Over three years ago, night-time security guard Geoff Whitington, then 62, was in danger of having a foot amputated due to complications from poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. He weighed 19 stone, had high blood pressure and cholesterol, and took prescribed drugs daily.
When I met him in November 2016 at a Guild of Health Writers seminar on diet and diabetes, Geoff was the picture of health. Instead of his much-loved takeaways, he has learnt to cook and has now lost six stone. Formerly a dedicated couch potato, he cycles, fishes and does yoga.
The credit for Geoff’s transformation goes to the Fixing Dad project initiated by his sons Anthony, a filmmaker, and Ian, a cameraman. Appalled that Geoff seemed to have given up on his health, Anthony and Ian decided to intervene. Their plan of attack encompassed nutrition, fitness and mindset, with the aim of getting their ‘overweight, stubborn, diabetic father’ fit enough to compete with them in a 100-mile cycling event at the end of 2014. (They did.)
While investigating ways to help Geoff (see below), they found research suggesting that type 2 diabetics who adopted an 800 calorie a day, low-carb diet for eight weeks could trigger a weight loss of up to two stone and, followed by a maintenance diet, help resolve the condition.
This diet differs radically from medical guidelines in that it initially cuts out refined carbohydrates, eg, bread, rice, pasta and sugar. Root veg are out too, as is alcohol. The focus is on protein, vegetables, oils and nuts. The maintenance programme is less stringent but still advises a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF ) diet.
Southport GP Dr David Unwin (@lowcarbGP) is among a growing number of NHS doctors who suggest patients with type 2 diabetes try an LCHF diet. As well as losing weight and stabilising blood sugar, Dr. Unwin’s patients have improved liver function and lower cholesterol, despite the higher fat intake.
Type 2 diabetes is estimated to affect more than four million people in the UK , up to 549,000 of those undiagnosed. To help others as they did their dad, Anthony and Ian made a documentary, set up a website (fixingdad.com) and put a 12-week programme on a free app. There’s also a book Fixing Dad (£8.99, Short Books) by Geoff’s daughter-in-law Jen Whitington*, describing ‘how to save someone you love’.
WHAT IS TYPE 2 DIABETES?
• Insulin controls glucose (sugar) levels in the blood and converts it to energy (fuel for your body).
• With type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t use it properly. So glucose stays in the blood, causing high blood-sugar levels.
• Type 2 diabetes can cause serious long-term health problems, and is the most common cause of vision loss and blindness in people of working age.
HOW WE CHANGED OUR COUCH-POTATO FATHER
Anthony and Ian Whitington advise you to…
Research the problem. Always ask questions – never accept the first prognosis just because you’re talking to a professional.
Set goals. Make them as big as you dare and plan the small steps to get there.
Name your project. Write it all up and present it to your dad. Tell him you’re committed to it, even if he isn’t – yet. Knowing someone cares that much can kick-start a change.
Change his usual environment and habits. We took our dad on a budget cycling trip to Spain.
Get your GP on board. State your goals and be specific, eg, to reverse a condition or reduce reliance on medication. If you don’t get their full support, consider changing your doctor (as we did).
Recently, I rediscovered Bodytox Detox Foot Patches, which you apply at night. Come the morning, I peeled them off, shuddered at the dark waste on each pad, then marvelled at how well I’d slept and how rested and toned my face looked. Your feet are the foundation of your body, according to Chinese medicine, with 60 acupuncture points and some 7,000 nerve endings. The patches combine wood vinegar, mugwort extract, chitosan (an ingredient from crustacean shells) and tourmaline (a semiprecious mineral), which claim to draw out toxins from your body. £12.99 for six/victoriahealth.com.