Dr. Phil McGraw wasn’t overweight or struggling with any chronic health condition when he began experiencing unexplained fatigue, exhaustion, and other symptoms.
“I was sleeping well, I felt like I was eating okay, I had no reason that I was just like hitting a wall,” he tells Newsmax Health. “It was like I just couldn’t keep going, and I didn’t understand why.”
To get to the bottom of his low energy, McGraw – who would later become the host of television’s No. 1 daytime talk show, Dr. Phil – decided to seek medical attention. To his surprise, he was told his fatigue was due to Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, which causes the body’s glucose levels to rise higher than normal.
Unlike people with Type 1 diabetes, whose bodies fail to produce enough insulin, Type 2 diabetics aren’t able to process the hormone well, leading to what is called insulin resistance. Over time, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal, leading to a dangerous buildup of glucose.
The effects are both immediate and long-term: Right away, cells become starved for energy, which explains the chronic fatigue McGraw experienced before his diagnosis. But in the long run, high glucose levels that remain unchecked may lead to serious and even life-threatening health risks, damaging the kidneys, nerves, heart, or eyes.
At the time of his diagnosis, nearly 25 years ago, McGraw couldn’t merely search the Internet for information about his condition.
“I actually had to go to that big building with books in it. It’s called a library, I think,” he jokes. “I got books and articles and started studying it, reading about [Type 2 diabetes], and sure enough, I started finding out there were things I could do to manage this better.”
As a result of his research, and consultation with medical specialists, McGraw came up with a six-point plan, which he calls the “On It!” program, to manage his diabetes. He calls the program the next best thing to a cure for diabetes, but it requires a life-long commitment to managing your health in a proactive way.
“Sticking with it is so important because we don’t have a cure for this,” he says. “It’s going to be here for the rest of your life, and there’s nothing you can do but manage it.”
Treatment for Type 2 diabetes varies, depending on individual factors and a person’s constitution. Because the metabolic disorder is tied to obesity, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits, many diabetics can control their blood glucose levels by simply losing weight, improving their nutrition, and staying active.
Others may also need prescription medications, such as Metformin, or insulin in order to meet their target blood glucose levels.
Often, diabetics can start out treating their condition without drugs, experts say. But Type 2 tends to get worse over time, meaning many people may eventually need medication to better manage their disease effectively, no matter how healthy their diet or activity levels. McGraw has been taking Bydureon — a form of Byetta — for instance, since 2012.
Dr. Pamela R. Kushner, a board-certified family physician who specializes in preventive medical care and diabetes management, tells Newsmax Health it’s critical for diabetics to control their blood sugar so it doesn’t lead to heart disease or other serious, life-threatening conditions.
“Unfortunately, [Type 2 diabetes] is progressive in a lot of people, and it is particularly risky when not managed appropriately,” Kushner explains. “It can lead to cardiovascular complications, there can be vision changes, nerve damage, and even kidney disease; the quality of life of a person can tremendously deteriorate.
“But the good news is that this is a really unique possibility for patients to work with their healthcare professional in shared decision making. Patients really take an active role that will make a difference in how this condition is managed.”
McGraw’s experiences exemplify Kushner’s advice for diabetics to take charge and manage their own health. Working with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, he is working to publicize his a six-point plan for managing diabetes, based on sound medical advice and the healthy habits he has adopted in his own life.
The program centers on the following six strategies:
Move Forward: McGraw describes the first step in diabetes management as coming to terms with the diagnosis, and moving forward to combat it. “This is where you’ve got to get your mind right. You’ve got to accept the fact that this is a reality for you, and there’s no sense denying it, no sense in pretending it’s not there,” he says.
Get Educated: Step two involves learning as much possible about the disease, and the various options – diet, exercise, and/or medication – to address and treat the disorder to keep it from progressing. A good place to start: the OnItMovement.com Website.
Build Your Team: It’s critically important to consult a group of specialists and advocates – doctors, nutritionists, fitness experts, family members, friends, and perhaps others – to help you create a personalized diabetes management plan. McGraw tells Health Radar the quarterback of that team should be your primary care physician, but other players can also play critical supporting roles.
“Building a treatment team centers on your healthcare professional. Your physician is the core that gives you the information that you need so that you make informed decisions,” he says.
“[He or she] might put you on medication, or give you an exercise physiologist, or maybe you have a nutritionist. But [your team] also involves your wife, your husband, your friends — all your people that support you and are around you.”
Replace Bad Habits: McGraw says it’s not enough to simply break bad habits; you effectively maintain your health it’s important to embrace new, good habits – whether you have diabetes or not. “We have this, this misnomer that we ‘break habits.’ You don’t break habits — you replace a habit with a more constructive, new habit.”
For McGraw, that meant significantly changing his daily eating habits.
“For me, for example, it was feast or famine. I would go all day long, maybe seven or eight hours and not eat anything at all. And then I would just really gorge myself: I would eat anything that was either dead or seriously slowed down,” he jokes.
“That's the worst thing in the world, for me as a Type 2 diabetic, as opposed to dividing up those same calories over small meals throughout the day: I had to replace that habit with a different habit of distributing those same calories throughout the day to keep myself more levelled.”
Making a Plan and Sticking with It: The last two steps of McGraw’s “On It” program speak to the need to be mindful about managing your diabetes by crafting a workable plan of attack, and staying with it. “Willpower is a myth,” he says, noting it’s important to create a plan that supports your goals and makes it easier to manage the disease through lasting lifestyle changes.
Having such a plan can help you cope with those days you feel down or overwhelmed.
“You’re not going to be able to do this emotionally every single day. Some days you’ll be gung-ho, fired up, thinking that you’ve got the emotional energy and strength to deal with your diabetes,” McGraw says. “But then you’ll also have days where you just don’t have it in you. Those days where you become distracted with work or family issues, those are the days you need to stick with it.
“If you have a bad day, tomorrow’s a new day.”
McGraw says the primary take-home message of the “On It!” program is that a diabetes diagnosis does not mean you can’t live a long and healthy life – as long as you take control of your health and be mindful about making good choices.
It’s a message that applies not just diabetics, but to everyone.
“The advice that I have [for Type 2 diabetics] is that you’ve got to be thoughtful about this,” McGraw says. “Recognize that this is going to be with you for years and years and years to come. So, make a plan, one that you can live with.”
The full version of this article appeared in Health Radar newsletter. To read more, click here.
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