Diabetes & Why I’m Confused


When Sharon and I first talked through this edition of Holistic Living Magazine and our experiences with Diabetes it was spookily similar; when growing up, both of us only knew a couple of people with Type I Diabetes, for me an aunt who’d had it for years and a classmate.

Then Type II Diabetes was rare and was still known as Adult Onset Diabetes, rather than the far more familiar Type II Diabetes that we are all aware of today.

Today 90% of all Diabetes cases are of course Type II, and it is no longer known as Adult Onset as the incidence levels in children has rendered that naming moot.

So why the confusion? Well, once I started to research the causes of Type II it struck me that the myriad of ways that ‘experts’ approach the whole concept of diet, exercise and what we should be doing to be healthy was just confusing and contradictory, with the only solid fact that I knew was that being overweight was a major factor in Type II Diabetes.

Now let me delve into the source of my confusion, through this we’ll touch a little on statistics (my favourite bit) cover off the contradicting evidence and then alight on a possible way forward.

First a brief statistics lesson. You will hear many people talk two key terms in statistics; these are correlation and causation, and they are the basis of a fundamental error that people make with statistics.

What is meant by this is, whenever you take a large enough body of data and look for patterns you will inevitably end up with many that correlate, i.e. one thing happens when another does.

What you do not get in most, if not all, patterns you see is a definitive level of causation, i.e. one aspect of the pattern was caused by the other.

Let me demonstrate; the recent Ashes Cricket series has been broadcast on one Australian TV channel for matches one, three and four, and a different channel for match two.

The second match was one that Australia won; here we have a pattern that is correlated, but it is most definitely not a causation…the match being shown on a different channel did not cause Australia to win.

Sadly, while this is a humorous example, many people who should know better make the same mistakes but on a far larger scale.

Now back to the confusion; ‘Diets’ have been around for a lot longer than we think, the one of the first to be popularised was by Lord Byron back in 1820[1], and it feels as though every year since has brought a new fad with it.

These include such memorable ones as the “Reach for a Lucky [cigarette] instead of a sweet”, the Tapeworm diet and of course the perennial low fat diet.

Of course, the low fat diet is the one that seems to have stuck the most, with many organisations, governments and health bodies all extolling the virtues of a low fat diet as a way to control one’s weight and to be a healthier person.

There is only one thing that is wrong with this idea, and that is fat consumption peaked sometime in the late sixties and early seventies, has dropped pretty much constantly since then, and only slightly lifted back up in the last few years[2], and yet people are more overweight than ever before.

This is a classic example of correlation and causation being conflated. The initial data showed that fat consumption after the Second World War was rocketing up at the same time as people were gaining weight and that just had to be the cause of the weight gain in western society (correlation being seen as causation).

Sadly it seems that it wasn’t, so if it’s not fat that is the cause of the problem, then what is? And this is where the confusion comes in; depending on what data you look at, which aspect of human behaviour you look at, then you will get answers that don’t make sense.

That just make things more confusing.

Moving on, let’s look at the current bete noir of the food industry; sugar. Here the evidence seems as solid as it was for fat. Sugar consumption in the Western world has shot up from around about 10 Kg a year at the turn of the 20th century to near a mind boggling 50 Kg today.

As Joanna Rushton calls out in her article “Living with Type II Diabetes” this is 27 teaspoons a day!!

There are books being written about the scourge of sugar[3], newspaper articles[4] and yet at the same time in Australia there are also papers that say that sugar consumption has been dropping in Australia since 1995[5] which contradicts the thought that sugar is the cause of the rising percentage of overweight people in the country.

So back to being thoroughly confused.

At this point, we could continue down the rabbit hole like Alice, or take stock of what we do know, and instead of getting wrapped up in incomplete and opposing views, just focus on some key facts. And these are the things we do know:

  • Being overweight is a key indicator and cause of Type II Diabetes
  • Lack of exercise is a contributing factor to weight gain
  • Overeating is a major factor in being over weight

Now these statements aren’t earth shattering and are somewhat obvious, but at times in the conversation over diet and health, the obvious gets obscured, lost in the variety of messages.

Instead it is best to go back to basics and the place to start is a simple equation; one kilo of fat is about 7,000 calories[6]. So for every kilo that you are overweight at some point you have consumed 7,000 calories more than your body used.

This is also true vice versa, to lose one kilo you need to burn 7,000 calories more than you consume.

And that is where you need to start; look at your overall calorie consumption. Look at where those calories are coming from. Focus on the obviously high calorie foods, drop all the sugary drinks, reduce (not remove) items high in fat.

Avoid the 1,000 calorie meals. Now add in some exercise to help balance things out.

At no point go crazy, extreme changes of behaviour won’t stick, the weight will just come back with a vengeance. You have to do this gently and steadily. Oh and ignore so many of the messages… they will just confuse you.

You can read this article in our quarterly eZine, ‘Holistic Living Magazine,’ look for Edition 2 on this archive page.  There’s many more articles about diabetes waiting for you too!

Diabetes Cassandra Jones – Editor at large for Holistic Living Magazine


[1] Lesley Rotchford, Health.Com, February 8th 2013

[2] Pearson, Trend of Fat Consumption in the United States.

[3] David Gillespie, 2008

[4] Victoria Lambert, The Telegraph, December 11th 2014

[5] Jennie Brand-Miller, 2011

[6] Clare Collins, How many calories do you need to lose weight

Brand-Miller, J and Barclay, A (2011), The Australian paradox: a substantial decline in sugars intake over the same timeframe that overweight and obesity have increased, available from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22254107
Collins, C, How many calories do you need to lose weight, accessed 9th August 2015 from https://my.biggestloserclub.com.au/food-fitness/calories-and-weight-loss.html
Gillespie, D (2008), Sweet Poison, Penguin Group.
Lambert, V (2014), Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health, accessed 9th August 2015 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/healthyeating/9987825/Sweet-poison-why-sugar-is-ruining-our-health.html
Pearson, The Trend of Fat Consumption in the United States, accessed 9th August 2015 from http://wps.prenhall.com/chet_hewlings_nutrition_1/81/20889/5347641.cw/index.html
Rotchford, L (2013), Diets through history: The Good, the bad and the scary, accessed 9th August 2015 from http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/08/health/diets-through-history/

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