Ever wonder what it might be like to be able to eat 700 grams of carbohydrates a day, but only have to inject a small amount of insulin to cover it? That may sound like a dream, but there's at least one man with type 1 diabetes out there who's accomplished exactly that.
Meet Robby Barbaro, in Santa Monica, CA, who's been living with T1D since age 12 almost two decades ago. (Fun Fact: his older brother Steven, who also has T1D, helped diagnose him as a kid). Robby tells us that he rarely eats less than 600 carbs per day (!), made up of mostly fiber, fruit and veggies, but has incredible insulin-to-carb ratios along the lines of ~58:1 -- wow!
Robby has found that through plant-based clean eating, he can actually "reverse" insulin resistance. What began as a personal mission to improve his health has turned into a professional career, as he's created an online educational program called Mastering Diabetes along with another type 1, Dr. Cyrus Khambatta in Costa Rica. Together they're working to spread awareness about the benefits of plant-based eating for the Diabetes Community. Robby shares his story and more about Mastering Diabetes with our 'Mine readers today...
Mastering Diabetes, by Robby Barbaro
On January 26, 2000, my parents were in Florida and I was at home in St. Cloud, MN, with my older brother Steven, who had been living with type 1 diabetes for nine years at the time. My mom called to check in and see how things were going at home. I told her I did not sleep well because I was cramping all night long.
About a week earlier the constant thirst and urination cycle had begun. I said to my mom, “I think I have diabetes, just like Steven,” and she responded by saying, “Don’t be silly, Robby.”
But something was different that morning. She told me to go upstairs and use my brother’s blood glucose meter.
My blood glucose was over 400 mg/dL. My brother said, “You have type 1 diabetes, pack a bag for a few nights since you’ll be in the hospital.” At age 12, my life with type 1 diabetes began.
A journey of discovery
As a teenager, I suffered from allergies every year, even though I routinely took medications like Claritin-D and Nasonex. I also suffered from plantar fasciitis, a painful condition that made the soles of my feet tight and painful, so I wore big blue boots at night for passive stretching.
Throughout high school, I battled with cystic acne. I tried to treat it with everything I could get my hands on, from creams to oral pills to microdermabrasion to laser treatments and eventually Accutane—the medication doctors prescribe only if nothing else has worked. Accutane is known for severe side effects, including depression and suicide, so I was hesitant to take it but felt like I didn’t have a choice.
While in high school, I stumbled across a book that changed my life forever called "Natural Cures 'They' Don’t Want You to Know About" by Kevin Trudeau. I remember walking away with the belief that I can and will reverse type 1 diabetes, and that one day I will no longer need insulin to manage my blood glucose.
It was the beginning of a series of desires to solve the mystery of type 1 diabetes, to learn about autoimmunity, to learn how stems cells could lead to new beta-cell growth, and to try anything in my power to reverse type 1 diabetes in my own body. (Kevin Trudeau has since been imprisoned for misleading health claims and fraudulent advice. I do not condone his advice; it was merely a book that planted a seed for me to learn more about evidence-based lifestyle change.)
I know that talk of a natural reversal or any kind of cure is a sensitive topic and you might be rolling your eyes right now. I respect where people are coming from in that regard. All I can say is that for me, the hope that one day we will solve this mystery has enriched my life. I’ve adopted healthier habits and I’m grateful for that.
The goal of reversing type 1 diabetes led me to try several different dietary approaches. This included regular visits to a naturopath, the Weston A. Price Foundation Diet and a high-fat plant-based diet designed by Gabriel Cousens, MD.
None of these approaches had any significant impact on my diabetes health. I also have not found out how to make my beta cells work again, LOL. But all of these efforts did lead me to a profound discovery.
Insulin sensitivity: the golden ticket
While I was in college, I learned about the low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet. I learned that this dietary approach has been proven to reverse insulin resistance. Published research dating back to the 1920’s demonstrated this repeatedly.
I started to apply this dietary approach in my own life. I started eating fruits and vegetables in abundance. Lots of fruit -- well over 600 grams of total carbohydrate per day, oftentimes over 700 grams mainly coming from whole fruit such as bananas, mangos, papaya, persimmons, grapes, apples, jackfruit, kiwi, oranges, berries, melons, nectarines, peaches, apricots… lots of fruit!
The amazing part was seeing my insulin sensitivity improve as I ate more carbohydrates and kept my fat intake low. This was life-changing. I saw in my own body exactly what the evidence-based research had been documenting for almost 100 years.
I realized, as a person living with type 1 diabetes, I was an incredible test subject for one of the most important questions in all of medicine: how does one reverse insulin resistance?
The answer to this question is the ticket to reversing pre-diabetes in over 80 million people in the United States, and to reversing type 2 diabetes in the vast majority of cases where insulin production is still adequate. And for people living with insulin-dependent diabetes like myself, it’s the ticket to reducing the risk of complications and being in full control of diabetes.
Transforming personal results into an evidence-based career
Since adopting a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet in 2006, here is what’s happened to my health:
My A1C has ranged from 5.3% to 6.2%, with just one A1C result at 6.6% in the past 12+ years
My latest A1C is 5.4%
90-day time-in-range as of writing is 88%, 4% low, <1% urgent low and 8% high (range is set as 70-180 mg/dL)
Average glucose of 124 mg/dL and a standard deviation of 39 mg/dL
I eat ~700 grams of total carbohydrate per day and inject ~26 total units of insulin (14 long-acting and 12 short-acting)
My fasting c-peptide is <0.01, essentially undetectable, which means I don’t have endogenous insulin production helping to improve my insulin sensitivity
Allergies are gone, no more medications needed
Plantar fasciitis is gone, no more blue boots at night
Acne is gone, no more creams, treatments or medications
I have loads of energy and crave moving my body
But a single personal story is not that meaningful.
In 2017, I started Mastering Diabetes with my co-founder, Dr. Cyrus Khambatta, who is also living with type 1 diabetes. Teaming up with Cyrus was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in life. He’s incredibly smart (bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford and PhD in nutritional biochemistry from UC Berkeley). He makes complex biochemistry easy to understand, he’s a phenomenal example of mastering type 1 diabetes with a healthy lifestyle and most importantly, he’s hilarious.
We created an online coaching platform that has helped thousands of people reverse insulin resistance. We offer a range of coaching programs that include large group coaching, small group coaching (groups of up to 12 people), private coaching (1-on-1 with a personal coach), and a do-it-yourself program for people who can implement the lifestyle by themselves.
Cyrus and I both oversee our amazing team of experienced coaches, run live Q&A calls and also work with clients privately. Our coaching program is 100% digital and provides different levels of support based on each individual’s needs.
At a minimum, our large group coaching program provides step-by-step instruction via an online course, online coaching in which questions are answered from coaches within 24 hours hours of posting, an online community in which members encourage each other daily and twice-monthly live Q&A calls with our coaching staff.
Our most affordable program is a $149 DIY program people get to keep for life. Our least expensive coaching option is $399/three months right now. Private coaching with one of our expert diabetes coaches is $1,799/three months.
Since the beginning, our online coaching program has changed the lives of more than 3,000 people around the world living with type 1 diabetes, type 1.5 diabetes, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Our case studies are numerous and growing every day. We not only help people lower their A1C and improve their blood glucose control but by reversing insulin resistance our clients are addressing the control node of diabetes complications. We have many case studies of the following conditions being reversed: heart disease, stage 3 kidney disease, fatty liver disease, retinopathy, neuropathy, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and more.
Endos endorse plant-based nutrition
Medical professionals are beginning to advocate for the benefits of low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition for people living with all forms of diabetes, particularly those living with type 1 diabetes.
Most people are concerned that eating high-carbohydrate foods such as bananas, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, buckwheat, and quinoa will lead to post-meal blood glucose spikes and subsequent crashes. Endocrinologists have found that combining truly low-fat diets (a maximum of 15% of calories coming from fat) and whole fiber-rich foods (including greens and non-starchy vegetables) results in remarkably stable blood glucose readings.
Dr. Saadia Alvi, an endocrinologist in Orlando, FL, has this to say about her type 1 patients: “Whole-food plant-based nutrition has been a powerful tool in my practice for my type 1’s. I educate and coach my patients to implement more plant based foods into their diet. The changes have helped improve quality of life by reduction in insulin doses, stabilization of glucose levels, and most importantly preventing low glucose levels that are often associated with anxiety.”
Dr. Arti Thangudu, an endocrinologist in San Antonio, TX, says: “Insulin resistance is a major issue for many adults with type 1 diabetes. I see profound improvements in insulin sensitivity, glycemic control and decreased insulin needs with a healthful plant-based diet in type 1 diabetes with the added benefit of significantly lowered LDL cholesterol. Patients find this diet freeing. I love how happy my patients are when I tell them they can enjoy fruit!”
In addition, this fiber-rich, nutrient-dense diet is loaded with pure water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals to benefit all tissues. In particular, the gut microbiome, which has become a fascinating area of recent research.
Passion to the max
Every single day, multiple times a day, I inject insulin to eat an outrageously delicious, nutrient-dense meal and experience true insulin sensitivity. Every day we receive new testimonials in our team inbox or on social media of others transforming their lives as they reverse insulin resistance in their own body.
It’s an amazing feeling. I’m grateful that type 1 diabetes has given me a clear purpose in life and feel very blessed for the opportunity to help others on a daily basis.
Thanks for sharing your story and your "Mastering Diabetes" program with us, Robby. It's hard to imagine managing the amount of carbs you consume each day, but we love your passion and efforts.