Meet the Gym that Helped 20 People Come off their Diabetes Medication in 2019
A year-and-a-half ago, Gigi Bauer and her husband Roy Bauer, both Type 2 diabetics, were taking more medication than they can remember.
Roy, now 58, gave himself two injections of Byetta, a diabetes drug, each day and popped another 10 pills or so to regulate his blood sugar, blood pressure and kidney function.
Gigi, now 57, injected herself with Trulicity, another diabetes drug, each day, and took various meds for high blood pressure, cholesterol and for her thyroid.
At its highest, Ron’s A1C—average blood glucose level—was 12.5, while Gigi’s was 8.5. An A1C of 6.5 or above is considered diabetic.
“I thought I was going to be on medication for the rest of my life,” Gigi said. Roy thought the same.
Why Would Either of Them have Thought Any Differently?
They had been told by their doctors they needed to take medication to manage their disease. So they continued to eat as much fruit as they wanted, and ate pizza multiple times a week, because they were on medication that would do its magic to control their sugar levels, Gigi explained.
“I thought I could eat whatever I wanted because I was on diabetic medication to keep my blood sugar down,” Gigi said.
Roy added: “Every time I went back to the doctor, they’d put me on another medication…It was almost like I expected it. Like it was acceptable. I had been a diabetic for 10 or 12 years, I think, and they just kept adding medication.”
Then in May 2018, Gigi received a letter from her doctor about a fitness and nutrition program at the Ryan Ferns Healthplex in Benwood, West Virginia, for Type 2 diabetics. Two weeks later, Roy received the same letter.
Though their expectations were low, something told Gigi to sign up.
The Prescription for Preventative Medicine
The program was a pilot project, where the team at the Ryan Ferns Healthplex—a team made up of physical therapists, CrossFit and fitness coaches and nutritionist Kathi Salatino—had teamed up with a local health insurance company. The health insurance company agreed to pay for their Type 2 diabetic clients to participate in the program in the hope that the company would save money in the long term if these clients improved their health through lifestyle changes, and maybe even put their diabetes into remission.
Gigi and Roy started the program in July 2018.
The first step was a functional movement screening. After that, Gigi began working with a physical therapist to improve her movement patterns and balance, while Roy began personal training. Soon, Gigi joined Roy in personal training, and today both attend group classes five days a week. They also both started working with Salatino on their nutrition.
Within six months, Gigi had lost 46 pounds and her A1C levels had decreased to a normal 5.6. Her doctor took her off all her medication except for her thyroid. Today, her total weight loss is up to 54 pounds and her most recent A1C reading was 5.3.
Meanwhile, Roy lost 50 pounds, and within nine months had reduced his A1C to 6.4, and was taken off all his medication.
Gigi and Roy weren’t the only ones in the pilot project who saw results, explained Salatino. In fact, all eight Type 2 diabetic clients who partook in the program were taken off their diabetes medications within a matter of months.
Because the pilot program was so successful, Salatino and her team have turned it into a permanent program called PreMedRx, short for “The Prescription for Preventative Medicine.” Since then, another dozen diabetes clients have put their diabetes into remission and come off their meds, while a handful of others, who began the program in December 2019, have already seen a decrease in their medication dosages.
Education for Success
Salatino and her team have been successful because they focus on educating diabetic patients in ways they’re unfamiliar with, Salatino said.
“The biggest thing we do is help people unlearn what they have been taught, how they have been misled, about managing their disease. We have really been living in this echo chamber of bad information,” said Salatino, who has a background in functional diagnostic nutrition and studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
“We have been treating Type 2 diabetes as a chronically degenerative disease, where we use mediation to treat it, and diabetics think they’ll have to live like that for the rest of their lives. So enrolling people in the possibility they can actually put it into remission is unfathomable for them at the start,” she added.
This was certainly the case for both Gigi and Roy.
“We’ll see about that,” said Gigi about her skepticism when Salatino told her she could help her put her diabetes into remission.
“I remember sitting there thinking this lady was crazy,” Roy said about Salatino. “For so many years, every four months, each time I had a check-up, I just knew they were going to increase my medication. So it was hard to believe that would ever change.”
Despite their skepticism, Gigi and Roy committed themselves and stayed true to their word, letting Salatino do her thing.
A year-and-a-half later, the couple agrees the education Salatino gave them was so much more than their doctors ever provided.
“When you become a diabetic, your physician tells you you need to eat healthier, but there’s no guidance. We didn’t know how many carbs or sugar was in fruit. We thought fruit was good for us so we ate a lot of fruit,” Gigi said.
Today, Gigi and Roy have eliminated fast food, processed food and sugars from their diet. They eat mostly whole foods consisting of vegetables, lean meats and healthy fats, and they try to stick to eating just 25 grams of carbohydrates per day.
The results speak for themselves: They transformed their health within a matter of months.
“It’s amazing how quick it changed my life around,” Roy said.
For Salatino, nothing is more rewarding than watching clients like Gigi and Roy.
“Every time I see any of the people from the program, they just gush about it. It’s amazing to see. One woman who had gastric bypass surgery, for example, had tried so many other things before, and she’s always like, ‘Why did nobody ever tell me I could do this before?’” Salatino said. “It’s extremely rewarding, and it just makes me want to work harder to understand the science and the research and learn how I can help more people.”
A second component of the Salatino’s approach is to work with her clients on fixing their relationship with food.
“Getting people to understand, first of all, what drives them to use food to manage their emotions or stress, is a big part. And then pairing this with the understanding that they feel worse, not better, when they do this. So it doesn’t fix the situation, and it sends them on a metabolic rollercoaster, is another part of it,” Salatino said.
While Salatino is instrumental in the program, the fitness aspect also plays a huge role, she said.
Christa Giordano is one of the CrossFit coaches on the team. A three-time CrossFit Games team athlete, she mimicked Salatino’s sentiment about how fulfilling it has been to watch people reclaim their health right in front of their eyes.
“It’s powerful to see the transformations that are life changing. Many of these people were told they would never be able to get off their medication. Nothing compares to watching people literally save their own lives through this program,” Giordano said.
This is exactly what Gigi and Roy feel like: Their lives have been saved through the combination of nutrition and physical fitness.
“I can do things I never thought I’d be able to do,” Roy said about his progress in the gym. “I feel younger than ever.”
Gigi added: “This is our time. We have jump-started our health again. We just have this burst of energy now when we wake up in the morning. We’re not dormant couch potatoes. We have a purpose. We’re in the happiest place we have been.”