It was last summer, as I huffed and puffed the 76 steps to my Westminster office, that I realised the damage that I had done to my body and my health.
Overweight, deeply unfit, addicted to sugar and fast foods, it was little surprise when the doctor told me I had Type 2 diabetes.
I recalled overweight Labour politicians dying early in their 50s and 60s, and thought about whether I was actually going to see my two children grow into adults, or their children grow up.
I vowed to change my lifestyle and began reading up about nutrition, exercise and diabetes. I started by cutting out sugar, refined sugar, then all processed foods in plastic trays and many starchy carbs. I read Aseem Malhotra’s Pioppi diet and Michael Mosley’s diet books cover to cover, then all the scientific research they’d referenced. I’d bore friends to tears hovering over the ingredients labels in supermarkets.
Then I began to exercise. First walking, then cycling, then running, then boxing and then weight-training. None of it was easy but soon the weight started to fall off. I even bought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s encyclopedia of body building to help me when I started back at the gym after a thirty year interlude.
I’ve now lost 98lbs in weight. I don’t just feel healthier, but stronger, happier and mentally far more agile.
Today I am very happy to reveal that my Type 2 diabetes has been reversed, it’s in remission. No longer having to take medicines for diabetes is a joy. To all Type 2 diabetics I say: “Yes, we can.” Yet the tragedy for many Type 2 diabetics is that they don’t even know their condition is reversible, let alone how to achieve it.
I have been moved and inspired by the extraordinary public response and support for my personal battle. Hundreds of people have contacted me through emails and my social media channels to say how they have struggled with weight just like me. Some, I hope, I might have been able to help in return.
Through the journey of the last 12 months I have grown to the realisation that we have a whole nation battling similar weight and health problems. And it’s only going to get worse.
Approximately 14 million UK adults are obese. Around 15 million more are overweight. One third of our children are leaving primary school obese – if current trends continue half of all our kids will be obese by 2020.
The figures for obesity’s twin evil, diabetes, are shocking too. In 1998 just 3% of adults in England were diagnosed with diabetes. By 2016 that had doubled, with 7% of adults diagnosed.
Each year in the UK 24,000 people with diabetes die early. People with diabetes often develop blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, and dementia.
I think one of the key culprits for this enormous rise in obesity and diabetes is sugar and the sugar industry.
Children aged 4 to 10 are now estimated to eat 5500 cubes of sugar per year- that’s about 3.5 stone worth of sugar or the weight of an average three year old. Adults are eating even more.
The recommended daily sugar intake for an adult is no more than 30 grams. Yet a single can of coca cola contains 35 grams of sugar. Just one can takes you over the recommended daily limit.
Even trying to avoid sugar is difficult. Sugar is in places where we don’t expect to find it and where it does not need to be - cereals, milk products, crisps and yogurt. Even foods billed as ‘healthy’ like vitamin water and bran flakes contain added sugar. Where foods are labelled ‘low-fat’ too often extra sugar has been added to make up for the loss of taste.
With all the hidden sugar, conflicting health advice, ultra-processed food and misleading packaging people who want to get healthy have barely got a chance. When I walk around the supermarket now I just see aisles and aisles of food with little or no nutritional value that will make us unwell. It’s no surprise that so many people across the country struggle with their weight.
As with so many other things, obesity doesn’t affect everyone equally. If you are an adult living in the most deprived part of England you are 46% more likely to be obese than if you live in the richest part. You are also more likely to end up in hospital because of diabetes if you come from a poorer background than if you are well off.
For too long people who struggle with their weight have been branded lazy or greedy. The reality is that everywhere we go, whether to the supermarket, on the bus or listening to the radio in the car, we are bombarded with adverts for food that isn’t good for us. It’s time Government did something about it.
To me, the success of the Sugar Tax - for which then Tory Chancellor George Osborne should be given the credit - is an illustration that government can and should intervene if the food and drink industry won’t do it themselves. The big drinks companies fought the sugar tax tooth and nail, saying it wouldn’t work and cutting the sugar content of drinks wasn’t possible. Once the tax was introduced Ribenacut its sugar content by half, almost overnight.
I believe there are times when politicians of all sides must join forces to enact change. My experience of escaping Type 2 diabetes has given me a new mission to help others get healthy. We can’t afford to keep going as we are. The challenge is huge but generations will suffer if we fail to get a grip on the obesity crisis that threatens to engulf us.