My Dad’s Health Scare, Our Battle: How We Fought His Diabetes & Heart Disease with Food


We have been celebrating my dad’s 35th birthday for 30 years now. To him, you are as old as you feel. And he, clearly, does not feel a day over 35! My dad truly believes a joyful heart keeps one young, and happiness keeps one healthy. So it was a challenge to convince him to see a doctor when I realized he could be facing some health problems.

Keeping an Eye on My Family’s Health

As the “medical person” in my family, I pay very close attention to everyone’s health, I constantly field questions about symptoms, and I am always directing relatives to appropriate medical professionals if I sense a problem. Unfortunately, we have some health cards stacked against us: our genetics, our diet, and our lifestyle. Each one of my grandparents had some version of heart disease, diabetes is rampant in my family, and we come from a culture that starts its day with a very sweet cup of tea and ends it with a steaming heap of white rice. Our version of exercise is the occasional 4 hour dance party. Which is not bad if it only were more regular!


My Dad’s Health Became a Big Concern

I had been watching my dad’s health very closely for years and was getting concerned he was developing some problems that were going undetected. He had not had a thorough physical examination or blood work in years and he had telltale signs of certain lifestyle-acquired diseases, particularly diabetes and heart disease. Knowing how serious these could get very quickly, I verged on pestering him to schedule a check-up. I assume it was a combination of fear and pride that prevented him from taking my advice for a good number of years. The push to make an appointment, thankfully, came when his health insurance company required it.


A Doctor’s Visit Paved the Way to a Diagnosis

It was as I had suspected. The doctor diagnosed my father with diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol. These new diagnoses and all the tests, numbers and medications were very overwhelming for him and my mom; so, I stepped in as his health advocate. I began by educating my dad. Along with his doctors, I explained what the new diagnoses meant, how his body was being affected, and what we could do to reduce the negative consequences of these diseases. We visited with outpatient cardiac physical therapy clinics, wellness clinics, and nurses that specialized in nutritional therapy and charted out a course of exercise and nutrition to allow his body to fight back. Then, we started talking food.


Food Was Our Solution!

In the aisles of the grocery store, we explored food labels. We looked at sodium counts, serving sizes, pronounceable ingredients, artificial chemicals. I explained to him what everything meant.

We questioned health declarations of deceptively unhealthful foods. We had hours long discussions about shelf stability, organic versus conventionally grown, lobbyists, and morality in the food industry. We navigated the fish counter, the dairy aisle, and the produce section for what would best optimize his health given his palate’s affinity for certain foods and flavors.


At home, we picked apart the pantry. We replaced white rice with brown rice. We introduced quinoa and other nutritious grains. We replaced prepared salad dressings with fresh homemade ones. My dad correctly identified lots and lots of junk food. Correctly. We made space was made for healthy snacks.


My dad started cooking. In our cultural tradition, men don’t really step foot in the kitchen, but he was getting curious. He would call me and ask what the difference was between stock and broth, between different brands of foods. We swapped recipes. He sent me pictures of his improved breakfasts.


More Birthdays to Come

None of this came easily, though. With a new diagnosis that demands a swift and drastic lifestyle overhaul comes a lot of resistance, and understandably so. We are used to living a certain way, eating a certain way. Food evokes memories, it connects communities. For an immigrant, food brought my dad back to his homeland. Now he was being asked to give all that up. Even with encouragement from me and our extended family, it took my dad months to embrace the changes we were making and even then I can tell it exhausts him sometimes.
The big picture over the past 4 years though has been good. My dad is sincerely making the effort to improve his health and it shows. His medication dosages are decreasing, he is physically stronger, enjoys exercising, and is becoming quite adept and creative in the kitchen. As we slowly work towards him being off medication entirely, we look forward to many more years of celebrating his 35th birthday.

Note: PLEASE consult with  your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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