At 72, George King Sr. developed Type 2 diabetes and was put on multiple medications to keep his blood sugar in check. But he didn’t take the news sitting down. He started walking twice a day and modified his diet, with his diabetic diet including more vegetables and complex carbohydrates. The result? Remission. For the following 15 years, he no longer had to take medication.
None of this surprises his son, George King Jr, MD, who serves as research director and chief scientific officer of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and is author of the book Reverse Your Diabetes in 12 Weeks.
“We know that five to 10 percent of people who change their diets, lose weight and increase activity can get off all medications, and stay off them for 10 to 20 years,” King says. “Those numbers tell me that it’s definitely possible to reverse Type 2—you just need to find the correct path.”
Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and author of Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes agrees, but adds a caveat: Results depend on how long you’ve had the disease.
Related: Intuitive Eating: Can This Anti-Diet Work for Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas cannot properly produce insulin to regulate levels of glucose in your body. Over time, this can cause the pancreas’s beta cells to burn out, making it harder and harder to compensate for the body’s inability to use insulin effectively.
“People with diabetes for a short time have a better chance of getting rid of diabetes than someone who has had the disease for 30 years,” says Barnard. (King’s father, for example, did resume taking medication at age 87.)
But even if you can’t entirely reverse diabetes, says Barnard, “weight that has gone up can come back down, sugars that have gone up can go back down, medication doses that have gone higher year by year can come down, as can cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels and medication used to treat them.”
Here are four simple steps to start turning back the clock on diabetes through lifestyle interventions.
While there’s not one “magic diet” to help people with diabetes safely and effectively lose weight, King is partial to a “rural Asian diet,” which is high in complex carbohydrates, mostly from non-starchy vegetables. “Just like some fats are good and some are bad, some carbs, particularly high fiber ones, can help people lose weight and reduce their blood sugars,” he says. Joslin research found this diet significantly reduced insulin resistance (the body’s inability to use insulin to absorb glucose), body fat and cholesterol.
Diabetes Diet Do's: The diabetes-fighting rural Asian diet includes:
If you’re interested in a diet where you don’t have to watch portions closely or count calories, Barnard recommends taking a cue from vegans and eating a plant-based diet excluding animal and dairy products. That means your meals will be made up of legumes, vegetables, grains and fruits that score low on the glycemic index, which measures how quickly a food spikes blood glucose levels. Think sweet potatoes rather than white potatoes or rye or pumpernickel breads rather than white. A study of patients on vegan diets showed they were able to reduce the amount of insulin they were taking, as well as other medications. “I’m not encouraging anyone to immediately switch diets or throw their medicines into the trash,” Barnard warns. “Talk to your doctor first.”
Insulin resistance primarily occurs when muscles fail to absorb glucose from your bloodstream. After a workout, your muscles take in more glucose so your body doesn’t have to work as hard to produce insulin. This effect lasts about 48 hours, so as long as you’re sweating at least that often, your body will continuously reap the benefits. “Pick something that you gravitate toward,” King says. “Something you can stick with.”
Related: The Secret Link Between Sleep and Diabetes
It won’t just help you save on your electric bill this winter—there’s some evidence that spending time in cooler rooms can activate “brown fat,” which burns calories rather than stores them like traditional “white” fat. Preliminary research also indicates that brown fat may help control glucose and reduce insulin resistance. While not an effective weight-loss strategy on its own, King says, it can provide an extra boost for people with diabetes when combined with exercise and diet. Try keeping your house in the mid-60s for at least a few hours a day, and don’t pile on sweaters and blankets to combat the cold.
Find out which celebrities also live with diabetes.


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