Written by: H Yusufali.

Having lived his whole life in the city, the author loves all things Leicester, in particular its local football team. He is also an advocate for human rights.

Whenever I think about diabetes, two things spring to mind: firstly, diabetes has not been very kind to my family, one can say it is our arch nemesis (my grandfather was and my father is a diabetic); and secondly, the South Asian community is at greater risk of suffering from diabetes and associated illnesses than any other community. You may think that this is a very morbid outlook towards the disease, and I cannot begrudge you for thinking that way; however, it is also the harsh reality.

Now, I am far from qualified to talk about diabetes and a healthy way of living; I am a heavy individual myself and shudder at the thought of eating a salad for lunch. I am not a medical professional, nor am I someone who has a treasure trove of knowledge on the topic. However, because of my personal experiences, what I can talk about is how my outlook on the disease changed because of something my community did, and for that, I am ever so grateful. My community, the Leicester Dawoodi Bohras, under the guidance of His Holiness Dr Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS, organised a diabetes walk to help spread awareness about diabetes and raise money for charities fighting the disease. It was His Holiness’ TUS message of keeping active and eating healthy that was the fulcrum for the event and provided me with extra motivation to make changes to my own lifestyle.

The event was created to unite everyone, regardless of race, religion, age, or gender in the fight against diabetes. The cosmopolitan nature of the event and the charitable work carried out by members of the community, along with the clear message of the dangers caused by the disease, was eye opening – it made me realise that diabetes affects us all regardless of what walk of life you are from.

I always knew that diabetes was bad, and I also knew that because of my age (I had not yet reached 30), it may be some time before diabetes would affect me. Additionally, because I was naive, I never gave the disease much thought or respect (I say respect, because a lack of it could be fatal). The English saying ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,’ rings true with many illnesses and diseases; the more you know about it, the better prepared you are to combat it. After all, prevention is better than cure. The event provided me with greater insight into the effects diabetes has on all parts of your body such as the eyes, the heart, and the limbs, and armed with that information, I was better prepared to tackle the dangers posed by the disease.

The knowledge that I learnt from the event resonated with me and made me worry not only about myself, but more crucially, my father. I had already lost my grandfather to a diabetes related illness and I was determined to ensure that the same fate did not follow my father. My family and I knew that drastically changing my father’s lifestyle would be met with firm resistance and so baby steps were the way forward. We started with cutting sugary drinks and sweets from my father’s diet, followed by potatoes and carbohydrates (this was met with the greatest of resistance as bread was my father’s greatest weakness). My father is now at a stage where he eats a portion of salad with his dinner every day (I should caveat this by saying that there are days where my father treats himself to something sweet and unhealthy within reason). I have also noticed that my father is now more mindful about his portions, drawing inspiration from the counsel of Imam Ali bin abi Talib AS which guides us to limit our intake of food even though we may still desire more. To most, these changes may not be drastic and forgive the pun – a cake walk – but to my father it was his Everest, and he is slowly climbing its peak. My father has by no means reached the level of health my family and I want him to attain; however, he is slowly beginning to manage his diabetes (his blood sugar level is becoming stable), and make the necessary lifestyle changes.

Yes, diabetes is a deadly disease, and yes, it is likely that many of us with a South Asian background will be affected by it. However, all is not lost. The disease is preventable, and if you have the misfortune of having it, it is certainly manageable. I was lucky that through my community and the event they organised I was made aware of the impact diabetes can have on our lives and was then able to seek more information from medical health professionals about how to manage it or better yet, prevent its onset altogether.

To quote Forrest Gump ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get’ is apt when talking about diabetes. Firstly, because chocolates have a high sugar content and too many can lead to diabetes; and secondly, life is unpredictable, and we ought to be grateful for what we have. Forrest was also told to ‘run Forrest, run’; however, in the spirit of the diabetes walk I would like to rephrase the saying to ‘walk Forrest, walk.’

We should not be running scared from diabetes, rather, we should meet the challenge head on and march towards alleviating ourselves from it through gradual changes in lifestyle and eating habits.