Tom McAtee is no stranger around Luke Air Force Base. He’s the guy who ensures office printers and copiers work. However, what many people don’t know is that a few months ago he was diagnosed with diabetes.
While he hasn’t told many people, recently McAtee’s physical changes have caught the eye of many. That makes sense because he’s lost 30 pounds.
“People tell me I look different,” McAtee said. “They say I look healthier, and they can tell I’ve lost weight.”
However, McAtee’s change didn’t happen overnight. It took three months of hard work, which began shortly after his diagnosis. Determined to educate himself on his condition, McAtee sought out Aaron Anderson, a dietitian at the base health and wellness center.
Diabetes prevents the body from properly breaking down sugars, Anderson said. People eat, and the food is digested to fuel the body’s nutritional needs with things like sugars that are absorbed into the blood stream. The sugars are burned by the muscle cells as food with the help of insulin. Diabetics don’t produce enough insulin, or their insulin doesn’t work properly, causing the sugar to build up in the blood stream. This makes it thick like syrup making the heart work harder and restricting blood flow to places like the finger tips.
“Tom came to me when he first found out he had diabetes,” Anderson said. “It can be very overwhelming when you first find out you have it because there is so much information to absorb.”
Anderson explained to McAtee that it didn’t need to be confusing and following a few simple rules could make a big difference.
“We went over very basic things to follow to control blood sugar,” Anderson said. “When he left, I wanted him to be able make small changes in his diet.”
Anderson went through a diet plan with McAtee that could help him control his blood sugar levels. The plan helped him understand the need to control the amount of carbohydrates he eats.
“On this plan I can eat whatever I want,” he said. “I just have to follow portion control. I can have one serving of rice, that’s half a cup cooked, with a meal. If I want just rice to eat I can have a cup and a half.”
McAtee gets three servings of high carb foods per meal. But, he says he stays away from those things because half a cup of rice or mashed potatoes isn’t going to be enough.
“I know me, if I get some it’s going to end up more than half a cup and I’ll fall back into my old ways,” he said. “I cut down on breads so if I have a sandwich there’s two servings of bread and all the meat I want. I can even add a little bit of cheese too.”
The dietary plan has not stopped McAtee from doing things he loves like taking his wife to dinner on Sundays.
“When my wife and I go out, I still watch what I eat,” he said. “I stay away from mashed potatoes, or rice and I’ll go for meats and salads. If I go someplace like the Golden Corral, I go to the grill and get sliders with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and all the toppings but no bun. Then I’ll have a salad.”
Ironically there are still some things in the vegetable world McAtee needs to avoid.
“Because corn reacts like a carbohydrate in the blood stream, Tom now knows to avoid it,” Anderson said. “Also beans react that way, so he can have them but only three servings.”
At first it was difficult to follow the plan and bypass many of his favorites.
“I love chicken fried steak with white gravy poured all over it,” McAtee said. “On this plan I can only have so much gravy, barely enough to cover the steak and it’s not worth it.”
His new healthy eating habits have not just changed his life but his wife’s as well.
“My wife has had to hem my pants twice,” McAtee said. “She has seen the benefits of this diet, and she is beginning to do it with me.”
So far McAtee has done a good job maintaining his blood sugar levels to a normal range thanks to the advice of Anderson.
“I take it one day at a time,” he said. “I would recommend everyone get checked for diabetes, especially if it runs in your family. Mine stayed hidden for years, and it can do that. So be proactive get checked out every few years just in case. If they catch it early enough it can be reversed.”