As a physical security supervisor for Spectrum Health, Luke Thomas specializes in keeping a close eye on things, noting potential issues or irregularities.
“We’re the folks that take care of the cameras, access control and ID badges,” Thomas said.
These days, Thomas, 47, is learning to apply the principles to his own life, monitoring and fighting against diabetes.
A couple of years ago, Thomas’ blood sugar levels registered as pre-diabetic. More recently, biometric screening revealed his numbers had surged.
“My glucose was over 250, well into diabetic territory,” he said. “It was a shock. It was something I did not expect and something I had been trying to stay away from.”
Thomas said many of his loved ones struggle with diabetes. He didn’t want to be one of them.
“We have a history of diabetes in my family,” the Grand Rapids, Michigan, resident said. “I always kept telling myself I didn’t want to be that.”
Hoping his high reading was some kind of fluke, Thomas tested his blood glucose levels every day for the next week.
No fluke to be found.
“It was up there, but it was not an error,” he said. “I wanted this to go away and to make a serious change in my blood sugar.”
At 5-foot-10-inches tall, Thomas weighed about 225 pounds.
At the recommendation of his primary care provider, Nicholas Stephanoff, MD, Thomas joined the Lifestyle Medicine CHIP (complete health improvement plan) directed by Kristi Artz, MD, last August. Initially provided as a benefit to a pilot group of Spectrum Health employees, the program has since expanded to the community.
“It’s not just a diet plan. It was a little bit of everything for health improvement,” he said. “It intrigued me. I was always looking for things on the Internet and trying things here and there, but I never had a directed plan.”
Dr. Artz’s knowledge and thoroughness impressed him.
“We talked about my goals, what I’d like to see and why I would like to make changes,” he said. “My why was because I have family members who have lost a foot because of uncontrolled diabetes and I did not want to fall prey to that. I did not want to be that person.”
Thomas met with Dr. Artz twice a week for 13 weeks, mostly virtually due to COVID-19.
“They helped me create goals—to get under 200 pounds and reverse (my) diabetic diagnosis,” he said.
But it wasn’t just talk. Real-life education, including healthy grocery shopping and cooking, made a difference in Thomas’ pursuit of lower scale and glucose numbers.
“They took us to the downtown market and showed us how to cook a healthy meal,” he said. “It’s lifestyle medicine.”
Thomas took a liking to the Southwest scramble he learned to make—a mixture of tofu, kale and other healthy plant ingredients.
“They’re things I never cooked with before,” he said. “It was very tasty. I’ve made it ever since and added tofu to my staples. It was something I was always afraid of cooking with because I didn’t know what to do with it. I had fear and distrust that they educated away.”
Thomas also learned to make a soup with chick peas and Mediterranean-style flavors.
“I have a better idea of what’s healthy and I’m trying to keep portion sizes down,” he said. “I had tried a few fad diets, but now my meals are consistent and healthy. I’m able to eat until I’m full. My blood sugar is down to 120 and I’m back in the pre-diabetic range. It feels awesome. If I could get down a little more I’d be even happier.”
Thomas said his husband, Chuck, has also benefited from the healthy meal plans. Thomas would recommend the Lifestyle Medicine CHIP program to anyone struggling with weight issues or diabetes.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I think they did a great job of educating me and changing my mind about what was possible through nutrition. There were chefs and nutritionists involved in the classes. It’s still working as long as I continue to keep up with what I’m doing.”
Thomas is also exercising more, another key to weight loss.
“They want you to move more so I’ve made some habit changes that get me moving more,” he said. “I’ve gone from being sedentary to walking 2 to 3 miles a day during the summer. Now, I’m doing yoga, home workouts and I bought a rowing machine.”
Dr. Stephanoff said he’s impressed with Thomas’ progress and plans to recommend the program to other patients.
“Luke seemed to be fighting an uphill battle for years,” Dr. Stephanoff said. “When I first met him, he was trying a program on which he’d lost but then regained weight. That is a common result with popular diets. I’m grateful that Luke gave health another chance and chose to see me. I’m very grateful that we could offer him the CHIP program to make the effective, sustainable changes that he accomplished. The results show.”
Dr. Stephanoff said substituting healthy habits for bad ones can make all the difference.
“Until recently, Luke was getting sicker,” he said. “His blood sugars were worsening, among other problems. At that rate, things didn’t look good. Now, I am much more optimistic about his prognosis. I bet he’s adding five to 10 years to his life and 10 to 20 years of dramatically better function in addition to better energy and more joy on a daily basis.”