Listen to the audio file, “Introduction” (to the book Adventist Vegetarian Diabetics):
Adventist Vegetarian Diabetics™ began as a Facebook Closed Group (now called Private Group) in June 2013, because of my frustration in not being able to find a “reversing diabetes” group that accommodated my unique dietary lifestyle. I was looking specifically for recipes that were either vegetarian or non-vegetarian with meats that Adventists consider “clean” by Biblical standards in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
My doctor diagnosed me as a type 2 diabetic in September 2000 with an A1C of 7.7%. She sent me to consult with a diabetes educator and then signed me up for diabetes classes. I learned what the American Diabetes Association recommended for diet and exercise, and I was very compliant. I walked 30 minutes every weekday (during the first half of my lunch hour at work) and I restricted carbohydrates to 150 grams per day, as I was told to do, with three meals and one snack, most often at bedtime. I stopped drinking regular Dr. Pepper and drank Diet Dr. Pepper instead. Within the first year, I got my A1C down to below 7.0%.
Then 9-11 happened in 2001. As a direct result, I lost my Cushy Dream Job in The City. Life was stressful as I worked on a temp assignment while I searched for another job that needed my skill set. Eventually the temp assignment turned into a full-time job (at $10,000 less annual salary than my Cushy Dream Job), so I still continued my job search. Until my COBRA health insurance coverage ran out and the only choice I had was to accept my new employer’s offer of a Kaiser Permanente health care plan.
By 2003, I had settled into a routine. I figured out how I could walk every day at my new place of employment, but it was harder since the building was on a hill, requiring uphill and downhill walking, not just nice flat city streets like my Cushy Dream Job had. I also figured out how to walk inside for 30 minutes on rainy days, up and down stairs, and back and forth in the long hallways where my office was located. I became attached to eating fresh green salads from the cafeteria salad bar. I checked my blood glucose three times a day: fasting, bedtime, and one random time during the day. Despite my efforts, though, my blood sugars rose; and eventually my doctor prescribed metformin and, later, glipizide.
In the fall of 2004, I attended a three-day on-site Weimar Lifestyle Seminar for Diabetics, “Reversing Diabetes.” Weimar chose a beautiful venue in the Santa Cruz mountains, where there was plenty of space for our daily 5-mile (10,000 steps) walks. We had classes about diabetes, cooking demonstrations, and three meals a day of the most delicious food I could ever remember having tasted! It was a very inspiring experience! However, I knew I could never make it work in my busy life of work, church, and parenting. I would have to wait until I retired and had all day at home to cook everything from scratch and then walk five miles every day. So I put “reversing diabetes” on a back burner. Except for the recipe for bok choy soup with yakisoba (buckwheat noodles), which I continued to make occasionally.
Fast forward to 2012 when I found myself in a semi-retirement status that I did not ask for nor plan for. Over the years, with an ADA-compliant diet and two oral diabetes medications, I continued to get fatter and sicker; and then the doctor prescribed intermediate-acting basal insulin injections. Twice a day. When I was up to 95 units a day, I asked my pharmacist what would happen if I needed over 100 units per day. Would I have to take two shots twice a day?
“No,” he said, “we would just need to give you bigger syringes.”
Bigger syringes?!? That was my wake-up call. It was time for me to get serious about “reversing diabetes.”
I started with internet searches for “reversing diabetes.” Then I searched Facebook for discussion support groups on “reversing diabetes.” Sure enough, I found “reversing diabetes” support groups—but not from Weimar. Weimar’s only internet and Facebook presence were marketing pages, advertising the 18-day residential NEWSTART® Lifestyle Program costing thousands of dollars, claiming a 50% success rate for diabetics. They no longer offered the three-day seminars specifically for diabetics.
I searched Amazon for books on “reversing diabetes” and found Dr. Richard K. Bernstein’s Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars. I joined a few of the Facebook “reversing diabetes” groups and learned that their approach was the polar opposite of the Weimar NEWSTART® method, which I already knew was dietary vegan with no counting of calories or carbohydrates. In fact, it amazed me at the 2004 Weimar seminar that they did not seem to pay any attention to the American Diabetes Association’s limitation of 150-180 grams of net carbs per day.
In the Facebook groups, “reversing diabetes” meant low-carb high-fat (LCHF). I learned that the most successful people who did “reverse diabetes” to normal A1C levels (4.0-5.6%), without insulin and/or diabetes medications, did not eat grains or grain-based foods (breads, cakes, cookies, pies, pasta, rice, noodles, etc.), legumes, starchy vegetables, and most fruits, except for a few berries. They limited total carbohydrates to 30 grams per day.
I learned about macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) and that a LCHF “diet” typically has 5% of the calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein, and 75% from fat. I learned about nutritional ketosis, the state of burning fat for energy instead of sugar (carbohydrates).
I collected low-carb recipes and tried them out. Of course, these LCHF approaches were not vegan or vegetarian. That didn’t bother me, but the recipes with meat often featured “unclean” meat or seafood. So when I asked questions about recipes, it was just easier to say I was vegetarian than it was to try to explain why I ate beef but not pork, chicken but not duck, or salmon but not shrimp or catfish. And I learned about choosing grass-fed beef, cage-free pasture-raised chicken and eggs, and wild-caught fish instead of farmed fish.
Eventually, Weimar started a discussion group called “NEWSTART® Insights,” intended to be a support group for Weimar program alumni. I tried to ask questions but got little to no responses from even the 50% of “successful” diabetics. Sadly, the “NEWSTART® Insights” group only attracted trolls and shut down in October 2020.
My next search was for low-carb vegetarian diabetics support groups, and I found a couple of them. I even found a vegan “keto” group. One “vegetarian” group included pescatarians; so, of course, that included “unclean” seafood: shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, crayfish, and catfish. Some truly vegetarian groups seemed to offer a lot of ethnic foods using ingredients I was not familiar with. And they all used some dietary supplements, especially vitamin B12.
I also joined a few groups of blatantly high-carb low- or no-fat dietary vegans, although their buzzword was WFPB (whole-food plant-based), just to observe, if possible, any success stories and find out how they ate. Sadly, I encountered many who were trying that way of eating only to find that bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes (of any color) spiked their blood sugar way out of control. Others discovered that they had to greatly reduce the amount of starchy foods they could eat without high blood sugar spikes. But, occasionally, there was the exceptional true success story of a high-carb low-fat dietary vegan who had, after several months, been able to lower their A1C to normal (4.0-5.6%) without diabetes medications or insulin. That defied all logic! Still, I could not argue with their anecdotal experience.
So, in June 2013, I found about 30 Facebook friends (most of whom I also knew in real life) who I knew were Adventist and diabetic and convinced them to join a new Facebook group I would call “Adventist Vegetarian Diabetics.” I knew they were the only ones who would understand that an “Adventist non-vegetarian” meant those who ate only “clean” meat/seafood (as defined in Leviticus and Deuteronomy). They would know that “Adventist pescatarians” would eat only fish with scales and fins.
I also assumed, which later proved to be correct, that most of the group would be lacto-ovo vegetarian. A few would be “Adventist non-vegetarian” and a few would be dietary vegans, just like it is in the mainstream Adventist culture. I identified as “flexitarian,” meaning “a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish.” Thus, “Adventist flexitarian” would mean one who “occasionally eats ‘clean’ meat or fish.”
From the beginning, I promoted “The 8 Laws of Health”—principles that all serious Seventh-day Adventists were familiar with, and which I had taught, both in theory and in practice, during the 11½ years that I homeschooled my children. Weimar Institute had popularized the acronym, NEWSTART, before my children were born in the 1970s. Now I researched how these principles—Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Temperance, Air, Rest, and Trust in Divine Power—would have specific applications for diabetics.
I had every intention of finishing reading Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution by the end of 2013 and then begin seriously in 2014 with the low-carb dietary protocol that it recommended. But life happens. Our grown daughter, a lifelong vegetarian, moved in with us in 2014 so she could complete her second degree on the college campus within driving distance of where we lived—and, with mom doing all the cooking, Lisa could focus on her studies. This became the perfect opportunity for me to try out new recipes for a vegetarian dietary lifestyle for diabetics! We had already been mostly “whole-foods” for a few years with ordering weekly boxes of fresh produce from a local farm in our area. We had huge salads every day, but we also had recipes with potatoes, rice, and pasta. By the end of 2014, my A1C had gone down to 7.0% (from 7.1%). But I did not lose any weight.
So I started seriously with a low-carb dietary protocol in January 2015. The first month I kept my daily carb quota under 100 grams a day. The second month, I limited daily carbs to under 50 grams; and by the third month, I was eating only 35 grams of total carbs a day. In those first three months, my average daily blood glucose went down from 146 to 126 mg/dL, and I lost 10 pounds. By the end of 2015, I had lost 22 pounds. But my A1C was still 6.9%.
More people joined the Facebook group, Adventist Vegetarian Diabetics™, many of whom I didn’t know and some who had no idea who Seventh-day Adventists are. It has always been a group rule that we don’t discuss politics or religion (meaning doctrine or theology), although nutrition has always been a major part of “cultural Adventism.”
I was so passionate about eating low-carb high-fat (LCHF) and excited about my success with it, that I’m afraid I alienated some members in those early days. They were usually the ones who were following an ADA-compliant diet (some with medications) and were satisfied with their results so they saw no need to change anything. I’m sure they viewed me as eccentric!
As time went on, there were certain concepts that I had to correct in the group, such as “gluten-free” does not mean low-carb, “sugar-free” does not mean “carb-free,” and “vegan” is not the same as low-carb. One member consistently posted gourmet vegan recipes, which challenged me to come up with alternative ingredients to make them low-carb vegan.
In the early days, I had not yet figured out that only 2 to 3% of members of any Facebook group actively take part; so it discouraged me that the group did not have ongoing discussions about the multitudinous posts I was making, whether it was mainstream magazine articles or scientific studies, recipes, or polls that I wanted to use to get more demographic information. I wanted members to share their own experiences—and opinions—or ask questions or post recipes; but few did.
Some members consider themselves “cured” of diabetes, and others are just “at risk” for diabetes. Some members hope to help a family member or friend with diabetes. We have not only type 2 diabetics but type 1 and type 1.5 (LADA), and even gestational diabetics and “brittle diabetics.” And we clearly have not only lacto-ovo vegetarians but dietary vegans and “Adventist non-vegetarians.” And so I try to give alternative vegan and vegetarian ingredients in recipes. Finally, some members, by their own admission, are “just here for the recipes.”
We do not remove members who admit to eating SAD (Standard American Diet) because they, perhaps more than other members, need to be in the group to learn a better way of managing their diabetes. We encourage them to eat (and drink) things that will not be harmful for their diabetic health. And if they just can’t—or won’t—change their way of eating, then at the very least they have to take the diabetes medications and/or insulin prescribed by their doctors. The only members who we ever remove from the group are those who insist that their approach to nutrition and exercise is the only right way for everyone else! (And, of course, the occasional troll attempting to post spam!)
“Let no one think himself a criterion for all—that everyone must do exactly as he does.”
—Ellen White, Counsels on Health, page 156
It was Dr. Jason Fung, a Canadian nephrologist, who first opened my understanding that type 2 diabetes is a disease of hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin), and that whatever dietary approach helps to reduce the amount of insulin in the body, and thus reduce insulin resistance, is a valid approach for reversing diabetes, whether it is low-carb high-fat (LCHF) or high-carb low-fat (WFPB), and whether carnivore or vegan or something in between. That would explain why and how WFPB (high-carb low-fat) diabetics could have success in reversing their diabetes!
So that is why Adventist Vegetarian Diabetics™, unlike most other diabetes support groups on Facebook, does not support only one dietary approach over all the others. Still, because my two other admins and I have experienced success with eating LCHF (low-carb high-fat), the members see a majority of posts and recipes supporting that approach, while we do not diminish the obviously successful minority of members who practice a WFPB (high-carb low-fat whole-food dietary vegan) diabetes dietary protocol.
After three years of eating low-carb high-fat (within a flexitarian dietary lifestyle), I lost 42 pounds, went down two sizes in dresses, shirts, and pants; achieved a 5.9% A1C; raised my HDL (the “good” cholesterol) from 38 to 58; and lowered triglycerides from 245 to 123. At the five-year point, my HDL was 61 and triglycerides were 77. My fasting blood glucose (FBG) went down from 160 to 111 mg/dL. So I’m not in the normal range yet (at the time of this writing), but I’m still working on it.
Some other significant factors in my early experience were that I discontinued the statin drug (simvastatin), the sulfonylurea glipizide (because I didn’t want to wear out the beta cells of my pancreas), and the generic metformin (because it gave me “daily diarrhea”). I replaced metformin with the herbal supplement, berberine, with my doctor’s approval. I stopped taking two beta-blockers (which one doctor had prescribed for migraine preventives and weren’t working anyway), and my daily average blood glucose dropped 15-20 mg/dL. Another pleasant surprise of eating low-carb was that my thyroid function improved, and my doctors decreased my levothyroxine medication—twice.
In my experience (n=1), and in my research and observations of other diabetics who have achieved success in achieving a normal A1C (4.0-5.6%) without prescription diabetes medications and/or insulin, I found that they all have certain factors in common, regardless of their diabetes dietary protocols (dietary approach to the management of diabetes) or dietary lifestyle (regarding meat-eating). They:
- Eliminate sugar (especially fructose) in all its forms.
- Eat real food in as close to its natural state as possible, eliminating all or most processed foods, especially refined grain-based products and other starches.
- Eliminate all trans fats and hydrogenated fats, such as margarine and vegetable shortening, and including all industrial vegetable/seed oils (canola, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oil) which convert to trans fats.
- Practice intermittent fasting with two meals a day.
- “Eat to your meter.”
- Engage in daily exercise (according to their personal levels of mobility).
Every diabetic must set their own standards of success and develop their own strategies to reach their desired outcomes (goals/objectives). And it is the mission of Adventist Vegetarian Diabetics™ to “provide support, encouragement, affirmation, and information” for all its members so they can “achieve and maintain a state of normal blood sugar and normal insulin levels, with accompanying healthy levels of triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and other markers of physical health.” Our hope for you is to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV).
Oh, and about that Weimar vegan bok choy soup with yakisoba noodles—shirataki noodles have replaced the yakisoba, and it’s still just as delicious!