Diabetes Forecast

Faces of Type 2: David Chu

Managing diabetes is about walking the walk

By Allison Tsai , ,

David Chu
Photograph by Khue Bui

When David Chu moved to the United States from China in the 1970s, he was the picture of perfect health: an avid marathoner and basketball player who followed a balanced diet. When his mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later in life, Chu felt he had taken care of himself enough to stave off any risk.

But things changed five years ago. At age 63, Chu started feeling fatigued and noticed his vision was blurry. He went to see an endocrinologist who confirmed his fear: type 2 diabetes.

Anger and Denial

Initially, Chu was indignant about the diagnosis. “I felt that I had done my part and watched my diet,” he says. “And I felt that would be enough to offset [the risk], even though in the back of my mind [I knew] there was a family history.”  

Chu also had to overcome his own stigma about diabetes. “I did not want to think for my ego and my public image that I was diabetic,” he says.

Few people believe him when he tells them he has type 2 because he doesn’t fit the typical profile—he’s fit, still plays basketball, and walks 45 minutes to two hours every day. “People say, ‘You look so healthy,’ and I say, ‘This is what I thought, too, until the medical facts pointed to the reality for me.’ ”

Acceptance and Dedication

Chu was wary about having to take medication for the rest of his life. Unlike vitamins, which he took without question to boost his health, medication was more serious—it meant there was a true medical problem. But, he realized, he had to depend on meds to avoid future problems.

That threat—namely, the possibility of diabetes-related complications—gave Chu good reason to manage his blood glucose. “Mainly, I was driven by fear because I know the adverse consequences,” he says. “I try to stick with my plan, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. The management of diabetes, to me, is job No. 1.”

This means sticking to a balanced diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. He’s also careful to limit his carbohydrate intake after 2 p.m. And he practices a little trick he calls “micro-portioning” for when he wants a little treat: “[I eat] just a very little bit of a chocolate chip cookie, cheesecake, or ice cream,” he says. “That [is] my little compromise.”

Exercise and Escape

Chu treats his daily walk (sometimes he walks twice a day near his Midlothian, Virginia, home) as a time to listen to music and let his thoughts roam. He walks to the rhythm of his music and admires the natural scenery, taking a picture here and there to send to friends. It’s his time to reflect, center himself, and focus on well-being. At times, his 45-minute walk will turn into a two-and-a-half-hour stroll, simply because he’s enjoying the activity. He even plans ahead, including breakfast or a snack for long walks so he has enough energy to continue his trip and stave off lows.

He believes physical activity to help manage diabetes doesn’t have to be hard labor: Walking, yoga, and tai chi all fit the bill. “If you join a health club, great. And if you don’t join a health club, that’s fine too,” he says. “There are many ways of handling this.”

Now and Beyond

Eventually Chu was able to see his diagnosis as a blessing in disguise—something that forced him to evaluate his lifestyle. “Otherwise, I would not pay so much attention to what I eat and how I live,” he says.

His biggest motivation? Quality of life. “I try to prolong the healthy, independent days,” Chu says. “I can walk around, do my own thing, and pursue my interests.”

At Risk

Asian Americans are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes at a lower body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height)than other people. The American Diabetes Association recommends that Asian Americans be screened for diabetes if they have a BMI of 23 or higher; the screening guideline is 25 or higher for everyone else.

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