How to Reverse Diabetes and Lose Belly Fat in 60 Days
In less than two months, I dropped my HbA1c from 8.2% to 5.8% and lost 24 pounds by making targeted habit changes
The title sounds like a bold claim, right? It’d be hard to believe it if I hadn’t done it myself. Here’s the story of how I did it — and how you can too.
On August 17, my doctor said one sentence that rocked my world: “You are a Type 2 diabetic.” Naturally, she prescribed diabetes-management drugs.
I was like, “No, thanks. Diabetes is a lifestyle condition. I’ll make lifestyle changes to reverse it.”
With the experience of someone who’s probably had this discussion more than a few times previously, she said, “That’s not likely.”
Hold my beer.
Less than a month later, on September 12, I had dropped 14 pounds and 1.5 inches of waistline. A second blood panel showed my triglycerides and LDL cholesterol had dropped to normal levels — for the first time in my life — and my HbA1c level had dropped — but still indicated diabetes. (It was at 8.0% against a normal max of 6.0%.)
On October 15, I had dropped another 10 pounds and two more inches of belly fat. My third blood panel showed that my HbA1c level had moved to 5.8% — within the normal range.
I had started at 194 pounds and was at 170 at that point. My target weight is 155, and so my journey continues. But here’s how I achieved these remarkable results within just 60 days.
When the Doc Said I Had Diabetes, I Was Floored
I exercised regularly. I’ve been regular with gym workouts throughout my adult life. I had been walking three to five miles three to four times a week for nearly two years and had walked 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago just 14 months before my diagnosis.
I ate healthy (or so I thought). I had refrained from regularly eating red meat for over 30 years because the generally accepted wisdom was it’s laden with fat — and thus bad for my heart.
I prepared dinners daily with mostly fish or chicken (baked, grilled, or occasionally fried in extra-virgin olive oil) and plenty of fresh, locally sourced vegetables. I cooked with loads of antioxidant-laden herbs and spices, like garlic, ginger, onions, turmeric, cumin, and coriander.
Rarely a day went by when I didn’t eat one or two of the wide variety of fresh fruits available where I live — in the Philippines. I avoided fast-food restaurants and rarely bought processed foods. Whenever a recipe called for sugar, I replaced it with honey — a healthier choice.
And yet, here I was — with an unmistakable marker of diabetes: an HbA1c reading of 8.2%.
When the doctor prescribed Metformin — a diabetes-control drug — I gave it not a moment’s consideration. I’m 70 and have always avoided maintenance medications. When a checkup indicated the presence of an abnormal condition, I’d research its cause and try to address it with supplements or diet rather than drugs.
Many maintenance medications are putting a Band-Aid on a disorder rather than correcting it at its source. And frequently, the side effects can be worse than the original condition.
The blood panel with my high HbA1c marker also showed a few items I had seen on my blood tests throughout my adult life: high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol. I had avoided taking the statins prescribed by my docs and tried to manage this with diet — but nothing seemed to correct them.
Modern medical research has discounted the old myth that high cholesterol levels lead to heart disease and higher mortality rates, so I didn’t worry about it much. I had accepted the condition as hereditary, without giving it much thought. My doc now, though, referred to those numbers as verification of my diabetes diagnosis. I wondered if that was true.
On reflection, I knew the source of the diabetes problem. After walking the Camino de Santiago in 2019, I was at my lowest weight in 30 years. In the following nine months, I had gained 20 pounds — still, in my mind, on the high side of “normal”.
But in the five months before my diagnosis, the COVID-19 lockdown had had its way with me. I had spent long hours every day at my computer, mindlessly nibbling soda crackers or other salty snacks out of boredom. My gym was closed, and technically I was prohibited from leaving my home. I still walked in circles around the rather large lot where I live for three miles on most days. But eating from boredom and reduced exercise added another 20 pounds to my weight.
I had gone from a fit bod to a fat dad bod in just over a year.
This seemed more likely the cause of my diabetes.
Driving home from the clinic, my mind was racing. I formulated the beginnings of a plan on how to recover from diabetes: a complete withdrawal from sweets, anything containing wheat, and starchy foods like potatoes and rice. I had read about wheat belly years earlier but never could give up my hot bagels, fresh whole-wheat bread, or several other favorites — pasta, pizza, and Basmati rice with spicy Indian food. I resolved to research diabetes itself and the best means possible for defeating it.
What My Research Showed
It became very clear within an hour or two of researching diabetes that my lifelong appreciation of breads and pasta was surely a primary cause of the problem. The carbohydrates in food are quickly transformed into glucose in the body. Insulin — produced by the pancreas in response to eating — is supposed to metabolize that glucose so it can meet the body’s short-term energy needs. But with Type 2 diabetes, the body has become insulin-resistant. In other words, insulin can’t do its job, so the glucose accumulates in the blood and is stored in cells as fat.
A prime place where excess glucose is stored is in the liver. So the liver becomes fatty — and thus far less efficient at its job of metabolizing food. Fat around the belly pretty much assures that other visceral organs are fat-laden, too.
I gathered that the formula for beating my diabetes was pretty simple:
- Minimize my carbohydrate intake to give my insulin a break and allow my body to become more insulin-sensitive again.
- Drop the 40 pounds I’d put on in the previous year.
I was pretty certain I could give up breads, pastas, and sweets without too much trouble. Any other carb-heavy foods I should avoid?
Uh-oh. Some of my other favorite foods had to go: fruits, lentils, chickpeas, and beans. Oatmeal, granola, and milk. Quinoa, rice, and all other grains. Not only potatoes but sweet potatoes as well (the healthier option, I’d always thought).
Yikes. Without these staples, what was I going to eat?
I put that question on hold while I researched the best ways to lose weight and liver fat.
An item that popped up in my research seemed like a no-brainer to me: intermittent fasting. So I resolved to start 16:8 fasting after that night’s dinner. That’s 16 hours of fasting (say, from 8 p.m. in the evening until 12 p.m. the next day), followed by an eight-hour eating window (12 p.m.-8 p.m., for instance). Then wash, rinse, and repeat. Also, cue the internal monologue:
Intermittent fasting seems pretty easy. All I have to do is skip breakfast? Anyone can do that!
Hmm, can I really lose 40 pounds by simply 16:8 fasting and avoiding sweet, wheaty, and starchy foods during my eating window? How long will that take?
I fell asleep with those questions on my mind. And in the background: the issue of what to eat in place of all the staples I’d have to avoid.
The Next Morning
The following morning I had a Zoom call with a group of men I refer to as my Wisdom Council. The general purpose of the weekly call is to support one another through life’s ups and downs, week to week.
Since leaving the USA in 2010, I had lost touch with these and other men from my men’s brotherhood (The ManKind Project). Previously, I had sat in weekly face-to-face gatherings among these men for over ten years. Due to COVID-19, they had recently started holding their gatherings on Zoom and reached out to me to join them. Sitting with these men again in weekly circles was truly a redeeming aspect of the pandemic.
As I checked in, I mentioned my diabetes diagnosis.
Their responses blew me away. All three of them had struggled with weight problems, one specifically with diabetes. That man (Scott) gave me the titles of two books I should read immediately for answers to the questions I’d fallen asleep with:
- “The Complete Guide to Fasting” by Dr. Jason Fung, M.D.
- “The Keto Reset Diet” by Mark Sisson with Brad Kearns
When Scott had lost a bunch of weight to beat diabetes, it had been as a result of the information in these books. He had learned to do water-only fasts ranging from 24-72 hours in duration, combined with a low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) — generally referred to as keto.
He assured me that with a keto diet, I’d have plenty of yummy food choices to replace the foods I’d have to avoid. He also suggested I get a blood glucose meter and a ketone meter. I bought a glucose meter online later that day, but I couldn’t find a quality ketone meter here in the Philippines. (It turns out I don’t need it.)
I devoured the books Scott mentioned. Dr. Fung’s book was specifically targeted to readers with Type 2 diabetes. The book described how it’s possible to reverse diabetes and lose weight — quickly — with a fasting program and LCHF diet. But I’d never fasted for 24 hours or longer! Could I do it?
But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. A bit more about what I learned from Dr. Fung, a practicing kidney specialist and one of the world’s leading experts on fasting as a means of recovery from diabetes and other chronic diseases. I’ll share my own interpretations rather than quote from his book.
The food pyramid developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1992 is at fault for a couple of things:
- The obesity epidemic in the U.S. Quoting the Center for Disease Control: “42% of Americans are obese.” What’s worse: “From 1999-2000 through 2017-2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4%, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.”
- The diabetes epidemic. Quoting Diabetes Research: “34.2 million people, or 10.5% of the U.S. population, have diabetes. An estimated 26.8 million people — or 10.2% of the population — had diagnosed diabetes. Approximately 7.3 million people have diabetes but have not yet been diagnosed (2018).”
Why is the food pyramid at fault? Let’s have a look!
Notice all those carbohydrate-rich breads, grains, and pasta on the bottom of the pyramid, with advice to eat 6-11 servings daily. And then the upper left advises us to use fats and oils sparingly. Along with sweets — or, to use another term, sugars — which are abundant in the 2-4 daily servings of fruit recommended.
This guidance from the USDA — presumably the guardians of Americans’ health — has led directly to the two epidemics mentioned above.
Excess carbohydrates and sugars from grains, sweets, and fruits are the culprits. The USDA also fails to mention that high-quality oils — like coconut, extra-virgin olive oil, and avocado oil — are loaded with healthy, life-giving fats and other nutrients. Rather than avoiding them, we need to eat more of them!
Wait, what? Won’t eating more fat make me fat?
Nope, not according to science. Actually, it may help you shed a few pounds! And not just the healthy fats in the oils the USDA tells us to avoid. Animal fats, too. Meaning that fatty, skin-on chicken thighs are healthier for you than lean, boneless, skinless chicken breast.
In a study of 135,000 people from 18 different countries, no relationship was identified between fat and cardiovascular disease. A diet high in saturated fat reduced the risk of stroke. To quote from the study:
“High carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality.”
Following the USDA’s guidance virtually assures you’ll eventually become a statistic in the epidemics mentioned earlier.
Another paradigm-busting fact
Contrary to conventional wisdom, reducing you daily caloric intake is one of the worst things you can do to lose weight. When your body realizes that fewer calories are coming in, it adjusts your metabolism downward to function well at that lower-calorie level.
When I learned more about the macronutrients of the foods I ate and how my body responds to each, I learned to adjust the types of foods I ate to consume more fat and fewer carbohydrates.
Back to My Recovery Story
In the first few chapters of Dr. Fung’s book, I discovered that his clinic has had wonderful success reversing diabetes within months by reducing visceral fat via fasting programs—from 16:8 fasts to 24, 48, or 72 hours. (The water-fasting record holder lasted over 365 days!)
Dr. Fung recommends that for extended fasts, you make and sip bone broth on occasion — for its nutritional value and for hunger relief. Or he suggests “Bulletproof Coffee” in the morning — a yucky-sounding but yummy-tasting blend of coffee, heavy cream, coconut oil, and butter aka a fat bomb. It’ll energize you in the morning and create a feeling of satiation to ward off hunger throughout the day.
On August 19 — two days after my diabetes revelation and, by this time, well into Dr. Fung’s book — I resolved to do my first 24-hour fast. This is sometimes referred to as One Meal A Day, or OMAD. What I discovered during that first OMAD validated Dr. Fung’s claim that “hunger is more like an emotion than a state.” Whenever I felt hunger, I drank about 8 ounces of water, and the hunger went away quickly. I made it pretty easily through my first OMAD fast.
And so I did it again. When I weighed in after two days of OMAD, I had lost one pound. Encouraging! I did OMADs and 16:8 fasting on alternate days for the first week. I weighed in with a three-pound weight loss for the week. I was amazed at how easily I adapted to fasting — and its outcome!
Dr. Fung also recommended a low-carb/high-fat diet (aka keto) as a means of adapting my metabolism to use fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. This would, he said, complement fasting to accelerate my weight loss.
And that’s when I started reading “The Keto Reset Diet.” He reiterated much of what I’ve already written here about carbohydrates and fats and their relationship to weight loss, health, and fitness. A key paragraph from the book:
“If you minimize insulin production, it’s nearly impossible to add excess body fat. If you don’t minimize insulin production, though, you will steadily pack on extra fat over the years. The severity of your fat accumulation depends on your unique familial genetics—the luck of the draw. Even if you come from skinny lineage, bad stuff happens inside when you are carb-dependent; becoming fat-adapted is the only true way to steer clear of the metabolic syndrome disease epidemic.”
I prefer to prepare my own meals — so switching over to keto recipes was reasonably painless for me. I bought some ground pork and beef for the first time in, like, forever! I found a rich storehouse of keto recipes online, particularly at what have become my two favorite recipe sites. I’ll share them with you here:
I discovered cooking with meats, healthy oils, nuts, cheeses, and cream — mostly yummy stuff I had avoided for 30 years (thank you, USDA) — was loaded with wonderful flavors and healthy fats.
Miss bread products? No problem, use fathead dough made with almond or coconut flour and mozzarella cheese for LCHF bagels, naan bread, pizza crust, muffins, or anything else. Fathead dough is so delicious it’s addictive!
Both of the books I’ve mentioned suggested combining fasting and LCHF dieting with high-intensity workouts to accelerate weight loss. It was about this time when the city where I live eased up on pandemic lockdowns, and my gym reopened.
After four or five months off, I started slowly but then worked up to some of the most intensive weight training I’ve done. I found I actually had more energy — rather than less — as a result of fasting and adapting my body to use fat rather than carbs for energy.
Before long, I experimented with 48-hour fasts. The first one was a struggle, but more recently, I’ve been working in one 48-hour fast per week. I’ve fasted on all but three days since I started, about two months ago. I have a December 1 intermediate target, and I’m determined to meet it. (Hint: It should be easy — I’ve already set my stretch goal to my weight target).
It’s not unusual for me to prepare dinner at the end of a 24- or 48-hour fast without feeling particularly hungry. The rituals of meal preparation and eating a delicious dinner with my partner sometimes seem to be greater incentives than hunger.
All during this time— over 60 days — I had lost a pound or two nearly every time I worked out in my gym — usually three days per week.
More validation as to the efficacy of my program: I found my fasting blood glucose levels — before and 2+ hours after a meal — on a steady decline.
A fasting blood sugar of less than 100 is considered nondiabetic, according to the Mayo Clinic. When I went from regular 100+ readings to frequent readings in the 80s and rarely spiking over 100 — I was pretty confident I’d beaten diabetes.
I can’t describe my excitement at seeing my blood panel results on October 15. It confirmed what my daily blood glucose readings had been pointing to. By following Dr. Fung’s advice on fasting and shifting to an LCHF diet when I broke my fast, I had completely normalized my metabolism and reversed my diabetes.
The Journey Continues
I still have another 15 pounds until my weight.loss target — when I’ll feel confident that I’ve dropped all my belly and organ fat. At that point, I’ll feel good about having an occasional spaghetti dinner with garlic bread. And afterward, I’ll down a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil to rebalance the fat-versus-carb ratio.
Given the amazing results I’ve achieved, I plan to follow a predominantly LCHF diet forever. (Why wouldn’t I? It’s delicious!) I’ll monitor my weight and fast on occasion if it creeps up beyond five pounds of my target. And I’ll occasionally monitor my fasting blood glucose to assure it’s within the normal range. Having been a statistic, I’m damned determined not to go back.
I think of my diabetes diagnosis as a hugely beneficial event. I have learned so much about nutrition and how my body interacts with different macronutrients. I’ve learned how to monitor my metabolic health in addition to weight. I continue to learn more every day. I suspect I’ll add years to my life as a result of what I’ve learned and my resolve to eat more healthily.
This Story’s for You
Though it’s my personal story, it’s also about you. If you’ve read this far, I’d guess you, too, are concerned about diabetes and/or obesity. You might be on maintenance medications or on some funky diet to lose that excess fat around your middle that’s just not working for you.
I hope what I’ve written here is useful. I encourage you to pick up the Fung and Simmons books, and chart a course to better health and a longer life.
And I’d be remiss to not suggest you consult with your doctor before you embark on any sort of radical lifestyle changes as I’ve written about here.
Thank you for reading.