Justin Wright, M.D., is all too familiar with diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity as a borderland physician. More than a quarter of El Pasoans are obese or have hypertension, and some 12 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes.
When confronted with any of these health problems, Dr. Wright generally has the same request of his patients: lose weight. “Most individuals with these health issues are overweight,” he explains. “And weight can intensify each of these diseases.”
But don’t hit the gym just yet.
“Eighty to 90 percent of weight loss is diet change,” says Dr. Wright, a primary care and sports medicine physician at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso (TTP El Paso). “I am a big proponent of the low carb diet myself and eating real, whole foods.”
Carbohydrates are calorie-dense foods that are often unhealthy and processed, such as white rice, bread and pasta, and sweetened beverages and desserts. Besides adding to your waistline, carbs are especially worrisome for diabetics. Although not all carbs taste sweet, they break down into sugar when ingested, causing a spike in blood sugar.
There are good carbs, though, like fruits, legumes, and veggies. These natural carbs are fiber-rich and low on the glycemic index, meaning they don’t cause such a rise in blood sugar.
Michael Steele’s diabetes has gone into remission since he followed Dr. Wright’s advice to kick the carbs.
“Dr. Wright didn’t throw pills at me like other doctors do,” says Steele, who is 69 years old. “He recommended a few books and called me out on my dietary habits.”
Since starting the Atkins diet a year-and-a-half ago, Steele has lost four inches from his waistline and is no longer considered overweight. His blood pressure is the lowest it’s ever been and he isn’t on any medications, either.
Steele has more self-control than most, though.
“I pretty much live on protein,” he explains. That means quitting bread and potatoes, including hashbrowns and potato chips — some of his favorite snacks.
“If I am craving a burger, I ask for a lettuce wrap instead of the hamburger bun,” he says. “Or if we go out to eat Mexican food, I order fajitas and ask them for extra lettuce on the side instead of rice or beans.”
For dessert, Steele usually munches on frozen cherries, and on rare occasions, he will treat himself to low-carb ice cream.
Dr. Wright, who works at the TTP El Paso Hague and Kenworthy clinics, couldn’t be prouder of Steele’s progress and commitment to his health.
“I have always had a problem with weight myself; in medical school, I was 60 pounds heavier than I am now,” the physician admits. “So I feel like I can speak from experience with my patients — which I hope carries a little more weight, no pun intended.”
While a healthy diet may be the doctor’s number one recommendation, he says not to forget exercise and sleep.
People should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week — and walking counts. Seven to eight hours of sleep a night will also help you maintain a strong immune system to fight off illness.
“Drugs can help manage diseases and their symptoms,” Dr. Wright says. “But don’t you want to prevent them from happening in the first place?”