Paleo Gave My Father New Life

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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.

Dad at Christmas 2010

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).

He has energy at 80 that he’s never had before.  He goes for long walks, has a weight lifting program, and rides his bike 7 miles a day.

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.

 

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  1. Jared
    August 6, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Amazing story and love that your dad obviously likes “The Shawshank Redemption!”

    • Heather
      August 7, 2012 at 12:50 am

      Exactly my thought when I read the quote ‘get busy living or get busy dying’! I love Morgan Freeman!!!

  2. The Crunchy Pickle
    August 6, 2012 at 6:32 am

    I LOVE this story! What great motivation! I am so glad that you have had this sweet time with your dad. :)

  3. JayJay
    August 6, 2012 at 6:41 am

    wow-what a comeback! inspirational stuff! and at 80! amazing!

  4. Pierre
    August 6, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Thank you very much for sharing this story. Was sitting in the garden yesterday trying to convince my 80 year old mom, who looks like she is 65, that she needed to finally stop cheating. This story may help and I am going to look for more success stories of the 80 year olds.

    • Susie
      August 8, 2012 at 5:59 am

      Pierre,
      it was definately a tough battle. I find that if people don’t look bad on the outside (or don’t care how they look) they tend to ignore what’s going on inside physically. Unfortunately many times it takes a major health scare for people to realize what they’re doing to themselves. We were incredibly lucky we got my dad back so he could even have another chance to get things right. Just keep encouraging and empowering your mom. When she realizes SHE is in control of her health, not the government or a misinformed doctor or an ad on tv or the latest weight lost product, she’ll take action.

  5. Chaz
    August 6, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Great story! My father went from having triglycerides at 343 down till he lost a 40lbs and began splitting wood and walking to work. He took his shirt off at a party yesterday and I said, “shit dad, your more jacked than me”

    Your Father’s story is an inspiration to us all, congrats!

    • Susie
      August 8, 2012 at 5:59 am

      Chaz, that’s awesome. What a legacy your dad is leaving for you.

  6. Jennifer
    August 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    What an inspiring story! I feel so happy to know how well your dad is doing now and to imagine him out there living a good life. With bacon!

  7. Christine H. Farlow, D.C.
    August 6, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    What an amazing story. Your dad is a very lucky man. There is so much misinformation about what’s healthy and what isn’t that even people who believe they’re eating healthfully are not and they’re killing themselves. I always tell my patients that your body has the ability to heal itself, if you give it what it needs. Your dad is living proof!

  8. Rose
    August 6, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks so much for your father’s story. We all want to keep our loved ones health and alive! Way to go to your family :-)

  9. Kam
    August 7, 2012 at 10:23 am

    This is so awesome! Thank you for sharing! :):):)

  10. Lisa
    August 12, 2012 at 5:27 am

    Great Story!

    Made me smile so wide that my partner asked what I was doing,
    and actually listened to me talking about health for once.

    Your dad sure is proof that it is never to late …

  11. Isabel
    September 17, 2012 at 10:18 am

    God bless your Dad! I was so happy to read he got a second chance. To many more years of health.

    -Isabel

  12. Floretta Bhairo
    November 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is like a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

  13. Devin
    July 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    This story brought tears to my eyes. I lost my father last year due to a similar course of what your father went through. Alas, I did not have your knowledge of how foods may have actually caused his death (he had Celiac disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis). We knew that he was suppose to “cut down” on gluten, but I never knew that gluten is probably what actually (in the end) actually cost him his life (he died from a bowel obstruction–probably caused by his Celiac disease). I am thrilled that you and your father were able to find the solution and implement it in time for your father to continue to be in your life.

    Good for you!

    • Susie
      December 30, 2013 at 9:06 am

      Devin, I’m so sorry to hear about your father! My dad was one small heart beat away from being right there next to yours as a statistic. Hold tight to his memory, learn all you can about nutrition and health, and use that pain to help share what you’ve learned with anyone and everyone who will listen. Your father’s legacy can rise to alleviate the suffering of countless other people who we’re still able to help. Blessings to you and your family!

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