"The diagnosis was a shock"

After David Wechsler was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a year ago, he changed his diet and made exercise a part of his daily routine. Today, he feels great. The 50-year-old chemical engineer explains how he got the disease under control.

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"Now I just have a small portion of tagliatelle with a large helping of vegetables. I don't have pasta without vegetables anymore." David Wechsler doing his shopping at Basel's town market.

"Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in March 2014 came as a total shock. It isn't entirely clear why my blood glucose levels were high. I did weigh too much, that's true. But I know much bigger people whose blood glucose levels haven't been affected by their excess weight. I also cycled to work every day and even had a membership with my company's gym. Was it mainly because of the sweets? Before I fell ill, I did indulge in some chocolate or ice cream in the evening. But I doubt it was that. I think the trigger was stress; stress I experienced in my private life last year. Together with the excess weight and my diet, it probably tipped things over the edge.

The diagnosis was a shock. I immediately thought of foot amputations and blindness: the potential consequences of diabetes if it isn't recognised or left untreated for too long. I'm already short-sighted, so damage to my vision was my main concern.

It's thanks to my GP that I now know a lot about the illness. He immediately referred me to the Diabetes Association's Basel office, and the counsellors there told me everything I needed to know. It was there I also learned that there is a whole lot you yourself can do to make sure you live a happy life despite the illness. I would recommend that everyone who suffers from diabetes should contact their regional Diabetes Association. Don't use the Internet to get information; there's so much of it, it's just confusing.

After the consultation, I knew I could forget some of the clichés about diabetes, such as sufferers having to totally restrict themselves. I enjoy the good things in life, so I would have found that very difficult. One of the most important rules for type 2 diabetics is to eat a balanced diet. I love pasta and I still eat it, but now I just have a small portion of tagliatelle with a large helping of vegetables. I don't have pasta without vegetables any more. If I have potatoes for lunch, I won't have any carbohydrates in the evening. I also scrutinise food for its sugar content. The amount of sugar in certain products like juice or fruit yoghurts shocks me sometimes. Most of the time you have no idea of how much it is. The important thing, though, is to identify these hidden sugar traps and eliminate them from your diet. Then you can occasionally enjoy a piece of chocolate without feeling guilty.

The consultations with the Diabetes Association showed me that I'd always eaten much too fast. As a result, I was putting away bigger portions than I needed and becoming overweight, which in turn promotes diabetes. Now I know that it takes 20 minutes to feel full, so I take my time and feel full after smaller portions.

Exercise is another major factor in keeping diabetes under control, alone for the fact that it lowers blood glucose levels. However, you have to do it regularly for it to be effective. I increase my heart rate for thirty minutes every day through exercise. I swim and work out at the gym every week and also take every opportunity to walk. I monitor the number of steps I take using a pedometer. I used to take 4,000 steps a day; I'm up to 10,000 now. Being diabetic doesn't mean you have to radically change how much exercise you do. Every little counts.

It wasn't difficult for me to change my eating habits and make exercise a regular part of my day. For one, I'm a rational person and I know it makes me feel better. But I also want to avoid damage to my eyes and vascular system at all costs. After all, at 50 I still have a lot to live for, and that motivates me. Another thing driving me is what a woman I know has experienced. She developed type 2 diabetes ten years ago, but unfortunately made virtually no change to her lifestyle. Today, she has to inject insulin. I want to avoid that at all costs.

I've also been working on my work-life balance. My workload is very heavy and I deal with people from different continents. Before, that meant I was working almost round the clock. I ate at the computer while I was working and slept odd hours. For diabetics with a disturbed metabolism, though, a certain routine is very important, so I learned to slow down.

And I can see the first results. Since being diagnosed about a year ago, I've lost 16 kilos. This may not seem like much to some, but I'm someone who prefers to take things slowly. If you start to lose weight too rapidly, you tend to quickly give up again. My target weight is 95 kilos. When male patients with type 2 diabetes lose belly fat, their islet cells may start producing insulin again. I'm currently taking a combination of two different tablets. My doctor recently told me that if I carry on like this, I might be able to cut back to one.

If I could turn back the clock, I would eat less and enjoy a more balanced diet with a lot of vegetables and only very small portions of carbohydrates. And there would be no excuse for not exercising. Large-scale studies in Finland and the US have shown that an active lifestyle and healthy diet could delay or altogether prevent more than half of all cases of type 2 diabetes.

When I see what many young people eat nowadays – just hamburgers or Schnitzel and chips, washed down with fizzy drinks. . . oh dear! No wonder that people as young as 25 are getting type 2 diabetes nowadays. Hundreds of thousands of people are already suffering from diabetes in Switzerland, 90% of them from type 2. To contain diabetes, kids should be taught about healthy eating and the importance of exercise in school. And parents should set a good example at home. My 13-year-old daughter doesn't really like eating greens either, but I keep telling her she can't just live on spaghetti. When she visits me, I give her carrots or cauliflower as part of a meal. She can just about handle those. It's a start."

Text: Juliane Lutz