Disclaimer: This is not a medical recommendation or take on type 2 diabetes. Talk to your doctors before undertaking any program or diet. That said, this is a true story, and Les’s story is real. If you’re cool with that, read on.
We’ve had tons of people drop 20-30 pounds, and a couple people lose 30-50. But few people have impressed me as much as Les – a 56 year old college professor who (in just 9 months), dropped over 80 pounds, reversed his type 2 diabetes, got off his medication, and left his doctors shaking their heads in awe.
This is how he did it:
Hey, Les. Before we get started, tell us a little bit of your background – what’s your story?
I’m 56, married to a wonderful woman, and I live in Bristol in the UK. I’ve studied Chemistry, had my own business, worked as a consultant, and now I lecture on business and human resources at a local college.
What was your fitness history like before trying Impossible Abs?
I was a bit of a weed growing up to be honest. I was never really ‘one of the lads’. Years later when I was writing up my doctoral thesis I decided that I wanted to get fit. I felt that as I was at the proper start of my adulthood (aka getting older) I should start being more proactive. I wanted to become a more well-rounded person. (Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!)
Anyway, I threw myself in at the deep-end, and I started training in martial arts (Tae Kwon Do). I was pretty good, if I say it myself. I was junior student of the year at my club, and was getting ‘A’ grades for my belts. From a standing start I could kick a trainer out of someone’s hand while they were sitting on someone’s shoulders!
Anyway, I moved jobs.
And got married (for the first time).
Then I had other priorities and pressures, and the fitness went. I tried a few things – Tai Chi, jogging – that sort of thing, but there was always something more pressing to do, and nothing really stuck.
So why did you decide to start Impossible Abs?
Reason 1: In the email you said that you were going to do Impossible Abs.
Actually, no, you didn’t say that. You just did it, and then told everyone afterward. Nice! So there you were, having done it, and with the photos to prove it and everything. And as I got half-way through your email, these words hit me:
“The Insider Secret: The main strategy in the entire diet program is cutting out sugar”
What? Was that it? Well even I could do that! I mean, heck, I could do with losing a few pounds. I had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes eight years before (injections twice a day plus tablets), and I had already cut down the sugar in my tea to just one spoonful. So how hard could it be to just use sweeteners, and to cut out other sugary stuff?
Reason 2: I was overweight and I felt bad about it. Clothes which fit me nicely were getting harder to find. I didn’t like the physical shape I was in or how unfit I felt. You see, that ‘well-rounded’ person I had wanted to become had happened … 252 pounds of well-rounded!
How did you jump start the program in order to make sure you didn’t fail before even starting?
I never set out to do something impossible. I didn’t jump start or blackmail myself. Instead I used:
Want power: There’s all this talk about ‘just do it’, but ‘just doing it’ requires will power, and it seems to me that there’s something much stronger than will power: want power! When you want something badly enough, you’ll go after it, and you’ll get it, no matter what. Wanting something is not ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if’ or ‘I’m going to really, really try and do it’. It’s ‘I want it enough that I will do what it takes to get it’. If you are using will power, and something doesn’t work out, you usually feel that you have to crank yourself up to have another go. But if you are using want power, you stand back, look at what isn’t working, and say “OK, that didn’t work. What else can I try?”
Baby steps: I took baby steps. I needed to aim for a first stage that was just far enough out of reach that it was worth trying for, but not so far out of reach that I couldn’t imagine ever doing it. That’s the difference your words made – I could imagine giving up sugar. I could take that one step. It might be inconvenient, or require a bit of work, but I could imagine doing it.
Doing the impossible: The really interesting things are the things that are impossible because we don’t know whether or not we can do them. Maybe we have a mental barrier, or lack motivation, or lack knowledge, or have poor self-confidence. It’s here that we can make real changes in our lives by challenging those things we don’t know we can do. We are on an incredible journey through life, and part of it is finding out what we can do.
Cold showers: I started taking cold showers at the start of April because I got tired of hearing you banging on about them. The first three were no problem. The fourth one was almost impossible. I couldn’t get in because I knew how bad they were, and I was anticipating the feeling. It paralysed me. I realised that it was put up or shut up time. I got in. That took away its power. Impossible.
Did the program work? What results did you see? How long did it take to see results?
My first result came within an hour of making the decision to start: I felt virtuous. I went to bed without having any more sugar that day. The next day, I had no sugar. And so it went on. The weight came off steadily for three weeks.
Cutting out sugar was fairly easy. I lost 3 lb in the first week! The next week, I lost 2lb! I thought, ‘This is simple! Anyone can do this!’ Then I lost 1 lb. And then I hit a plateau. OK, so what was the next thing going to be? What else could I try? That was it – I’d sucked myself into it. Take slow and easy steps, get some results, and then you start looking for other things you can do.
I lost 84lb in nine months – the equivalent of 38 bags of sugar or a large Eurasian lynx (see picture)! And I would have lost it faster, but the diabetes injections were, I believe, suppressing further fat loss at that lower end of the weight range. When I stopped taking that medication, the last seven pounds came off quite quickly after a six week weight plateau.
How did you track your progress throughout the challenge? Did you find that helpful?
To start with, it was just the scales, and my wife saying, ‘You’re looking thinner’. When I got sucked in, and started to look for other sources of sugar, calories, and carbohydrates, it became important to track the food more thoroughly. Then the scientific training cut in, and I started to keep ‘lab notes’ of my food. I tracked lots of things to see what effect they had: amount of sleep, amount of exercise, every kind of food and drink, times of medication, how much I chewed my food, trips to the toilet, food supplements, mental, emotional and physical condition – everything.
Keeping a log is very important. Only when you keep a log can you see the patterns. Not only that, but it’s easy to forget things, and sometimes those things are sneaky carbohydrates. It’s easy to delude yourself about the actual quantities of what you eat if you don’t keep a log. It is only by keeping a log that you find out what works for you. It doesn’t matter what any of the experts on the internet or other well-meaning individuals say – you have to find out how your body reacts. And you won’t be able to remember or to figure it out without keeping good notes.
Keeping a log brought out another point, too – things take time.
Have you tried other programs? What did you do differently this time around?
I’d not tried anything else really, but the premise of this program was different – it was about believing that I could do it, that it was worth doing, and that it was logical and doable.
I had never really thought about dieting before, and certainly I wasn’t keen on all this talk of vegetables. I HATE vegetables! But I knew that was the way to go, so I wondered what vegetables I could have more of that I could tolerate? For example, I thought I could have some coleslaw with things, and try to convince myself there was a kebab lurking somewhere beneath it. I could have a stir-fry, and try to convince myself it was a Chinese takeaway. You get the idea.
I also stopped thinking that I had to have ‘meals’. I stopped having to have something made to a specific recipe. Instead, I had a bit of this and a bit of that. And, if they didn’t sit well together, I could eat them from separate dishes. My wife was very supportive. Her suggestion was ‘blend it all together so you don’t know what you’re eating, add a meat stock cube, and I won’t tell you what’s in the rest of it!’ Brilliant!
What’s your current workout and nutrition regime?
My current workout largely consists of 20 minutes of wind-sprints every other day with five minute increasingly fast jogging-to-sprint on alternate days. I use a rebounder (a mini-trampoline), and switch and vary the exercises and weights on my back if they get too repetitive, or too easy, or if I hit a weight plateau.
I also want to back up another point you often make: you can’t outrun your diet. I had been exercising on the rebounder for three months before I started to cut out sugar, and it made absolutely no difference to my weight. As I lost weight it then helped me keep it off, and develop my stamina and cardio endurance, but on it’s own it wasn’t doing anything.
My current diet (which is almost paleo) involves a bulletproof coffee first thing in the morning and then nothing until lunch. Lunch can be a green smoothie, or an egg, apple, and slice of meat, maybe some steamed veg. I might have half an avocado in the afternoon perhaps with some coconut oil and a small amount of protein before I exercise. Dinner is likely to be fish or meat with steamed veg, possibly finished off in the oil (butter or coconut) in which we cooked the meat or I might have a stir-fry. That’s usually done and dusted by 6pm at the latest, then nothing else to eat then until the following day. I also drink plenty of water – it’s important to keep hydrated throughout the day.
What was the toughest part of the program? Did you ever want to quit?
No, I never wanted to quit.
Sometimes it is tough because you hit a plateau. Sometimes you just wonder what else you have to do to get to where you want to be. Sometimes you wish it was easier. Sometimes you wish that results would come faster.
And sometimes you take a pause. You have Christmas or a birthday, and you think, “Right, for X amount of time I will eat whatever the heck I like, and on Y date I am going back on the programme”. This is not meant to be a punishment. At Christmas last year I put on 10.5lb in four days! I then spent eight days getting it off again. But it was good to have a break. You commit to resuming however. It’s a decision again.
How did your diabetes play into your weight loss journey?
I must emphasise that everybody’s medical situation varies and will be different from mine. Just because I took this particular approach it doesn’t mean others should follow it, and certainly not without medical advice.
First I consider I was lucky in some ways to have had diabetes – strange, I know. My medical team kept a close check on me. I monitor my blood glucose level at least once and sometimes three times a day if I think there may be a problem. It gave me a lift when the nurse was impressed with my initial weight loss. It gave me another when she said that if things continued they would discontinue some of the medication as I no longer needed it. I got another boost when she didn’t recognise me when I went for a check-up in the last few months. And I feel great now that I am completely and officially off all diabetes medication! My blood control is better than that of a healthy person, so I’m told. I am the only person on their books who has ever come off diabetes medication.
What do your friends and family think? Have they noticed the change?
Well, they are all British, so we don’t use the word ‘awesome’ for a start. The reactions have been very interesting. Some old friends have simply not recognised me – seriously. I had to tell them who I was, and they were visibly and genuinely shocked. A couple of people have wanted to know how I’d done it. Some said they could do with losing a few pounds, but with a tone of voice that indicated otherwise.
Several acquaintances were very British about it, and would say, “You look – well!” Now you have to understand that when Brits pause before the word ‘well’ like that, it is significant. It means it’s almost like a question inviting you to fill in missing gaps for them. But also a way of adding an implied “… considering that you obviously have some kind of debilitating or wasting disease, which I’m really sorry about, but I didn’t know you had. I mean, who can lose that much weight without having some serious illness these days? I mean really.” Telling people they ‘look well’ is generally considered a safe bet even if people do have a serious illness because we think it will cheer them up.
This is going to sound a bit strange, but I’m glad I’ve seen everyone now. I was starting to bore myself by repeating the same stuff over and over again about the diet. I was considering creating an information pack about what I’d been doing, and just handing it out when people asked.
I know that you’ve said to me that the program has changed you in other ways. What sorts of ways?
First, I went from wearing braces (or suspenders I think you Americans call them) back to wearing a belt. And when that became too big I had to get a new one. And I’ve had to make three new holes in that one because it is getting too loose again!
Also, my sense of taste and sense of smell have come back! This was weird – I didn’t know they’d gone! I know that before I started the diet I never really fancied eating anything much, I just ate it. I was never really hungry, I just wanted to eat. I didn’t feel anything was really appetizing. I didn’t realise that I just wasn’t smelling much of anything either. Maybe all the dairy produce was clogging my sinuses, I don’t know. But when I started dieting my senses of taste and smell returned.
I’ve also become much better at listening to my body for sugar levels, tiredness, muscle strain, for the different kinds of hunger. It takes time to relearn to be sensitive about what your body is telling you. What and how your body communicates changes to you over time as you lose weight too. It’s fascinating!
Next, my wedding ring started to get looser, and had to be resized. My fingers then decreased in girth still further so that the resized ring is now too big again.
Physically I feel a great deal better. I like the look of my physical shape better. I am told I look younger, and I certainly feel it. I have much more energy, I sleep better, I feel much more mentally alert, and I’m more physically mobile. I also fit into clothes that I haven’t worn for ages.
What’s your next impossible thing?
There are two answers to that question:
First, I do have things which I am working on at the moment, and I also have some long term plans. I’d prefer not to say what they are until I’ve accomplished them though.
The second answer is more philosophical: there is no next impossible thing. There never was an impossible thing – there were only things I hadn’t decided to do. Once you decide, once you commit, once you really desire something then all that’s left is to do it. The only thing stopping you is you.
Do you have any final tips or thoughts to share?
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” – If you want a different result you have to do something different. This puts the weight of responsibility for results squarely back on your own shoulders. It comes with a corollary:“Doing more of what you know doesn’t work, won’t help!” These phrases are useful in pointing out that to be different you have to do something different. There is no other way! Your move.
“How you do anything is how you do everything” – If you’re scared about taking a cold shower or too lazy to cut out the carbs, that says something about you. If you do take a cold shower or you do say no to certain kinds of foods, you’ll be able to apply that same ‘do-anything-do-everything’ strength in every other area of your life, too. Success in one area leads to success in other areas. You’ll know you have it within you to be successful.
“It never gets easier – you just get stronger” – You have to keep working at the programme. You don’t just diet, hit your weight, and then that’s it. You need to maintain it by continuing to eat healthily. I don’t see myself as being on a diet at all. I see myself as having made a change to eating better and being well. I eat less than I did but I eat a far more varied diet than ever before – and, yes, I eat lots more vegetables (still not overly keen, if I’m honest). But I like being healthier, and I like knowing I’m eating better food. It’s the same with cold showers. Today’s shower will be as cold as the first one was, and it will be as cold as the fourth one was, but now I’m different. Now I’m stronger.
I’m sure I speak for many when I say thank you, Joel, for all the work you are doing on Impossible HQ. Your work has helped me enormously, both for my health, my well-being, and in other areas of my life. You might be saving this for something special, but as far as I am concerned you can now cross-off ‘Change one person’s life for the better’ from your Impossible list.
Thank you Les!
By far the best thing about the site is seeing people like Les put their actions where their words are, and just get it done, but it’s important to understand exactly why Les was successful
Why Les Was Successful
He Just Did It
He didn’t make excuses about why he was too old, tired, diabetic or “whatever reason x” to make a change. He put his head down, and went to work.
He Focused On One Thing At A Time
Les focused on cutting out sugar first. Everything else after that came in steps. He didn’t try to dump his diabetes 2 medication from the start. He just started cutting sugar out of his diet on a regular basis. Once he got that down, he moved on to the next step.
He Kept A food Log
This might be the biggest step, as it gave him real life data on exactly what he was doing. Rather than “guessing” quantities or foods, and letting his memory delude him, he kept a meticulous notes on his food as he tried out various ones.
He Tested Things
Because he kept a food log, Les was able to test which foods made him feel good, bad, tired or energetic. This gave him data to work with, and made it much easier to see exactly what was working, and what wasn’t, and to make real time changes in response to that.
Personally this was the coolest thing. I got an email every month or so from Les throughout this with an update on things he was trying out and things that were working and not working. He used Impossible Abs as a framework, and then made the modifications himself based on his own experience, life and real data feedback.
He Took Responsibility
Les knew no one else was going to do it for him, so he decided he was going to be the one to do it. Once he decided to do it, it was game over.
Again, to reiterate, Les lost over 80 pounds in 9 months, and is off his diabetes medication, just from tweaking his diet, and switching up his exercise regimen. No magic pills required – just good information and hard work.
I asked Les for some clarification on the diabetes medication, and here are his words:
What I was taking was Byetta (http://www.byetta.com/), not insulin. It is recommended for Type 2 diabetes before your pancreas finally gives up the ghost and you need insulin for the rest of your life. I was also taking tablets to cause my pancreas to produce more of my own insulin – really overworking the remaining active cells. (There is nothing wrong with my cells – it was the darned diet! Get that right, and the rest falls into place!)
Byetta (or Exenatide, the active ingredient) was originally derived from lizard spit! People who had been bitten by the lizard stopped feeling hungry, started feeling sick, and their blood sugar fell through the floor. Some bright spark then realised that this is exactly what you want to produce in fat people with diabetes! Several drained lizards later, and we had a new medicine!
The official status with my diabetes is that I am free of all medication for it. The medical centre staff have never had anyone come off it all before, so I am their guinea-pig. They want me to go back for six monthly check-ups, but that is only in case I revert to my old ways, or my pancreas finally gives up. (I don’t believe it will give up. I don’t think there was ever anything really wrong with it, but that’s not my call.)Hope that helps.
Stories like these always blow my mind. I’m constantly impressed by the doers that read around here, and it’s amazing to see what happens when you decide to get off the sidelines, and take action. Nicely done Les.
If you’re interested in following in Les’s footsteps, check out Impossible Abs, and get off the sidelines. Get after it.
Stay cool in the comments. I know stuff like this can blow up, and people on both sides of the issue tend to get volatile when talking about health. This is Les’s story – it worked for him. With everything IMPOSSIBLE, take your own responsibility for yourself and your health. Any outlandish comments will be heavily moderated .
Photo Credit: Les and I Wish I Was Flying
Holy crap, that is incredible! Way to go, Les!!
Les P Cross says
Wow go Les! Loving the Brit speak ‘you look well’ ha ha, as a fellow Brit I just loved that 🙂 I also found the ‘pause concept’ of giving yourself a break every now and again and not berating yourself for it really interesting… just pausing at X and resuming at Y. Fantastic!
Les P Cross says
Thanks, Jo. Just remember not to let the pause get too big – or too often. :-)) The point is not to make your life hell but to improve it. I don’t see there’s a point to being thin, healthy and miserable.
Congratulations, Les!! As they say Down Under, “Good on you!”
Les P Cross says
Thank you, Deborah!
Wow, what an amazing story. Congratulations!
My main question would be: is your typical day of nutrition (as you describe it above) enough? It seems like having such a light breakfast (coffee) and lunch (an egg) would leave me famished… What has your experience been?
Les P Cross says
Hi Marcella! Good question – the text needs clarification: “My current diet (which is almost paleo) involves a bulletproof coffee first thing [which is rich in energy-giving fat] in the morning and then nothing until lunch. Lunch can be a green smoothie [cabbage, small handful of blackberries and a raw egg with a little water] or an egg plus apple plus a slice of meat or maybe some of the protein (an egg or slice of cold meat) with some steamed veg.” I agree, just an egg wouldn’t be enough for lunch.
As for ‘famished’, that would be a whole post in itself! The key things I learned were that there is a difference between ‘hollow’, ‘hungry’ and ‘famished’ and you have to learn these for yourself. You get used to your body’s reactions over time, but it takes time to learn and your body is also adjusting to the new amount and type of food at the same time. It makes it all fun! :-))
Also, don’t get weak with hunger. You will change on this approach to weight-loss in all sorts of ways. I found it interesting how my attitude to food changed – and is still changing.
I don’t need to eat so much. My body may tell me I’m empty, but it may be that I’m just used to eating at that time. I drink more water and then get back to work (distraction is a great tip). Also can also say, ‘OK, I’m feeling empty but I’ll eat later’. I won’t starve. As David Goggins says, you hit reset and then carry on.
Joe P says
Les…here in the colonies we do say AWESOME. Thats the word I would use to descibe what you ARE still doing. as for the naysayers….The Proof is in the “sugar free, non lactose” pudding. (Results speak louder than idle chit chat.)
Les P Cross says
Thanks Joe. Yes, you’ve got to keep on with it. Now it’s plastered all over this site I’ve got to stay with it, too! :-))
Outstanding, Les! Keep up the great work.
My key takeaway was that you have to learn to want something more than you want to put that [fill-in unhealthy food here] in your mouth.
Les P Cross says
Thanks, Caryn. No, no takeaways allowed I’m afraid! :-))
Yes, having that desire is the key. Lots of people want to lose weight. The killer question to ask is ‘Do you want to lose it ENOUGH that you are prepared to do what is necessary’.
I love it! I love, love, LOVE it! Thanks, Les, for sharing your story, and thanks, Joel, for posting it! (I’ve been bugging Joel since almost the beginning days of this blog to post epic stories of “older people” who do the Impossible, and not just focus on twenty- and thirty-somethings, and he’s done so a number of times. This time in particularly totally rocks!)
And the “looking well” comment had me laughing! Here in the U.S., at least where I live, people are more blunt: “You’re not sick, are you?” I’ve been asked two or three times now. I’m nowhere near losing the amount Les has, and I’m still a fair bit away from my ultimate goal weight, but the comments started once I passed the thirty pounds down mark. I can endorse the efficacy of eliminating processed sugar and processed carbs (that is, bread!) from the diet — and the immediate and detrimental effect of adding them back.
Les P Cross says
Hi David! Yes, I think it would have been a bit easier if I’d been younger, but that said only because I would be moving around a lot more. People have mentioned the age factor before and I don’t doubt it has an effect of some kind. That said, I’m not sure what exactly what effect age has. It seems to me that if my body is still young enough to put on weight (and thus my biochemistry is just fine and doing what it’s supposed to with a high sugar diet) then it will be just fine going the other way too!
You make a really interesting point about reversing the process, too. First it proves the effect of the food, your biochemistry and the diet. It also shows that if you hit a plateau then there is something sneaking into the process somewhere, otherwise you would still be losing weight. It might not be obvious what it is but you’ve got to find it. It may be unique to you, but find it. It may be not something you’d thought of, but find it! Find it and KILL it! It’s another reason to keep a food log. Without information you can’t make a decision. Without a food log – an HONEST log – , you won’t be able to track down what you could or must change. You just can’t rely on your memory.
I have no doubt that you can lose whatever weight you set your mind to. Go for it, Sir!
It was great to read this story. So happy for Les and way to go Joel, for inspiring the man. A win-win!
I followed the Impossible Abs program too, lost 15 pounds and am down to 126 lbs (I am 5 ft 7). I have never felt so great or looked this good. I’ve kept off the weight by following the paleo diet and I love the food I eat. I love taking care of myself this way and have inspired my man to do the same. I really see this program as a pay-it-forward type of gift. When people see what you’ve done, they want to do the same and feel they can do the same. Which is exactly what makes it so great.
Les P Cross says
Very good, Monique. Well done!
Jake Long says
Great work Les! You can really see the abs starting to take shape in that after photo. It’s amazing how much a good diet and workout program can affect many of today’s chronic illnesses. I love that you kept track of what you ate and discovered what worked best for you. Some foods that work for one might not work for another. Of course, everyone can build a great foundation by focusing on natural foods, and then eliminating anything that has a negative effect on them. Thanks for the inspirational story.
Les P Cross says
Thanks, Jake. Yes, I was surprised at the effect, too. The medical change was a very welcome surprise bonus!
Really inspirational Les. I read this at a time when I too am facing a challenge in life (not nearly as significant as yours though). Will definitely be referencing your experience to deal with any tough times which lay ahead.
Thanks for sharing
Les P Cross says
You are welcome, Greg. It’s funny, you never know where things like this will take you and what friends and inspiration you will find along the way.
I wish you great success in meeting whatever challenges you face.
Ed Thorn says
I’m writing a book on diabetes, would really love to have your story in it, please contact me I’d be delighted to include such an inspirational story.