Paleo Gave My Father New Life
Written by: Susie Singer
My family is living proof that it is never too late to do the right thing. A year ago almost to the day I write this, my father nearly died. He had been unhealthy and ignorant of his diet all his life. My mother frequently attempted to put him on diets, and I remember as a child often finding candy wrappers in the car from his secret binges. He fell victim to poor education and deceptive, mislabeled products (such as chocolate-covered “blueberries” that he believed to be a nutritious alternative to standard sweets which were really blue-dyed sugary blueberry flavored jellies covered in processed chocolate “glaze”). After he retired, he began spending much of his day watching tv, barely active (due in large part, I’m sure, to his declining energy from the low quality food he was eating).
My husband and I had some success with the Atkins diet over the years (this was the closest exposure we’d had to the paleo diet where the science of food began to make sense-i.e. take out the carbs, bring in the fat). We tried to educate my father. At his request, we would throw away the processed food whenever we visited. But he was hopelessly addicted, didn’t have the proper education to understand why what he was eating was hurting him, and the bad foods would come right back in. It never stuck. He was routinely diagnosed as “prediabetic” even though his fasting blood glucose levels were up at 120 mg/dl and his A1C stayed around 6.0. His triglycerides hit 177 and his HDL risk factor was 5.6. [these numbers were from his routine physical in 2010]. His diet was only addressed by his doctors as a stern general warning that he’d best “eat healthy or lose a foot to diabetes” someday. Of course eating “healthy” included lots of whole grains and avoiding fat.
By Christmas, 2010, just after his 79th birthday, he weighed 281 pounds.
January, 2011 started a revolution in our family. My father began having episodes of blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, and he was losing his ability to speak and write clearly. He was admitted to the ER roughly 5 times over 3 months. The initial diagnosis was TIA (mini-strokes). Doctors and well wishers all tried to assert their belief that at 79 years old, he’d lived a good life and we had to accept that this was simply the beginning of the decline we’ll all face at some point in our lives. After dozens of tests, the TIA diagnosis was ruled out by a well-informed, progressive-thinking neurologist who finally diagnosed my father as a true diabetic thanks to his long-standing “prediabetic” condition. Unfortunately, this knowledge came too late for Dad.
On March 13, 2011, my father had a massive seizure. Two days later, while still in the hospital for further testing, he had two more seizures. He was given roughly 7 grams of Ativan to control the convulsions, which stopped his breathing and put him into cardiac arrest. He was resuscitated and placed on a ventilator, where he was maintained in a chemically induced coma.
It was at this point that my world fell apart. I was sick with the stress and eating terribly. Looking back, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of a friend, my stress and grief may have kept me on the same unfortunate path my dad was on. I happened to be introduced to Robb’s book by a friend who knew that my husband and I were interested in nutrition. It was the light in the darkness that I needed; the message was clear and the truth of his words was undeniable. As my father fought to breathe through horrible ventilator weaning trials, my husband and I learned from Robb, implemented as best we could and started saving our lives amidst the chaos of potentially losing a parent. Robb was ABSOLUTELY the lighthouse in our stormy sea and even having thanked him in person does not seem enough for what he gave to us.
We watched dad fight for his life. If you ever wonder what the true essence of a life force looks like, turn someone’s ventilator switch off and watch them try to breathe. It is a terrible thing to watch, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! On June 7, 2011, dad was weaned from his ventilator and started a long and painful process of physical rehabilitation. On July 9, 2011, miracle of miracles, he came home.
He was told that because of his diabetes, although he did not need regular insulin injections, he would have to give up alcohol. He realized there was much more to it than that if he wanted to save his life, as he saw my husband and me thriving on Paleo (we both had more energy, I had lost 10 lbs and my husband lost 15lbs), and he asked for our help.
Our first piece of advice was to stay away from processed sugars and grains. Gradually, as my parents accepted these new truths and began to see results we suggested additional constructs. Dad still loves his berries and fresh cream as a treat, but he only eats these before he works out and avoids most other processed sugars, to keep his insulin in check. My parents gave up all wheat except for the rarest of “gluten-free” bread items as a treat. They regularly cook from The Primal Blueprint Cookbook. They purchase as many of their vegetables as they can from the local farmer’s market. They have also purchased a deep freeze and filled it with grass-fed meats. Dad still can’t believe he can cook his eggs in butter and bacon fat and call it “healthy”, but he’s loving every bite.
At 80 years old, my father recently went for a follow-up exam with his neurologist, one year after his issues surfaced. His doctor told him that if he has these same numbers when he is 80, he’ll be a very happy man. Dad now sits at about 208lbs, has a triglyceride level of 107, his HDL risk factor is at 4.3, and his fasting blood sugar is 85. He monitors his meals closely to keep his post-meal blood sugar under 125. His A1C is still elevated, at 5.3, but Dad’s not done fighting yet. He’s determined to better his numbers further still, and has cut his carbs down while focusing more on healthy fats (incorporating more grass-fed fatty meats, wild-caught salmon, butter and coconut oil into his diet).
His motto is “get busy living or get busy dying”. Thanks in great part to Robb and his passion and relentless devotion to continue to get this information out to those who need it, my entire family is getting busy living.