Diabetes is a chronic disease that has no cure. — American Diabetes Association
This is a dismal statement, and one consistent with the kind of information most diabetics and pre-diabetics (including myself) are given by their doctors. But is it true? The people at Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia, Arizona have set out to disprove that claim. The film tells the story of six individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes who go to Tree of Life to find out if these medical rebels are right and their own doctors are wrong.
Ill get to their stories, but Ill begin by telling you my own: When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had gestational diabetes. With a controlled diet, I was able to keep it in check but the diet was difficult. My sweet indulgence during those months? Half a grapefruit. Really. This wasnt easy for someone who was known to order dessert before or even instead of the entre. Still, I did it. My daughter was worth it. After the pregnancy, the condition ceased, but about a year later I found myself experiencing frequent hypoglycemic spells: Id break out into a sweat, get shaky, have to sit down and immediately eat something. I went to my doctor, and after sending me to get a glucose tolerance test she determined I was pre-diabetic. She referred me to an endocrinologist who informed me that once you are pre-diabetic you could postpone the onset of diabetes with diet and exercise but you could not avoid it entirely.
My mother had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with me, and she developed diabetes later in life. She did not control it at all and she eventually suffered a stroke. That was the first of innumerable other problems: difficulty walking (sometimes she managed with a cane, other times she needed us to carry her), balance issues (how many times did I pick her off the floor?), incontinence, dry skin, mental changes, etc. etc. etc. I took one look at my mother and knew that could not be me. It was time to decide if I was worth it.
I began exercising and restricting my sugar. I also went to a homeopathist. Between the two, within months my blood was coming back normal on the A1C test (which tests your glucose control over 3 months). Nonetheless, I was still experiencing periodic hypoglycemic spells. The specter of the doctors statement Diabetes is inevitable rang through my consciousness.
At some point I stumbled across the trailer for the movie, Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes for 30 days. It was inspiring enough for me to try introducing raw foods into my life. For several weeks I ate two meals a day raw and one meal each day of my regular ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. Then I caught the stomach flu from my daughter. You might be familiar with the phenomenon where you cant look at whatever you were eating immediately prior to vomiting, no matter what the actual cause. Bye-bye raw foods. But those hypoglycemic spells continued. About six months later I decided to try again. I got more serious. This time I went mostly raw with the occasional cooked vegan meal but with no processed sugar or fried food. A month and a half later I noticed I hadnt had a single hypoglycemic episode since I began. And this while eating fabulous raw vegan desserts regularly! The changes Im experiencing are so dramatic Ive since decided to eliminate even the occasional cooked vegan meal. Living, and eating, this way feels too good and tastes too good.
All this life change began because I watched a single 5 minute trailer! It was clearly time I saw the whole movie, but I hesitated buying it only because I was now on sabbatical and making 75% of my normal income. As fate would have it, the film company offered review copies to those with websites.
Upon watching the full-length film, I was moved almost to tears by the stories of the six individuals documented. All of them were experiencing significant health problems due to diabetes, much more severe than my own. Four had Type 2, two had Type 1. Some were young and some were old. They came from all walks of life. They arrived at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center hoping, like me, that their doctors were wrong. Diabetes doesnt have to be forever.
Here I have to pause to give credit to the filmmakers. While the film does have an agenda to convince the viewer of the health benefits of the raw diet, especially for diabetics they are remarkably unbiased in their depictions of the patients reactions. At their first meal, one patient says of the food, This is different. You could get used to it. If you grew up eating it you could like it. Not a ringing endorsement for what are billed as gourmet raw vegan meals! One man doesnt make it through the entire month because of the food, even though he experiences dramatic changes after just two and a half weeks. When he arrived at Tree of Life his blood sugar was at 450 on medications, and on the day he left it was at 200 without them. His blood pressure was normal, hed lost 30 pounds, and he went from taking 17 medications a day to none at all. But he couldnt stomach the food: My brain dont want the food, he told them, It just rejects it. Literally. I look at it and I just want to scream. When the day is done, this is simply a good documentary, whether you are diabetic or not, whether you are interested in eating raw or not. The story is simply compelling and the production values are high. This is a PBS-worthy film.
In fact, the film is so unbiased, on one level it may hurt its own agenda: the food seems so unappealing in the eyes of most of the participants, unless your motivation to cure yourself of diabetes is high, you might watch this and abandon all hope. I am almost certain that when I show this movie to my mother she will say You have willpower and can do this. I cant. I hope Im wrong, and this is too important not to show her so I will. In fact, this film is too important not to show everyone who is diabetic, pre-diabetic, or genetically pre-disposed to diabetes, and to the doctors who treat them.
The doctor who told me Diabetes is inevitable sprang back into my memory as I watched the young man in the film who used his own doctors words as an excuse not to believe in the regimen and sabotage himself. He repeats over and over to anyone who will listen that every doctor he has ever had has told him he will be on insulin the rest of his life. Yet despite a mid-retreat unauthorized field trip across the border to Mexico where he gorged on enchiladas and alcohol, by the end of the film he had gone from injecting 70 units of insulin a day to just 5. The other type 1 diabetic is off insulin and medication entirely. Doctors think they are doing a service by letting us know the reality of our chronic conditions, but what they are doing is planting the seeds of disaster. As the movie tells us, it was Hippocrates who said Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. We can heal ourselves, but first we have to undo the power of disbelief planted within in us by the very doctors who we went to for advice. We have to undo the damage done to us by lifetimes of eating S.A.D (Standard American Diet). We have to be willing to take that first step toward wholeness.
In the months since I first learned about raw foods, Ive read so many personal testimonies about how becoming raw has changed peoples health in innumerable ways, curing all sorts of supposedly irreversible or chronic conditions. I hope there will be other films that document their stories.