I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in December 2010, at 55, during a routine check-up with my GP. At the time, I weighed 115.5kg (18st 2lb). The doctor said if I lost weight I might be able to reverse my diabetes, but I was working in middle management for an oil company at the time, travelling a lot and staying in hotels for weeks at a time. I’d always been a big lad but was putting weight on because of irregular eating patterns and eating too many convenience foods. I was also skipping meals and not taking enough exercise.
At the next diabetes check-up in February 2011, the GP put me on medication because I hadn’t been able to lose enough weight to control my blood sugar. I was given blood-pressure pills (10mg ramipril a day) to bring my blood pressure down, statins (a tablet of simvastatin a day) to control my cholesterol and two metformin tablets every day with meals to treat the diabetes.
The trial was conducted at the University of Glasgow and Newcastle University in collaboration with Counterweight, a spin-out company founded on diabetes research conducted at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. The programme achieves significant weight loss through a low-calorie diet of Counterweight PRO800 soups and shakes, nutritional education and behaviour-change techniques.
46% of patients on the trial achieved remission compared with just 4% of those who followed standard NHS care.
The charity Diabetes UK funded the trial and believes it has the potential to help millions of patients with Type-2 diabetes.
I’m very good at following instructions and thought I’d just have to get used to taking medication, but I kept thinking, ‘Is this going to be my life from now on?’
I did try to combine taking the drugs with healthy eating and, with hindsight, could have done better at losing weight, but found the work-life balance difficult.
By the time I took early retirement in December 2013, at 59, I was still very overweight at 110kg (17st 4lb). My GP recommended me to the Counterweight-Plus DiRECT trial at the University of Glasgow, which helps people with Type-2 diabetes achieve remission [when blood sugar levels return to within normal range]. The medication was doing its job but I needed an extra push to lose the weight.
I started the trial in August 2015 and was taken off the medication. It meant not eating solid foods and instead following a total meal replacement plan of fruit shakes and soups. I was only allowed 800 calories a day for 12 weeks. After about three weeks I started to feel very weak, but I was determined to succeed, especially as I had a new granddaughter. I wanted to be fit and healthy for her. The GP said the weakness was normal and as I wasn’t working at the time it was easier to deal with. I’m a keen golfer and I’d make sure I had a shake before I went out to play, which would keep me going for a couple of hours. I also had to drink 2.5 litres of water every day – either pure water, tea without milk and sugar or zero-calorie drinks.
The weight loss was almost immediate, and this gave me the drive to continue. Within two weeks I’d lost nearly a stone
The weight loss was almost immediate, and this gave me the drive to continue. Within two weeks I’d lost nearly a stone. I had to go to my GP every two weeks to be monitored and to get my supplies of the Counterweight liquid shakes. It was great to have somebody behind me and made it a lot easier than having to do something like this by myself.
After the 12 weeks were up, I was gradually reintroduced to solid food. I found it a bit difficult at first but my whole diet changed. I no longer eat processed food, but lots of high-quality food such as chicken and vegetables and foods high in protein, and I now cook everything from scratch. I had to gradually up my calorie intake to 1,800 a day, which is appropriate for someone my age and weight. I’m 64 now, 1.8m (5ft 11in), and keep my weight stable at 82kg (13st). I’m the same weight now as I was in my twenties when I was doing martial arts.
My activity levels are double what they were. I go out walking up to 12 miles most mornings and play golf three times a week.
The diabetes is now in remission and my HbA1c (blood sugar) level is 32mmol/mol, well below the threshold of 48mmol/mol. When I was taking the medication it was 49mmol/mol. My GP says it’s wonderful.
I’ve signed up to the Counterweight programme for five years – I’ve got a year and eight months to go – and have to be monitored every three months at my GP’s surgery.
My quality of life has changed beyond recognition. It’s made me enjoy my retirement more
My quality of life has changed beyond recognition. It’s made me enjoy my retirement more – and has even encouraged my friends and family to eat more healthily and take more exercise.
I’ve had to replace my entire wardrobe, which was very expensive, but I loved doing it. And finally, I don’t need to take any of the medication again as long as I maintain this lifestyle.
Need to know
This type of diet should only be done under medical supervision, says Dougie Twenefour, deputy head of care at Diabetes UK. ‘If you’re thinking about trying a low-calorie diet, it’s really important you speak to your GP and get referred to a dietitian. It’s also important to bear in mind that if you’re treating your Type-2 diabetes with certain medications, such as insulin or sulphonylurea, a low-calorie diet can make hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels) more likely. You’ll need support to make changes to your medications and check your blood sugar levels more often.’