Monday, 2 January 2012

About me - AKA who the heck am I?

The short and sweet

My name is Glen.  I'm 46 years old and live in Alberta, Canada  -  Howdy everyone.

I'm blessed with a wonderful wife, three kids (21, 19 and 15 - boy/girl/boy respectively), a dog (kinda dumb, but cute) and a cat... at least I think we have a cat.  Somewhere here there's likely a cat.  (He likes to hide.)


It's hard to believe, but I was once an athlete.  Not professional, but competitive and pretty-darn-near elite.  I've always struggled with weight, which is one of the reasons I stayed so active - I didn't have to worry as much about getting fat when playing football, lifting cars (yeah, I used to dead-lift cars - simply because I could) or riding a bicycle 300 miles a week.  I still have fond memories of my mom trying to drive the car away one Friday night (I was 17 and wanted the car - it was Friday night!) while I held it in the air by the drive wheels...  Mom screaming, "Glen, put the car down!!" while neighbors looked on in shocked disbelief - Good times, good times.

I don't tell you this to brag ... I can't do any of what I used to ... I tell you so you realize how much I lost over the next couple of decades...

Health conditions (my primary reasons for eating how I do)

In 1990 I was involved in a bicycle race crash at nearly 90km/h (about 55mph).  Ouch.  I was 24 years old with a very pregnant (8 months!) young wife at home at the time.  Obviously I survived, though I suffered a concussion as well as chest, shoulder and knee injuries and lost a considerable amount of skin in the process.  (Surgeons today tell me I likely suffered un-diagnosed spinal injuries during the crash - responsible for my current spinal issues.)

Needless to say, surviving such a crash under those circumstances (with a young wife 8 months pregnant) necessitated re-thinking my priorities, and cycling - even post-recovery - got put on hold.  Amazingly, when I stopped cycling I slowly gained weight.  Not much, but about 10 lbs a year.

It's interesting that you don't really notice 10 lbs a year until it's become a ridiculous amount of weight.

Moving along (and skipping a few years) - In 2005 after suffering from sciatica and numerous back complaints and injuries over the past decade I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis - both central canal and bilateral foraminal stenosis.  For the first two years after diagnosis (I had ruptured both L4/L5 and L5/S1) I spent an average of 16hrs a day in bed on medication due to pain.  By late 2010 MRI's showed the discs were still torn, degenerated completely and I found it impossible to walk even one city block without excruciating pain.

Unfortunately, due to weight gain (from both diet, inactivity and my own metabolic type) I was not a candidate for surgery.  By late 2010 I was over 300lbs and broken - physically and emotionally.  At my highest weight I topped 320lbs.

I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes this time last year.  My family doctor confirmed it after both a fasting blood glucose of 14.8mmol/L (or 267 mg/dl for the American's reading this) and an HbA1c result of 12.1%.  I received the news January 4, 2010.  (And for the benefit of those that don't know, diabetes is diagnosed at a fasting BG of less than half my 14.8 result... Diabetes is also diagnosed at an HbA1c of 6.5%, roughly half of my level.)

At the same time as the diabetes diagnosis I was told I was hypertensive and had high cholesterol and triglycerides.  Lovely.  Now not only was I physically broken and emotionally pretty upset - now I had more to deal with.

I also have a horrible family history of both heart disease and diabetes.  In fact, if I make it to age 50 without a cardiac event I'll be the first male in my family for four generations to do so.  Yup, Life was good.

Fixing Things

My family doctor recommended I go on long-term disability to help address my compounded issues, and referred me to a 'complex care team' through Alberta Health Services.  They were an entire team made up of Doctors, nurses, dieticians, nutritionists, psychologists, social workers...  lions, tigers and bears, oh my.

The dietician had me record what I'd been eating, and made some very strong recommendations regarding my food choices - specifically I was told to reduce my fat consumption, especially saturated fat, reduce sugars and refined carbs, and eat lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Her diet didn't work.  Things didn't improve.  I was put on Metformin, and told I likely needed insulin.

I did some research on my own - luckily I'm educated enough (my educational background is varied, but is heavily weighted in the health-sciences - Initially my goal was to be a pediatric cardiologist, though I eventually ended up pursuing other fields) to know how to read research studies.  I also spent quite a bit of time looking through diabetic information sites and forums on the web.

I can happily recommend the good people at the Diabetes Forum - if you're diabetic and struggling with blood glucose control, stop in and get some great advice.

Traditional advice didn't work - and research was actually showing it to be wrong

With my diabetes being a primary concern for me (I know that with a family history of heart disease, the diabetes diagnosis was going to compound those issues) I delved into learning as much as I could.

Certainly it made sense to eat low-carb ... but that was impossible to do while getting enough calories and keeping fat intake low, as was medically advised.  Heck, even I knew from my own time in school that dietary fat and cholesterol were causing of heart disease...  Or, were they?

I managed to stumble onto Tom Naughton's documentary "Fat Head".  That was interesting and made a great deal of sense.  I read some of Gary Taubes work, and started to research what I found independently.  And came to the conclusion both were quite right in many of the things they were bringing to our attention.

As it turned out, all major research showed that you could lose-weight and improve cardiovascular health by reducing carbs and increasing fat.  Crazy talk - yet it made sense!

The Experiment

So, I set out to see for myself.  I'd already cut out sugar, but now cut out potatoes, corn, pasta, grains, most fruits.  I got all my carbohydrates from only non-starchy vegetables and berries.

I also added in a little exercise - I couldn't do much, but found that I could ride an upright exercise bicycle (not a recumbent - those hurt my back) for about 10 minutes at a time.  So I added that in.  10 minutes a day.  After a while it was 20 minutes a day (2x 10 minutes.)

I decided I should watch my calories, even though some sites suggested you didn't need to - for me I felt it important.  With my size (6'3" at about 300lbs at the time) I decided to get at least 2,800 calories a day in order to prevent 'starvation mode'.

Results, so more experimenting...

In two weeks I lost about 17 lbs.  (Yes, mostly water.  That's the way ketosis works.)  In a month I'd upped my exercise to over 30 minutes a day.

By three months I'd lost over 60 lbs, and could now ride for up to two hours a day.  I'd also found I needed more food - and upped my caloric intake to about 3,200 calories a day.  But my dietician was not happy with my diet, regardless of my weight loss.  She advised it was both unsustainable and unhealthy.

By six months the weight loss had slowed, but I'd lost over 70lbs in total while gaining some muscle (which had atrophied over the years), and started actually going outside on a bike.  (I would have liked to gone outside earlier... but this is Canada and it's still winter in May where I live.  Not technically, but it's often sub-zero and snowing.)

I joined a cycling club.  By August I was told I was pretty strong and fast for an old guy.  I'm still not sure if that's a compliment or not, but decided to take it as such.

At this time I needed to up my caloric intake again.  I started eating about 4,200 calories a day, sometimes more, with about 90-150g per day of carbs, depending on my exercise for the day.  (When doing a 3.5 hour 100km bike ride, you need the 150g of carbs in the day.)  Typically my carbs still accounted for only about 10% of my daily calories - maintaining ketosis.

Blood Tests - say WHAT?

So in August I got the results of my 6 month blood tests.  My HbA1c had dropped to an even 6.0%, well under the diagnostic criteria for diabetes (though still not where I want to be) and I was 70lbs lighter while adding several pounds of additional muscle.  I also now had a 36" waist - which for a 6'3" mesomorph is actually pretty slim.  My triglycerides, LDL/HDL ratio were also much improved.

Not only that, my back pain was getting better.  I'd started a 'walking program' that was supervised by the good people at Calgary's Chronic Pain Center at the Holy Cross Centre.  I can't recommend them enough if you suffer from Chronic Pain and live in the area, btw.  They're fantastic.

Currently... ?

At the moment I'm completely asymptomatic in regards to my diabetes.  My blood glucose levels and HbA1c tests are within normal range.  I attribute this to three things:  the LCHF diet (always striving for between 10-15% of my calories from carbohydrate), my loss of visceral bodyfat (which helps insulin-resistance among other things), and my exercise regimen (minimum 5 days a week).

The only time my blood sugars rise is when I'm sick.  Unfortunately I had a cold/flu bug over the holidays and was staying in the 6.0 to 7.0 mmol/L range (about 108 to 126 mg/dl) which is much higher than my norms.  Most diabetics (and even non-diabetics) find their blood sugar rises while ill - so I'm in good company.


  1. Dude... You're a bad-ass...
    Me saco el sombrero. Hat's off...
    If I'm ever in Canada, we gotta enter a race (luckily/with some effort, I'll get to Marathon) together and celebrate afterwards.
    I'll eat some pasta (I need starch) and you can have something something according to your diet.
    Keep up with the good work. :D


  2. "If I'm ever in Canada, we gotta enter a race (luckily/with some effort, I'll get to Marathon) together and celebrate afterwards."

    LOL. I'm not worried about a marathon distance ever. I'm happy with 5km distances, they're quick and fun and there's way less risk of stress injury. =)

    I'm up for a 5km run, some cycling, or both anytime though, except in winter... It is Canada, after all.

    As for starches - I will have more carbohydrate on a day where I'm doing long/endurance cycling. Like a 110km ride through the mountains or something. Heck, I had some oatmeal pancakes one morning about 45 minutes before a 5hr ride...

    That worked pretty well for me as they're slower-digesting than pancakes made with refined white flour, so you get the energy you need but not so fast that you get blood glucose spikes... I also find sprouted-grain toast (no flour) with natural/organic peanut-butter and no-sugar-added jam works pretty well for a pre-ride meal as well.

    As a high-energy diabetic who typically exercises a minimum of 7-8hrs a week, I find much of diet is trial/error, so I do lots of blood glucose testing, even when riding, LOL.