When Maryland-based graphic designer Carmelo Rivera heard his doctor tell him he had Type 2 diabetes in 2013, he thought it was a death sentence. His father had passed away from the same disease when Rivera was 9 years old, and after he broke 300 pounds at 28 years old, he wondered if he would meet the same fate.
“I didn’t want to end up the same way, so I decided I needed to make a change,” he says.
Rivera says his two kids, now ages 9 and 11, were his main inspiration. Not wanting them to lose their father like he had, he started slowly making lifestyle changes shortly after his diagnosis. While he didn’t set an initial goal, he felt it was more sustainable to take it day by day and set reasonable expectations for himself.
The first step was coming to terms with his diet. Rivera admits he was eating plenty of processed carbs, breads, rice and lots of fried foods — and the portion sizes of everything he ate were entirely too big.
“The first two months were weaning off the bad stuff, but after that, I committed 100% to the Paleo diet,” he says. “Some of my go-to choices now are grilled chicken, sweet peas and turkey burgers with no buns — but I do add tomatoes, lettuce and cheese.”
Throughout his journey, Rivera used MyFitnessPal to keep himself accountable by tracking his daily calories, and he was super thorough — logging even the simple things like a single banana or apple.
“It helped me stay on track because, at the beginning, it was about how many calories I was consuming a day, whereas, toward the middle and end of my journey, I was more concerned about how many carbs I was taking in,” he says. “It displays it all right there, and it taught me what foods had carbs. I used the app for around two years until I learned how to manage my diet on my own.”
While Rivera admits he didn’t find the diet overhaul too difficult, exercising was another story. His doctor recommended he work out, and for him, starting with simple 30-minute workouts was challenging. His workouts were self-taught, and he’d go online and look at other people’s workout routines and videos for guidance.
Over the next couple of years, Rivera continued these newly developed habits, and the pounds continued to fall off. He hit a major milestone when he dropped below 200 pounds.
“Once I hit 195 pounds, I wanted to try for 185, then 175 and so on. Finally, I hit 165 — I don’t know if I’ll go 155, but we’ll see.”
At this point, his daily 30-minute workouts had transformed into three-hour workouts in the morning before work. And even during the pandemic, Rivera used dumbbells, resistance bands and a recumbent bike to stay in shape.
“Fortunately, I didn’t really have any big setbacks, but I did hit a few plateaus,” he says. “I’d go for a month without losing very much weight, so I’d have to switch up my workout routine.”
Now, at 36 years old, after more than seven years since his initial diagnosis and losing around 135 pounds, not only can Rivera fit into a size medium shirt, he’s also reversed his diabetes entirely. He is completely off the diabetes-related medication and insulin shots he once required, and he now controls his glucose through diet and exercise.
“Luckily, diabetes is manageable with diet and exercise. You can bring your A1C and glucose down, you just gotta watch what you eat and your portion sizes,” he says. “I always remind myself you can’t out-train a dead guy.”
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