I’m so tickled pink at the popularity of my little blog. In fact, I’m downright honored that people are finding the information I provide about living with diabetes useful. As you know, I ‘ve introduced you to people who have helped make my journey easier, and Mr. Eric (E.K.) Ray is no exception. Mr. Ray recently consented to an interview with me about his survivor story and his journey to wellness while living with diabetes.
Now ladies, E.K. is a handsome young man and very smart. Maybe something he says will help you with your diabetes or help you care for the man in your life who has the disease. While you read my interview with E.K., I will be checking in on Amos just to make sure he and I are alright, because I can’t have him be jealous.
(MS. EUGEENA): Mr. Ray, thank you so much for this interview. One of the things I’d like you to do is tell me how old you were when you were first diagnosed with Type 2; the type of lifestyle you led before the diagnosis and your feelings about it.
(ERIC, E.K., RAY): I was about 35 when I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, living a very fast-paced life and working a 9 to 5 job. My background is in communications, so I also had a foot in the recording and television industry, so I was juggling a few of those clients as well. I was working pretty much around the clock and most of my meals were always something on the go. Fast food, the corner carry out, pizza, chips and soda. At that time, I really thought I was taking good care of myself, but I was not and did not know it. I look back now, I see the harm I was doing to myself, and how I was…Killing me!
(ME): Does diabetes fun in your family? If so, who and how did they handle it? How did your relative(s) live with the disease? Did you ever think you’d be diagnosed with it?
(E.K.): My mother developed gestational diabetes while carrying me. One of the things most people do not know is that the child of a woman who has gestational diabetes has a 50-percent greater chance of being overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes.
Now when I look back, I believe my mom handled it the best that she could. I know she was given the do’s and the don’t s of diabetes because I saw her take her injections and sometimes I would give them to her. I just feel that the information back then about diabetes was really the basic, with no direction on how to really to manage it. I feel that when I was old enough to understand about diabetes I did not do anything to learn more. It would have not only helped me, but her as well. It could have been the difference of me developing it down the road.
My mom did what most people do today and as they say down south, she took her “Sugar” medicine and continued to live her life as she always had. As I talk about it in my book, I had no idea how important it was to eat right and exercise. It was not until my 30s that I began to think about the possibility of being diagnosed with diabetes.
(ME): Tell my readers about the moment you realized you needed to make a change. Was it immediately or was it gradually? How did you change your mind to change your life?
(E.K.): In order for me to tell you about the moment that changed my life, I would have to start with the fact that I went mis-diagnosed for 6 months. My body was shutting down and I was in “DK” (Diabetic Ketoacidosis). This is a potentially life-threatening complication in patients with diabetes and poor compliance with insulin therapy. Vomiting, dehydration, deep gasping breathing, confusion and occasionally coma are typical symptoms. I could not eat. I could not even swallow water. My body was in such great pain that all I could do was cry. My body was shutting down on me. It was not until I was in the ER and the nurse took my vitals and the look on her face said it all. Her reaction is what really freaked me out.
In my book, Diabetes, The Silent Killer: How I Survived, I go into more detail, but in short, I had to start giving myself insulin injections 5 time a day in order to eat and to live.It was a horrific and near death introduction to diabetes for me. I found out what I needed to do in order to change my life for the better and wanting to live was more than enough to get me to change my life permanently.
(ME): You’ve lost over 180 pounds, basically a whole person. Share how you did it and did you work out a plan on your own or did you receive help?
(E.K.): I got fed up. I did not want to take insulin anymore. I asked my doctor what I needed to do and he simply told me to lose the weight. I would go to the gym and work out, starting with 15 minutes of cardio, then 20 minutes, before I knew it, I was up to an hour of cardio five days a week. Next, I got my diet under control, no carbs and no sugar of any kind. I remember being at the gym and I had lost so much weight, my workout clothes were falling off me. As they say, I did it the old fashion way with hard work and a healthy diet leading to 18 months later having dropped a significant amount of weight.
(ME): As a man with diabetes, what considerations did you have to make about self-care? We don’t read much about black men with the disease. So I’d like for you to talk to us about the challenges that are specific to men, please.
(E.K.): As men, we have this thing that we have to take care and provide for our families, but we often forget about ourselves. We also have a habit of not listening to our loved ones. More men need to understand that in order to take care of our families, we must take care of ourselves. If you are not 100%, you will not be able to take care of them.
(ME): You have this wonderful website EKHealthyLiving.com. First of all, what does EK stand for, if you don’t mind me asking? And tell me why you came up with the concept.
(E.K.): EK came about when I used to work at a television station in Washington, DC. When I went to join the union I could not use my name because there was another Eric Ray already listed (spelled the same way), so I opted for the initials of my first and middle name. That is how EK Ray was born.
I wanted others like me with diabetes and those who will come behind me to have a place where they could find practical information about diabetes. I wanted to show how to live with diabetes and create a healthy lifestyle. When people go to my website, I want them to have access to the tools they need to live their best life. Diabetes is not the end of your life. It is the start of you living your best one, so EKHealthyLiving.com encompasses all of this in one concentrated area.
I also want people to know that EKHealthyLiving.com is not only a site for diabetics, but also for anyone who wants to live a healthy life. The site features a wealth of information, including advice from certified fitness trainers, nutritionists and medical professionals.
EKHealthyLiving.com is a one-stop source for health, fitness and diabetes awareness.
(ME): I noticed that you’ve worked with Merck on your maintenance and health plan. Is that something someone like me can do? How can a company like Merck assist someone like me? Do you still work with them?
(E.K.): I started with Merck when they were looking for diabetics who had turned their lives around and my doctor who works with Medstar put me in touch with them. After a couple of years with my weight loss, they asked me to be a spokesperson for them. Merck offers a wealth of information about diabetes and diabetic care. The information that they give the community helps everyone. From time to time, I still work with them. They are such great folks I will always be on hand when they need me.
(ME): Now, one of the most important things I’ve read was your quote in a newspaper article about your diabetes journey. You said, “’When you’re a child, you hear your mother say ‘if you’re good in the store, you can get a bag of chips or some fries from McDonald’s. This sets up a pattern for children and even as adults because later, when you get a new job or a new promotion- you turn to a slice of cheesecake, a slice of pie, or an extravagant dinner as a reward. You don’t think about the calories or the downside of the reward.’”
Will you expound on your beliefs about our cultural connection to food as a reward and its relationship to diseases like diabetes, please?
(E.K.): The community hit the hardest by diabetes is the Black community and eating healthy is a big part of being a diabetic. When you look at history going back to slavery days, Black people were given the leftover food that the White man did not want to eat, usually, the more unhealthy scraps of food. This has actually helped to contribute to the bad eating habits in the Black community. Most Black communities do not have access to healthy markets and stores, which leads back to not eating healthy. All of this, coupled with little information has led Black people to be at the top of the list in fighting diabetes. I have been inside stores in the urban community and there are rarely any sugar-free products, fresh produce and veggies. As a Black person in your community, you have to go to that store manager and ask for better products that fit your needs. Keep asking until they start to bring in the products you need to be healthy. You have to show them the power of your money and that you can spend it where you can get the product that you want. I also talk more about this in my book as well.
(ME): Mr. Ray, though you’ve lost weight and are managing your diabetes well now, what would you say are your blind spots or challenges? What are the things you have to remain mindful of even though you’re doing quite well now?
(E.K.): I am lucky enough to have balance with my blood sugar count. I have been called a “healthy diabetic” because when you test me, my A1C count is as if I do not have diabetes, but I know that if I do not stay on top of it, there will be problems. I know that even though I am managing it, the minute I stop taking care of myself, everything can fall apart. That is why it is a lifestyle change and not a diet. I am very mindful of what I eat and I make sure I get in 5 to 6 days a week at the gym. It is part of my life now.
(ME): Do you have 5 tips to offer my readers with the disease or with loved ones with diabetes?
1) Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family with diabetes: Have you tested your blood sugar today?
2) Make sure to eat right (no sugar or carbs)
3) Go to the doctor regularly (every 3 to 4 months)
4) Get out and exercise
5) Believe in yourself. You have diabetes. It does not have you!
(ME): Lastly, where can my folks find you online? They use Twitter, Facebook and some even use Google Plus. Do you have an email newsletter for them?
(E.K.): Like me on www.facebook.com/ekhealthyliving, YouTube – ektv healthyliving, on twitter @ekrayinc.
You can buy my book Diabetes, The Silent Killer: How I Survived at ekhealthyliving.com, B&N.com and Amazon.com.
I would love to come out and speak to health groups, churches and anyone that needs an inspirational speaker and motivator. Please contact Reneé Lowe at email@example.com for booking inquiries.
(ME): Thank you so much for this interview and blessings to you on your journey. You’re helping a lot of people with your story.
(E.K.): Thank you for having me!
EK is a Diabetes Awareness Advocate, Healthy Living Speaker & Author. He travels the country speaking to communities bringing awareness to the resources available to prevent and fight Diabetes. He has written a book named Diabetes, The Silent Killer: How I Survived. In it, he recalls his battle with Diabetes and how he nearly lost his life, before making major healthy changes. For more details on Mr. Ray, please visit: http://www.ekhealthyliving.com | Follow EK on Twitter: @ekrayinc.
Did you learn a lot from E.K.? I certainly did and enjoyed introducing you to him. By the way, Amos is just fine. At any rate, post some comments for him or me in the comment section below.