When I spoke with him recently, Lathe Poland was sitting in his home in Bethel, Connecticut. He heats his house with firewood from the white oak trees in his yard, which he cuts down and splits himself. Poland is, and always has been, very active and is athletic. He never expected to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
“It was a total shock,” he told me. “My perception was that if you get type 2 diabetes, it’s because you’re overweight and eat junk food, and lead an inactive life. My perception had nothing to do with reality.”
Poland, who is currently working on Carb-Loaded, a film that draws on his experiences and research, told me he found it hard to accept that he was living with diabetes. His first step, after speaking with his doctors, was to hit the Internet. He found the American Diabetes Association forums very helpful to sort out what an A1C was, how to measure his blood sugar, and what the readings actually meant.
It wasn’t until six months later, when reading a report on the sharp rise in type 2 diabetes in the United States, that he set out to get a better understanding of his own diabetes, as well as the growth of diabetes in the United States.
Based on medical advice and his own research, he changed his own diet considerably, reducing carbs and increasing proteins and vegetables. As a result, he found his blood glucose control improved considerably. “When I was first diagnosed, I was living just on the edge of the numbers,” Poland said, pointing out that he was eating the recommended amount of carbs, but no less. He found that his blood sugar was still on the high side, so through self-experimentation and research, he was able to reduce his blood sugar levels by decreasing his carb intake. “Instead of having a sandwich, I would have all the same ingredients but having them on salad instead of bread.”
He also learned that some of his former food staples had to be eliminated. “I love the chicken Pad Thai they have at this local restaurant. I had to cut that all out. And, almost overnight, my numbers changed.” He pointed out that he does indulge sometimes. “Maybe once a week or once every two weeks, if I’m eating out, I’ll get a burger and eat the whole thing, including the bun.”
After getting his numbers on track, he began to think about the bigger picture. “This made me rewind and ask, ‘What about how we are eating has made this happen?’” said Poland. “The rates of type 2 diabetes diagnoses are surging. In the future, one in three people may be living with diabetes. Once I knew that I could change my own diet and my own health, I was convinced that there was a bigger story happening. I had to get to the bottom of it.”
As a filmmaker, Poland decided that the best approach was to make a documentary and start interviewing experts in all fields. His goal is to take a holistic approach to the problem, and examine the “entire food culture in America.”
“The food industry has become very good at selling products,” he says, but the problem is, “as consumers, we are not so savvy at buying them. Often times, we are victims to the whole psychology of how we eat.”
He cites an example of one study conducted by someone he interviewed at the University of Southern California, in which people were given a tub of stale popcorn and instructed to sit in a dark theater. The people ate the popcorn without noticing any problems, or at least without stopping. Another group was placed in the same dark theater with stale popcorn, but they were forced to eat it with their non-dominant hand. This group quickly realized the popcorn was bad, and didn’t eat any.
“This sort [of] mindless eating without thinking has a lot to do with our biology. Humans have an ability to sort of zone out,” he said, comparing it to the way one can drive a car for several hours, end up at your destination, but somehow not be able to remember exactly how you got there, like you’re on autopilot. Poland suggests that eating food can be the same way. “People don’t always think about each bite, but, just get into certain automatic rituals with food.”
Poland plans to release his Carb-Loaded film in spring 2014. Initially, he wanted to crowd-fund the project, but decided to move forward and start raising funds when he gets to the publicity stage. “That whole universe [of film distribution] has completely changed. You used to have to go the film festival route. But now, you can go straight to market with DVDs and streaming.”
He is very excited at the prospect that his film project may help to open people’s eyes about how the food culture in America has changed, and how it may have contributed to the growth of type 2 diabetes. He thinks people will be surprised to learn that diabetes isn’t only affecting those diagnosed, but nearly everyone in society. From economic costs to strains on the healthcare system, it has far-reaching impact.
When asked if he is optimistic about the future he responds with an enthusiastic “Yes! The fact that I personally was able to get [blood sugar] control makes me hopeful.” He believes that awareness of the problem is the first step toward addressing it, and hopes that his film will help raise that awareness.
Stu Sherman is an attorney, writer, and health policy wonk. His writing has appeared in Anthem Magazine, PopMatters, and xoJane. He was a big winner on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and promptly blew his winnings on law school. He’s lived with type 1 diabetes for twenty-five years. Sherman is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience