Diabetes Forecast

Faces of Type 2: Guillermo Ybarra

After dropping 125 pounds and picking up cycling, one man is showing his friends and family what healthy looks like

By Allison Tsai , ,

Guillermo Ybarra
Photograph by Sandy Huffaker

Two years can make a big difference. Guillermo Ybarra is proof: During that time, he drastically changed his lifestyle, lost 125 pounds, cut his A1C in half, and eliminated his need to take medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Seeing Signs

Getting to that point wasn’t easy for Ybarra, 36, who weighed 369 pounds when he first noticed symptoms that would lead to his diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. “I was working late,” he says. “And just driving home from work, a lot of the signs on the freeway were blurry to me.”

He made an appointment with his primary care doctor, thinking he might need glasses, but the doctor asked him questions about a family history of diabetes. In fact, Ybarra’s father has type 2 diabetes. Ybarra’s blood glucose test in the office was 400 mg/dl. He was told to go to the emergency room immediately to get his blood glucose under control.

But that was the relatively easy part for Ybarra, who had a hard time accepting the diagnosis. “I was kind of in denial about being diabetic,” he says. “I [thought], ‘This is just a one-time thing. It can’t really happen to me.’ ”

Getting Serious

During a follow-up visit later that year, Ybarra got a wake-up call. His A1C was out of control at 10.1 percent, and his doctor wanted to prescribe insulin. “That was something I didn’t want to do because I’ve seen my father go from first diagnosed to medications to insulin, and currently he’s on dialysis,” he says. “I [was] thinking, ‘I’m about to be 35, and it seems like I’m heading down the same route as my dad.’ ”

He asked the doctor to give him another three months to continue taking oral medication while he changed his lifestyle. The adjustments were small at first—he ate healthier and took walks several times a week. By the time he went back for his next appointment, his A1C had dropped, and his doctor told him to keep up what he was doing.

But a second wake-up call came in the form of a picture. “I knew I was overweight, but I never really noticed it until I saw a picture at a friend’s barbeque,” he says. “At that point, I decided to take my lifestyle change to a whole other level.”

Joining a Team

Ybarra’s first step was to enroll in an intensive weight-loss program through his employer, Kaiser Permanente, which involved a five-month liquid diet. The weight came off quickly, and the cravings for bad-for-you foods fell away. “I didn’t have a lot of the challenges that other people [in the program] had,” Ybarra says. “I was ready for it. I didn’t give myself another option.”

A team of health professionals—including a physician, nutritionist, and psychologist—oversaw the program, which required group sessions focused on nutrition, emotional eating triggers, and overall health. Once Ybarra got his weight down, he moved on to the second phase of the program: Solid food was reintroduced into his eating plan, along with tools to make better choices and prepare nutritious meals.

Over the course of about a year, Ybarra transformed. “My A1C went from a 10.1 to a 5.1, and [my doctor] took me completely off all medications,” he says.

While looking for motivation, Ybarra researched diabetes online and came across the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure® event, which inspired him to cycle; he’s now on his local San Diego Tour de Cure organizing committee. For the second year in a row, he plans to ride tandem with his cousin, who lost his eyesight due to diabetes complications. They’re both honored as Red Riders, participants who ride with diabetes.

Inspiring by Example

Once Ybarra went through his transformation, his friends and coworkers took note—and made their own lifestyle changes. “One of my best friends started going to the same program that I did, and she’s lost over 100 pounds,” he says. “I guess I started the ball rolling for people.”

Even though Ybarra has achieved his goals, he still pushes himself to try new activities. He’s training for a triathlon and will participate in his first half marathon in November.

“My life went from just work and hanging out to: ‘Where am I am going to run? Where am I going to ride? Where am I going to swim?’ ” he says. “I feel like I got a whole new chance at life.”

Type 2

  • There are several type 2 risk factors that you can’t control. Age, race, gender, and family history all play a role in type 2 risk.
  • There are a few type 2 risk factors that you can control. Weight loss, physical activity, and healthy eating can help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Interested in participating in Tour de Cure?

Learn about rides in your area at tour.diabetes.org or by calling your local ADA office. If cycling isn’t your activity of choice, you can sign up for your local Step Out®: Walk to Stop Diabetes® event at stepout.diabetes.org.



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