“I wasn’t obese, I didn’t eat red meat… How could I have diabetes?”

When Bhupen Patel’s blood-sugar numbers came back high after a test, he thought they had to be a mistake. “I told my doctor to resample and send the blood to a different lab,” recalls Patel, 55, a technological consultant for waste water control in Greenwood, IN. “I’d been feeling low energy for more than six months, but I still didn’t believe I could have diabetes. I wasn’t obese. I didn’t eat red meat. It just didn’t make sense to me.” There was no disputing the second test: His blood sugar was 280 milligrams per deciliter—100 or lower is considered normal. “My doctor said, ‘You can’t escape it. You have diabetes,’ ” Patel recalls. “ ‘If you don’t follow the rules, you’ll have maybe 10 years to live. But if you manage it properly— with diet, exercise and medication—you can live a long, healthy life.’

”That was 1996. Since then, Patel has proved his doctor right. Not that it’s always been easy. “I thought I had a decent diet, but I realized I had some misconceptions. For example, I had to give up ice cream,” Patel says. “I learned to eat steamed vegetables and plant-based proteins, since I don’t eat red meat or fish.” He also joined a gym, where he started strength training and walking on the treadmill a half hour each day. “In the first couple of months, I thought it was a waste of time, but when I got my lab results back three months after being diagnosed, my triglyceride and blood sugar levels were closer to normal.” Still, for many years, Patel’s blood glucose vacillated in and out of a healthy range. His doctor tinkered with his medication over time, and finally, in 2012, his blood sugar stabilized. “Now all my numbers are normal, and I actually see my diagnosis as a blessing,” Patel says. “If I hadn’t developed diabetes, I don’t think I’d be as fit or active—or feel as good—as I do today. It took a health scare to get me to wake up and see that what I thought was healthy really wasn’t.”