'Diet and exercise cured my diabetes'

Nicola Davidson working out at Evo Fitness.
Nicola Davidson working out at Evo Fitness.
In 2006, at the age of 29 Nicola Davidson weighed 130kg and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Yet, despite being shocked at the diagnosis, it wasn’t until two years later that she began to change her lifestyle.

“When I was initially diagnosed I was living on a diet of junk food and alcohol, and the most exercise I got was walking from the lounge to the bathroom and back. I was sick and unhealthy and had absolutely no idea that I was on a path to chronic disease and an early grave,” she said.
Initially she joined the Healthy Weight Programme at the Sports Science Institute on her doctor’s orders, which she enjoyed. But after only eight weeks she slipped back into her old habits.
“The problem with having diabetes is that there are no symptoms – you’re living with a ticking time bomb inside you and you can’t hear the clock. So I figured as long as I was taking my pills, nothing bad could happen, and I could just carry on as usual.”

Yo-yo dieting and bad habits

Fortunately for Nicola, she had some very persistent, concerned friends and family, who eventually convinced her to take her condition seriously. And in 2008 she started seeing a dietitian and joined a gym. Eighteen months later she was delighted to have lost a whopping 50kg. Her health was starting to show signs of improvement, although she was still on medication.

However, she again lost her struggle to keep her bad habits at bay and at the beginning of 2013 she weighed in at 134,4kg.

Nicola when she was at her heaviest in early 2013.

“This was my highest weight ever and I realised that I couldn’t continue to yo-yo and backslide, taking one step forward and three steps back. I had to make a permanent lifestyle change, or suffer the consequences.”

She signed up with Cape Town personal training gym Evo Fitness and began seeing a life coach to help her with her emotional eating issues. She also joined the online health and fitness forums, SleekGeek and Sleek Girls.

Initially Nicola noticed great results, and even won the SleekGeek Winter Warrior Challenge. She was following the traditional moderate-carb diet most commonly recommended, but she felt sluggish most of the time. This is when she changed her diet – and really began to notice results.

Low-carb diet and exercise

“I was put on a diet which eliminated all carbs – sugar, alcohol, dairy, fruit, starch and wheat – for the first six weeks. When that six weeks was up, I reintroduced carbohydrates once a week; the rest of the week sticking to the no-carb plan. After the first few days of carb detox (which was no fun) I felt more energized and happier, and was able to concentrate better and train harder. I thought giving up carbs would be difficult, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made, both for my physical and my emotional health. And here I am, almost five months later, 22kg lighter.”

David Cross, co-owner at Evo Fitness said when Nicola first arrived at Evo it was “made clear to her that drastic changes were in order. She couldn’t continue eating what she wanted, she had to stop the boozing and get some decent sleep. She was a diabetic – and with that comes certain guidelines she had to follow if she was ever going to beat it, let alone have a quality of life that didn’t revolve around pills and medication.”
He says that while he isn’t generally a fan of low carb eating, “there are certain scenarios where it is very effective and the best course of action, and grade 3 obesity and diabetes are one of those scenarios.

“In all honestly there wasn’t another choice she could make; she had tried other ways and the other ways had failed, even when she succeeded. If she wanted to work with me, this was the plan. If she stuck to it and trusted the process it would work. We made sure that protein was at the appropriate level for her bodyweight and activity level, fats would provide a lot of the calorie content and a meal once per week for her to have whatever she wanted – no real limits. Before people comment on it being a ketogenic diet, it wasn’t, it was low carb. Big difference!
“As for her training, the majority of Nicola’s training revolved around working as many muscle groups as possible in each exercise. Total body movements, never in isolation. Free weights and body weight, squats, deadlifts etc. – all the best exercises for the best results. We coupled that with prowler work and other forms of high intensity bursts of conditioning.
Nicola still has a long way to go on her journey, but she is without doubt one of (if not) the hardest working client at Evo and she will exceed her goals!”

No more diabetes medication

Despite losing a vast amount of weight and gaining a far more impressive level of health and fitness, Nicola is most thrilled about the fact that she is no longer on her diabetes medication, as her blood sugar level has stabilised at a normal level.

“After two weeks of following the low-carb diet, I started feeling incredibly dizzy and my doctor said that my blood sugar was now exceptionally low and she halved my medication.  Five months later however, I felt dizzy again and my doctor suggested we try going without medication for 10 days.  Amazingly, they found that my blood sugar was completely normal – in fact, on the low side of normal. And therefore I no longer needed my diabetes medication!”

Nicola said she is “absolutely elated” about the results she has achieved so far and feels as if she’s been given a new lease on life – “a chance to start again and do it right this time”.

“While I’m still on medication for blood pressure and cholesterol at this time, if I carry on working hard (which I intend to do) those pills will soon be a thing of the past as well.

“My advice to other type 2 diabetics is to take control! You do have the power to change your health profile and your life – I’m living proof! Don’t think that you’re stuck with this diagnosis for the rest of your life because, through the miracle of healthy living, you have the chance to reverse the effects of the condition, and live a long, happy, healthy life. There is life after diabetes, and you have the power to live it.”
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24