Tonight’s “Biggest Loser” brings great news for contestant Gina McDonald – the type 2 diabetes that she came to the ranch with is gone. We’re not just talking improved blood sugar levels, we’re talking a “complete remission,” said the show’s physician Dr. Robert Huizenga in a phone interview this morning.
He said the show’s medical team tests for the four markers for diabetes:
- Fasting blood sugar
- Hemoglobin A1C
- A 2-hour glucose tolerance test
“Gina came in with medication, with a tremendously high fasting blood sugar and was just all over the charts,” Huizenga told us Monday morning. “To have all of them come to absolutely normal today – that would typically, in literature, be called a complete remission.”
So is she cured of diabetes? The word cure isn’t often used with a chronic condition such as diabetes, but Huizenga said “if you call it a cure it’s miraculous, because if you went to a doctor and you gave her more insulin or more medicine, the chance that she’d get to all normal numbers is far less than 10 percent.”
“We take into consideration all four of those blood sugar markers, and all of them have their own criteria for what is diabetes,” Huizenga said. “We use all four of those markers so we’re not missing anything. If we get all four of those markers to normal, then it’s either a complete remission or it’s a cure.”
Gina isn’t the first “Biggest Loser” contestant to reverse her type 2 diabetes. Among other contestants, season 12 contestant Ramon Medieros also reversed his diabetes as well as his high blood pressure.
What does the trick, Huizenga said, is the combination of diet and exercise.
“Gina had a huge amount of centripetal – around the belly – fat, and a lot of that fat was marbled in her liver,” Huizenga said. “Now I’m finding out that it’s fat in the liver that’s the proximal cause.
“You can have all the fat in your rear end that you want and it’s probably not that bad -- I think it’s bad for you but not that bad,” he said. “It’s fat marbled around the intestine, around the pancreas, around the heart and in the liver that’s causing this disease.
“Different people genetically have different tendencies to marble around the organs, and it’s these organ marblers who have the really bad problems.”
Reversing diabetes strictly through diet and exercise takes commitment and a willingness to make drastic lifestyle changes, Huizenga said. Small, incremental lifestyle changes are nice but they’re not going to make that paradigm shift in your health.
“An hour a day is great to maintain your weight if you’ve lost some weight,” Huizenga said.”The problem with Americans is that they spend an hour a day exercising but they’re not really exercising because they don’t know about intense exercise, which is what you have to do to prevent and cure diabetes.”
Huizinga’s ideas on diet and exercise have also changed a lot since he first started practicing medicine.
“I did the same thing the first 20 years in my medical practice,” he said. “I said ‘work out a little bit more and eat a few less calories, a few less simple carbohydrates and you’re going to slowly go.’ It turns out that’s the giant hoax in this country because that formula absolutely, unequivocally doesn’t work. And while we’ve been a country of doctors telling our patients that, 2 [million] to 3 million people cross into the ranks of the obese each year in this country.”
So that means more than a leisurely stroll around the block.
The average amount of exercise for a contestant on “The Biggest Loser” when they first come to the ranch is 20 to 30 minutes a day, he said. “But when the show is over we have people say ‘Oh, I had no idea what exercise was. What I was calling exercise was my cool down or maybe less.’ Just because you exercise, you don’t get credit for that until you learn what intense exercise is.”
But what about people who say they don’t have enough time to exercise a couple hours a day? Huizenga said that for the most part, it’s just not true.
“People say they don’t have hours to devote to exercise – I think that’s the first misconception that a number of people have,” Huizenga said. “The American average for TV time and leisure computer time is about four hours.
“I think people do have plenty of time to devote to exercise if they want to cure diabetes, live longer and have a better quality of life,” he continued. “If they really don’t have time for it, then we have to re-examine their life and say ‘Would you have time for chemotherapy, would you have time for renal dialysis if you were dying of kidney failure or cancer?' "