The reversal has been relatively fast – it has taken him just over a year. But it has taken more than 25 years to gain control over his diet and exercise. Watson was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in late 2015. It wasn’t a huge shock – there had been warning signs, such as his increasing weight and high blood pressure – for some time, but it was still a blow. “The overwhelming emotion was shame,” he says. “I felt frightened and ashamed that I had come to this point, and guilty. I’ve only admitted it publicly now, even though I’ve been in remission for a year, and I’ve felt quite nervous. I think particularly men find it difficult to talk about health.”
There are about 3.7 million people in the UK with diabetes. After his diagnosis, Watson started taking medication, but did little else to address his condition. “I guess it was a combination of lack of knowledge and fear; for a year or two I was in denial. Then I started to read a lot more and started to realise that if I got my weight down, it would affect my insulin level and blood pressure.” Two books helped – Aseem Malhotra’s The Pioppi Diet, which advocates a low-carb regime, and Michael Mosley’s The Fast Diet. For about six months, Watson sought out the scientific papers and research referred to in the footnotes in the books. “They contradicted some of the public health advice that was available and the marketing messages, [particularly] about low-fat products.”
Sugar, Watson realised, might be the real problem. So, the first thing he did was cut out all refined sugar, and the processed foods that often have hidden sugar in them. He went through his kitchen cupboards and threw out all the tempting snacks and products such as pasta. “I would avoid, slightly more controversially, a lot of starchy carbs,” he says. “I do have some brown rice and occasionally pasta when I’m out. If I have bread, I have it made with almond flour.
“I started to feel really, really good quite quickly. My sleep improved after about a week and a half.” Watson’s blood glucose levels were normal within a month – he was still on medication – and after three months, his long-term blood sugar levels were also within normal range. Two months ago,he came off medication. “I consider myself diabetic and a reformed sugar addict because I know that if I take sugar in again, the condition will come back. But I’m liberated. I don’t get tired, I don’t get the thing called ‘brain fog’ when your mental acuity is deadened a bit. All of that is gone. I feel more energetic.” When he went for an eye test, his sight had improved.
Around the same time as cutting out sugar, he started exercising, which wasn’t easy because he was so heavy. “I set myself little goals to start with. The first was I decided to use whatever stairs I came to, rather than the lift. I’d forgotten it was 36 steps to my office.” He laughs. “The first time I went up the steps, I felt I would probably need oxygen at the end of it.