FRIDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Paul Garcia, 54, came from a
family that loved to eat. "We always had a lot of food at home, and
whenever we ate, it was like a feast," said Garcia.
And he said his family's food choices weren't always the
healthiest either. "My eating habits were terrible," he said. "We'd
have lots of flour tortillas, beans and rice."
Over the years, Garcia's weight ballooned -- to 430 pounds at
his heaviest. He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and put on
insulin to bring down his blood sugar levels. But he had such a
hard time controlling his blood sugar, he said, that he went into a
coma more than once. He also had several heart attacks and lost
sight in one eye. His triglycerides, a bad type of fat in the
blood, were over 2,000. Doctors recommend those levels be below
150, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Garcia also came close to losing a foot. Though doctors told him
that they might very well need to amputate his foot, the surgeons
were able to save his foot but they did have to amputate two
That proved to be a tipping point.
"I'd been diabetic for 15 years," Garcia said. "I didn't want to lose my feet. I knew I had to change or I would die."
Change wouldn't come easily, however. Garcia said that his
doctor, who'd heard that gastric bypass surgery could successfully
treat diabetes, initially suggested it. But first, to ensure that
he was a good candidate for the drastic lifestyle changes required
after the surgery, Garcia's doctors enrolled him in a six-month
nutrition program to help people learn to control their eating. He
had already lost some weight on his own and was down to 370 pounds
when he started the nutrition program. After six months, he was
down to 320 pounds -- a clear sign that he was making the necessary
Besides the nutrition program, Garcia said, his health-care team
also recommended a 12-step program for food addiction.
"It's like being an alcoholic," Garcia said. "Our thinking gets us into this situation, and that's why they have the 12-step program with the surgery, so you learn to deal with your thoughts."
Once he had the surgery, in May 2011, he said that changes began
"My sugar levels came down drastically," Garcia said. "I was on insulin, but now I don't have to take any medications at all."
He now weighs 232 pounds and does 6 miles on an elliptical
exercise machine every day. He's also been lifting weights and
building muscles. His waist circumference, at 48 inches when he had
the surgery, is now 36 inches.
"Exercise has really motivated me and changed my depression," Garcia said. "It was hard having so many issues with my health."
When first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Garcia's hemoglobin
A1C levels (a measure of blood sugar levels for the previous two to
three months) were 16 percent. Someone without diabetes generally
has levels below 6 percent. His last A1C was 5.6 percent. And, his
triglycerides were down to normal, at 133.
Garcia said he's still very careful about what he eats. He tries
to stay away from meat and processed foods. A typical day's diet
begins with a protein drink and a banana, followed by a salad for
lunch and a Portobello mushroom quesadilla for dinner.
"It's a big adjustment and a lot of hard work," he said. "You have to be committed. You can't just think that the surgery is going to be a miracle."
But he said the hard work has been worth it.
"I feel like someone just turned the lights on," he said. "I had a glaze in my eyes, but in the last four months I can see everything clearly again. I feel like a totally new person."
Find out more about weight-loss surgery's effects on diabetes,
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