When Thomas Rupp was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he was stunned. Despite having a challenging career (he was working in corporate finance and for FEMA), he managed to exercise regularly, and he rarely ate fast food or sweets. Sure, he weighed 245 pounds, but at 6 feet tall that didn’t seem so terrible. He didn’t consider that his weight pushed his BMI into the obese category—and he didn’t realize that many of the “healthy” foods he was eating were actually loaded with tons of sugar and calories.
Rupp’s doctor started him on four different medications. The side effects were bothersome, but what really kicked him into gear was learning that he’d need to start injecting himself with insulin nightly. Instead, he turned to the Diabetes Reversal Program at Tufts Medical Center, where he met with the founding director, Michael Dansinger, MD. They worked together to closely examine Rupp’s diet and uncover pitfalls that Rupp had trouble spotting on his own. (You can control your blood sugar with food and without insulin by making healthy lifestyle changes. Try the easy plan in The Natural Way To Beat Diabetes.)
For instance, while adding some cream and sugar to a cup of coffee might not be a big deal for some people, Rupp often downed 10 cups of coffee a day to power himself through long days in the office. (Here are 8 physical signs you drink way too much coffee.) And he was putting cream and sugar in each cup. “That’s 10 containers of cream and 10 teaspoons of sugar a day I was adding to my diet,” he says. And even though he worked out, “I was drinking green juices at the gym, or protein smoothieswith mango, once again without realizing the sugar content.”
Other seemingly healthy choices—like salads—also concealed stealth sugar bombs. “I would add vinaigrette dressing or chickpeas, not knowing they’re high in calories. Or I’d eat tuna with mayo, which turns into sugar,” says Rupp. But ultimately, carbs were his downfall. His morning routine included a stop at Dunkin Donuts for a corn muffin or a bagel with cream cheese. Lunch would be a sub sandwich and a bag of chips. Dinner out often included pasta and bread.
Dansinger helped him overhaul his diet, and within four months Rupp lost 10% of his body weight. Soon after, his A1C test results—a measure of average blood glucose levels over the previous three months—drastically improved. But perhaps what’s even more impressive is the fact that Rupp has been able to stick with the changes he made for 17 years. Today, he weighs 170 pounds, and his A1C is a 6, which means he’s practically in remission. (A score of 6 or below is considered remission if you no longer need medication, but Rupp still takes one drug, metformin, due to the loss of some pancreatic function.)
How He Did It
When he initially overhauled his diet, Rupp eliminated all the usual foods he had been eating and began to eat up to 10 eggs a day—a tip from Dansinger. “They’re low in calories and have lots of protein, which helped me stop craving sweets and focus on foods that fill me up.”
Of course, one can’t live on eggs alone. After experimenting with a variety of foods that were less likely to spike his blood sugar, Rupp settled into a groove that works for him. He usually starts his day with steel cut oats with fat-free organic milk and black coffee. Lunch is a mix of boiled kidney and black beans with raw onions, olive oil, and vinegar. Dinner is a garden salad with tomatoes and hummus, dressed with oil and vinegar, as well as a small portion of protein like chicken or a hamburger. (Add these 10 foods to your diet to help lower your blood sugar naturally.)
When Rupp gets hungry, he fills up on vegetables like broccoli rabe, asparagus, or spinach. Snacks include non-fat yogurt with a scoop of protein powder or not-yet-ripe fresh fruit like bananas or cantaloupe. (Dansinger advised him that fruit that has not ripened to maturity—like, say, a green banana—has less concentrated sugar than ripened fruit).
Rupp wasn’t a big drinker before, but nowadays alcohol is pretty much off the table. Other no-nos include commercially processed foods, cookies, breads, cakes, and ice cream. “I don’t eat any of that,” says Rupp, now 69.
See your body on alcohol:
Rupp does cheat on occasion—”I still have pasta sometimes, so I don’t feel like I’m chained to my beans,” he says—but for the most part he’s pretty strict. While giving up old favorites was hard in the beginning, he says his biggest adjustment was mental: “I had to decide that I’m not going to eat for enjoyment. I’m going to eat to survive.”
Could You Do It, Too?
“Most patients with type 2 diabetes have the biological capacity to achieve blood sugar levels that are normal or near-normal,” says Dansinger. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach guaranteed to make that happen.
The key, Dansinger explains, is to eat in a way that stabilizes your blood sugar so you can avoid spikes and dips while shedding excess pounds. (Exercise, of course, is also crucial.) But there are different ways to get there. He’s seen many patients succeed by following a Mediterranean-style plan featuring a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, fish and shellfish, as well as a moderate amount of dairy, olive oil, nuts, and wine. (Here are 4 surprisingly rich Mediterranean meals that burn fat.) Other patients become vegetarians, go vegan, or eat low-carb, focusing on healthy fats, protein, and non-starchy vegetables.
Any of these options can help you achieve your goals, provided you closely follow the rules of your chosen eating strategy. “The key ingredient is adherence rather than the specific diet type,” he says.
While it’s possible to do that on your own, Dansinger strongly advises against flying solo, noting that working with a medical or nutritional coach is the best way to stay motivated and feel accountable. To that end, Rupp continues to meet with Dansinger every two months, and together, they monitor his faithfulness to healthy eating. “He catches me if I go off track,” says Rupp. “It just really works.”