure themselves - if they have the willpower.
    Until recently received medical wisdom was that Type 2 diabetes was largely irreversible.
    But this small-scale study indicates that defeating it could be easier than commonly thought.
    Prof Taylor asked 11 volunteers, all recently diagnosed, to go on what he admitted was an "extreme diet" of specially formulated drinks and non-starchy vegetables, for eight weeks.

    stroy continues at link and concludes

    Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK, which supported the study, said: "It shows that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed, on a par with successful surgery without the side effects. However, this diet is not an easy fix."
  14. Joe Suchysays:

    Sorry for the info, but what you are doing about it is great! With the number of people suffering from similar issues, I am sure all of the WP7 and Silverlight developers could write some pretty cool apps to help people track this kind of stuff! I once worked for a telemedicine device manufacturer. We all work for companies where the bottom line is making money, but there is nothing more fulfilling than also knowing that you are improving peoples lives.

    You are a great resource, and we all appreciated you sharing part of the details of you life with us and helping us look at the "people" side of our industry as well.

    Keep up the great job, both personally and professionaly!
  15. Jeff Ballardsays:

    I admire your openness and honesty about this - it wouldn't have been easy (maybe impossible) for me to write were I in your situation. I'm willing to bet you've encouraged at least one person to make a change and that's an awesome thing!

    I've been doing a low-carb, high fat diet for a while (although the last two weeks at an all-inclusive resort put a temporary dent in that) and it is amazing how the cravings eventually just go away. My wife enjoys the fajitas without the tortillas, too, and they are quite good.

    I don't know if you've seen it, and since you're already doing low carb it'll be preaching to the choir, but the movie "Fat Head" is a great movie to watch if you haven't seen it. It's available via streaming on Netflix. The blog is great, too, and
    the post at http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2011/06/29/bad-science-receives-another-spanking/ talks about how diet can make an impact on Type 2 diabetes.

    Hopefully you can eventually get to a point where you don't need the medication - only time will tell. Good luck on your journey!
  16. Andrewsays:
    Well, after my checkup I just phoned the doc to get the results and he wants me to come in to discuss my Blood sugar/glucose levels.

    Looks like your post could not have been more timely.

    Feel free to post more about what you're doing, because I'm going to have to come up with a plan ;)
  17. Petesays:

    It's amazing how many people have this and don't know it. Good luck, drop the pounds, and lay off anything white. South Beach Phase I is a decent model diet.


    Thanks for the ref. I'll check that out.


    Thanks. Great idea! Get to it :)


    Interesting, thanks.
  18. kimsksays:
    Hi Pete, I don't know you in person although as a Silverlight developer, I always follow your posts and attend several of your conference sessions.

    Thanks for sharing! Hopefully, everything works out fine for you.
  19. Unnisays:
    Hi Mate,
    I was there two years ago. I know how you feel and I went through the same painful experience. I am from India where we eat nothing but rice and when they told me I need to reduce what I eat most of my life, it was painful in the begining. But stopped all the Soda, did regular excercise and I am better. One thing is get better and another to keep going at the same rate. I remember two years ago, I ate dozen sugar galced donuts :) crazy days. But it is curable and work at it. All the best.

  20. Marc Zisssays:
    Thanks for sharing. Between whats available to eat at restaurants and our sedintary work lives as developers (unfortunatley typing code doesnt burn many calories as it should) we all run the risk that your facing now. Thanks for sharing this wake up call, and wish you strength on the road back (the one with lots of weigh stations ;) )
  21. Petesays:

    Good news from my doctor. My A1C test, from my first three months of medication and the new diet, came back a solid 6.0 - exactly where he wanted me to be. He didn't think it could be done at my weight, coming down from around 12 to a 6.0, but was really excited to see it happen. I was told "don't change a single thing" and to keep going.

    Oh, and my cholesterol was even up a little: 124 instead of the 90 it was before. For a value that low, it's really good to see it come up a little into a good range. He was happy about that as well.

  22. Seansays:
    My favorite bit of misleading information on a label is Dehydrated Organic Cane Juice (just in case: Sugar). That one is almost insulting.

    I am also a Type 2 Diabetic so far I have lost 40lbs with another ~50 to go. I was recently put on byetta which has been wonderful as I found out that most diabetic medicine does not help you lose weight (actually in most cases the opposite). Byetta is inject-able but it is not insulin, and it helps to suppress appetite.

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