As you’ll learn in Don’t Die Early, controlling our blood glucose is critical to achieving optimal health. This is because insulin resistance and damage from elevated glucose levels occurs for years, even decades, before the standard medical tests show that we’re diabetic. By identifying how the foods we’re eating affect our blood glucose levels today, we can delay or even prevent Type 2 diabetes while it’s still on the distant horizon. Waiting until our doctor tells us that our fasting glucose is 115 mg/dL and that we’re “pre-diabetic” is the wrong way to go find out that we’ve been damaging ourselves multiple times each day by causing our blood glucose to reach 130, 140, or even higher. Levels that research shows are toxic to our bodies.
I have a friend in his 30’s who became interested in blood glucose levels after hearing me talk about the subject. He purchased a glucose meter and checked his postprandial (after eating) glucose levels over a few days. He was stunned to see that his blood glucose was reaching 150 to 180 mg/dL after a typical meal.
His response? He put the glucose meter away and forgot all about it. He continues to eat the same way he did before.
As frustrating as this is to me, what I find even sadder is that it’s nothing new. I see the same behavior around me all the time: It’s simply too much trouble or too scary to consider that the foods we’re eating every day are harming us. When it comes to blood glucose, for example, we convince ourselves that a number on a meter doesn’t really mean something’s wrong. It’s too intangible.
We treat our bodies like most people treat cars, using whatever fuel is available and driving it until it breaks. Then we show up at the local medical clinic and expect that the doctors there can fix us with the same ease and finality of a car repair.
It would be great if it worked that way, but it doesn’t. While some minor injuries like a laceration or a broken bone can be quickly healed and forgotten about, we don’t have a nation suffering from an epidemic of cuts and breaks. We have a nation suffering from an epidemic of self-inflicted progressive diseases, primarily inflammation, diabetes, and heart disease. Diseases that manifest over decades and that have damaged us considerably before we take notice.
It’s both a blessing and a curse that these diseases take years to warrant traditional intervention. The curse is that by the time appears on our doctor’s radar, we’ve suffered life-altering harm. The blessing is that if we recognize the signs early and care enough to do so, we can significantly alter, and even reverse, the progression of many diseases.
What is it that makes us so acutely aware as a nation that we’re unhealthier than ever, yet less caring as individuals that most of what we’re suffering is self-inflicted? It took a wakeup call and a trip to the ER before I realized that “eating pretty well most of the time” was causing me progressive harm. And, more importantly, it took determined and open-minded research to realize that “eating well” didn’t mean what I thought it did.
Why does it always take a wakeup call to compel us to be healthier? Why is simply knowing that what we’re doing is causing progressive harm rarely sufficient to motivate us to change?
I’ve struggled with this question for the past couple of years. There are times that I beat myself up for not improving my lifestyle years earlier. My personal physician, when viewing my notes on diet and nutritional supplements remarked, “This is fabulous work. Your biggest problem, though, is that you didn’t start this twenty years ago. If you had, you’d live to be 100.” I responded with the adage “the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago and the next best time is today.” As cliché as it sounds, it’s true that we can’t live our lives looking in the rearview mirror. Where we are today is where we are and the question “what should I have done differently?” is far less helpful than “what do I do now?”.
What I want to do is help people plant the tree of preventive health twenty years before it needs to bear fruit. Let’s optimize our diet twenty years before Type 2 diabetes is a threat. Twenty years before we have a dangerous level of cardiac plaque. Twenty years before inflammatory disease ravages us. The biggest obstacle to this way of thinking is that it’s counter to human nature. We rarely concern ourselves with the intangible, waiting instead for a crisis that merits intervention. As I talk about in Don’t Die Early, it’s the hero who rides in on the white horse and saves the day that gets all the praise and rewards. We ignore the efforts of the person toiling behind the scenes to ensure a crisis never happens in the first place.
For me, knowledge is a powerful motivator. Vague hand waving about “being healthier” compels me far less than specifics. To that end, I’ve tried to capture the meaning and the benefit of these specifics in Don’t Die Early so that the vague and intangible like “you’ll feel better,” or “you’ll be healthier,” can become specifics about lowering fasting blood glucose, shifting LDL particle counts from unfavorable to favorable, and the ultimate brass ring for many people today: achieving a measurable regression in cardiac plaque.
In the absence of a life changing wakeup call, perhaps the solution is to take a small leap of faith and implement a few lifestyle changes. Perhaps the simple step of buying a glucose meter and checking our blood glucose one and two hours after every meal for just a week will be a powerful eye opener that paves the way to further motivation. Or a small change like eliminating sugared drinks from our diet can quickly bring positive results. When these small steps bring improvement we can let the results themselves motivate us to continue learning and making changes. Over time, our successes will grow in tangible, measurable ways, fueling our motivation even further.
And just maybe, once this momentum builds, our old ways of eating and thinking about preventive health will fade into obscurity.