I haven’t been a good correspondent this year. The blog has been a little thin. I can now admit that haven’t been doing a whole lot of gardening this year. I was finding the work too taxing. When I look back I realise that was curious. I always tell people that my rooftop garden is hardly a labour at all. Why was I finding so little time to give the garden the tending that most years I find to be a pleasure?
I wondered if I’d lost enthusiasm for the garden. It seemed like too much ‘bother’ to climb the extra flight of stairs to the top of the house. At the beginning of the year, just when I should have been planting seeds, I was struck down with a terrible chest infection that almost hospitalised me. I was ill for weeks. Eventually after a late spring holiday failed to make any difference to me I went to the doctor again. She took one look at me, sent off some blood samples and a week later the diagnosis came back. I was suffering from an acute version of Diabetes type 2.
No wonder that I hadn’t had any energy for gardening. Diabetes saps our spirit, making it impossible for the body to derive energy from the food we eat. Sugar builds up in the blood stream and gives you all sorts of alarming symptoms. My eyesight went fuzzy, my feet started to itch alarmingly, I developed sores on my legs and I became so lethargic. Diabetes saps the immune system. I'd caught an infection and couldn’t shake it off. I couldn’t make it to the second floor of our five storey townhouse without needing a break to catch my breath, let alone make it up the five flights to the rooftopvegplot!
My GP told me that diabetes was irreversible, that I’d now be on medicines for life. I read that the medicines slowly become less effective. Doses would have to rise, strengths change, until I’d be plagued by symptoms far worse than itchy feet. I was told that diet would help, but wasn’t a cure.
Being told that you have a long term limiting illness is a serious blow. But one thing I could still do was surf the internet. So I did what everyone does these days when they are ill. I looked it up on the net. Just by chance, I discovered that some people had managed to reverse their symptoms. I discovered a doctor in Newcastle who’d put a few people onto a very low calorie diet. They’d all managed to reduce their blood sugar levels successfully. Most of them had gone into remission. Diabetes UK had recently funded a large scale study to see how replicable this small study might be.
The ‘Newcastle Diet’ is based on a very low calorie diet (about 800 cals/day) using proprietary liquid meal replacements. Fortunately I found all the information I needed on the internet. The large scale study was in full swing and I found it pretty easy to find the advice that people taking part in the study in Northumberland and Lothian were being given.
I read the scientific papers, thanking the lord that I’d done science 'A' levels. I could just about understand it all. (Though medics never use a short word were a long one will do!)
The Newcastle Diet I found on the internet was pretty draconian. It had a huge list of things I couldn't eat. Yet my research was revealing that the choice of foodstuffs was not as important as calorie count and nutritional balance. I decided not to drink the meal replacements – reading the contents on the labels was enough for me! I’d also just started getting deliveries of raw Jersey milk from the country. I wasn’t about to start a diet that eschewed good ingredients. My meal replacements consisted of raw milk shakes and home made soups.
Mum says that the first words I uttered were,
’I’ll do it myself!’
I devised my own healthy, wholesome diet that was low in calories, but balanced. I didn’t want to resort to what seemed to me to be a diet of chemicals and additives.
So I embarked upon the diet, using myself as a guinea pig. I’ve dubbed it the Exponential Diet, because it starts as a low calorie diet, (a steep downward weight loss) but gradually more calories are added, until the dieter glides to reach their natural maintenance level at a gradual pace. I managed to lose 25kg (that’s 55lbs) But more significantly for me, I was able to greatly reduce my glycated haemoglobin count (HbC1A - the medical measure of blood sugar levels.) This measure gives an average reading of blood sugars covering the previous three months. So it’s more accurate than fasting and postprandial blood sugar counts. My glycated haemoglobin count went down from 105 on 6th May 2016, to 51 on the 2nd August and 39 just a few weeks ago. You can see on the graphic below just how much of a feat that was. I went from bright red on the traffic light scale to green - normal.
Very low calorie diets get a bad press on the internet. My (US) calorie counting app threatened to close down my account if I told anyone what I was doing! That made me read further. Was I committing some form of slow suicide? Low calorie diets, as long as they are balanced and nutritious, are absolutely fine. (Though there are some important things you need to know when you get near to your target weight.) In fact they are an excellent way of losing weight, quickly, easily and safely*. They are so excellent I began to wonder whether the diet app didn’t want me telling people because they knew that I had stumbled upon an effective diet. If everybody lost weight as efficiently as I was doing done their monthly fees would plummet!
By the end of September I had halved the dose of Metformin (the diabetes drug). Following the latest blood test I’ve come off drugs all together. I’m not out of the woods yet. I will need to take another blood test in three months’ time and annual follow-ups from then on. But I feel such a different person now, I don’t need to look at the figures to know that a great change has been made. I’ve got so much energy now, I walk much more than I used to. I feel (and I hope look) great. The diet has affected my health in many ways. My vision has reverted to normal, I’m sleeping well and enjoying getting into all my old clothes. I now have the heart rate of an athlete!
But I’ve lost a season in the garden. During the critical months I could only find the energy to pick mint for the odd glass of tea and cut the tomatoes that seemed to thrive with very little maintenance. But I’m back now and my mind is brimming with the new facts I’ve learned that are as relevant to the garden as they are to my diet. I’m even more convinced that healthy, fresh and organic foods are not simply a nice to have, but the lack of them are the root of our poor national health. I’m now far more careful about eating healthily. I’ve given up going to restaurants unless their ethos is organic. I don’t buy convenience foods any more.
The other day Brenda and her husband from Bud Garden Centre in Burnage came to stay with us. I was a bit daunted to show her the rooftop garden. It doesn’t look very manicured at the moment. But they loved it, finding the unkemptness part of the charm. I’m busy sprouting seeds now that winter has set in. More than ever, I’m determined to make the most of the tiny rooftop that I possess. Now I feel far more confident to share the science behind why the food I grow up there is so much better for us.
*I’ve written in far more detail about the efficacy of The Exponential Diet. I didn’t simply follow a low calorie diet right through to maintenance. My research indicated that such an approach wouldn’t be beneficial. The book (and all the research) is almost finished and I’ll be seeking a publisher soon. (Is there anyone out there who’s interested?)