Editor’s Note: Remember to consult with your health care team before beginning a new fitness routine to make sure it fits with your goals for type 2 diabetes management.
My name is Delbert, but lots of people—or rather, lots of my nieces and nephews—call me Uncle Debo.
I’m 67 and I live in Sweetwater, Texas. For about 30 years, I worked as a postmaster, but now I’m a semi-retired school bus driver. I’m married with one grown son, and if you ever meet me, don’t be mad if I play a prank on you. That’s just how I say hello.
Oh, and I have type 2 diabetes. I like to throw in that part at the end because diabetes is what I have—and always will have—but it’s not who I am. There’s a difference, and that difference is important to me.
But that doesn’t mean I can ignore the fact that I have type 2 diabetes. I already did that for a long time, and it was a bad idea.
How it all started
When I was 56, I’d noticed that I was thirsty a lot, I had to go to the restroom a lot, my ankles were swelling up, and my fingertips would tingle.
So I went to my doctor, she tested me for diabetes, and it was confirmed I had type 2. She said I’d need to make some changes to what I ate, and that she wanted me to exercise. I changed my diet just a hair, but I didn’t start exercising because the idea of working out was a no-go for me. I was in denial about the state of my health, and I just didn’t want to accept I had type 2 diabetes, and that my own habits and lifestyle choices were part of the problem.
Life went on like that for a few years. I wasn’t taking care of myself; I just put up with the symptoms. I didn’t check my blood sugar like I was supposed to. And along the way, I had some heart trouble, too—a very scary heart attack in 2014 and some stents placed afterward. I had let my health slide.
During one visit, my doctor said, “Why do you come see me if you’re not going to do what I tell you to do?” I shrugged and stated the obvious: “Because you told me to come and see you!”
She didn’t laugh. I, on the other hand, thought it was hilarious.
A new perspective
But then 2 years ago, I moved on to another doctor, one I’d been friends with previously, and who I got along with a little better. He said that most of my health problems were stemming from my diabetes, and that it was just going to get worse if I didn’t manage it.
What he said kept bugging me. What if he was right? What if it would get worse? And what harm would it do to try to change, even just a little?
One day, I took a walk to clear my head. As a school bus driver, I have a conference period—a whole hour to myself. I can do whatever I want, as long as I’m back within the hour. That day, it was sunny, so I went outside to the football field, and just started walking around the track.
I did it the next day, and the day after that. Day after day after day of walking during that hour. The more I walked, the better I felt; my blood sugar was lower, too.
At this point, I’ve lost 37 pounds, and I’m up to walking 3 miles a day, 5 days a week. I’m in better shape than I was 20 years ago, and I’m feeling so much better.
A step toward healthier habits
Walking is great exercise, and it’s what works for me. All my doctors had been telling me all along that I needed to get more active, but I always shrugged it off. I have bad knees, so the gym was out of the question. I tried the treadmill and elliptical, and I wasn’t a fan. But when I tried walking, I liked it. The walking makes me feel better. Now, I like to exercise—it just took finding the right form of it.
And here’s the point where I did something that surprised my family and friends who’ve known me all my life: I made more changes to the way I ate. I figured if the walking made me feel so much better, what would happen if I ate better, too?
I’m not saying I went out and became a vegetarian—I’m from West Texas and still am very much a meat eater, thank you very much—but I did quit eating second helpings. When my wife and I go out to eat, we’ll order one entrée to split between us or get a senior’s plate so we get smaller portions.
That was hard to do at first because of how I was raised. There were 6 of us kids, and we didn’t have a whole lot of money. When the bowl went around, you got what you wanted because that bowl wasn’t coming back. So you had to scoop what you wanted onto your plate and finish it. I had to fight my instinct to eat everything in front of me.
I slowly changed other habits, too. I was a big sweet tea drinker, but now I’ll use sweetener instead of sugar, or mix sweet tea with unsweetened tea. I also started adding more fish to my meals to replace red meat. I’m better about talking to the doctor about my disease and having my A1C checked regularly, too.
But hey, I’m not perfect – I still eat some of my favorite foods (I’m from Texas, and I love a good steak), but in much smaller portions and only occasionally. They say that perfection is the enemy of the good, and I can relate to that. I just do the best that I can, and I feel like those small changes are helping to make a difference in my health.