Changing the Type 2 Diabetes World, One Planet Fitness at a Time
A Type 2 diabetes diagnosis was inevitable for John Brodie.
He’d served eight years in the military, following the required physical fitness regimen of running and resistance training on a near daily basis. He was a fit 187 pounds back then, in his mid-20s.
After leaving the military, however, Brodie, now 49, did what many working-age civilians do: He got a job, worked long hours, stopped exercising, and let his diet go. He worked in the wireless industry, building cell phone towers and networks across the state of Florida. Eighteen-hour days were common, and he was on the road traveling from job to job, up to 2,000 miles a week. When hungry, he ate what was convenient. In the car at 2:00 am, what’s open? Pretty much just fast food, so that’s what he grabbed.
The calories just started adding up, and I wasn’t able to burn it off, says Brodie. I was eating like I was still in the military, but I had become a couch potato.
Family History of Type 2 Diabetes
His 187-pound frame quickly grew to 250. But that’s not why his Type 2 diagnosis at age 32 came as no surprise. He could lose the weight if he needed to. The family history? That he couldn’t shake. Originally from Chula Vista, California, near San Diego, Type 2 diabetes starts at the top of his immediate family tree and falls all the way down, not missing a single branch along the way.
My mom was a diabetic. My dad’s diabetic. My sister’s diabetic. My brother’s a diabetic. So, it’s kind in our family.
He didn’t make a change right away. Most people don’t. He went about his life as normal, but it kept eating at him, the Type 2 diagnosis and how badly the disease had already affected his family. His own health was getting worse, and all the medications he was on weren’t going to make it any better. Sure, the meds would keep him alive for a while, but under what conditions and what quality of life?
About five years ago, my blood sugar levels were so out of control that I was at the point where I was thinking… ‘Man, I’m either going to lose a foot or lose my vision.’ I needed to do something. I wanted to get healthy. I wanted to not have to take the meds anymore. Because the meds tear your body apart.
Finding Planet Fitness
When it’s time for a change, what do you do? Diet and exercise, yes, but how? Where exactly? In Florida’s Pompano Beach area, there are gyms and nutrition stores around every corner. Pick one. John Brodie chose Planet Fitness.
I walked into a Planet Fitness sort of on accident. I went in and looked around and thought, ‘Yeah, this is a cool place.’ I had done the LA Fitness thing and other big, high-end clubs, but that wasn’t my thing. I couldn’t get into it, I couldn’t get comfortable. And then I went to Planet Fitness, and I ended up taking my entire family. My kids and my wife would come with me, and it became this fun thing that we were doing together. I didn’t know that going to the gym could actually be fun. I wasn’t killing myself, but I was getting on a consistent regimen. And that was the biggest thing. I got over the hump.
It doesn’t take long to start seeing big changes when you get consistent with exercise and a better diet. Brodie dropped 50 pounds, down to 200, in around three months. He was getting his blood sugars under control, too.
Changing your lifestyle is about environment as much as anything. The right environment, the right surroundings, being around the right people, makes all the difference. Brodie found this at Planet Fitness, of all places. Pricey boutique gyms and training studios site their tight-knit community atmosphere as a selling point, and rightfully so. But apparently, a positive, productive gym culture can be found for just $10 month.
Finding His Career Passion at the Gym
Brodie wanted to go further, though. He didn’t want diet and exercise to be a part-time thing. Being a member of Planet Fitness was great, but he wanted more of it. So he got a job there. Before long, he was the general manager of the Coconut Beach location.
Last year I said to myself, ‘I have to change my life. I have to change my mindset, I have to change everything.’ And that’s where the Planet Fitness employee piece came in. I decided that I need to be in a positive environment ALL the time. I kind of stumbled into the general manager position.
This place changed my life. It put me in a place of good harmony in mind, good harmony with my body. I work out constantly now. My blood sugars are very much under control right now.I’m around people who work out. The atmosphere is incredible. I’ve really found that place where we all strive to be. I enjoy work, and work is fun.
I work 12 hours a day, but I don’t have to. I’m here because I’m helping change peoples’ lives. People come in here and they want to try and get healthy. And this is a great atmosphere for people who have never worked out in a gym or have tried other places and it didn’t work out. They’re here working hard, and I get to be part of their lives. I get to help inspire them, and they inspire me to work harder and to give them a better club to work out at. To have somebody to tell their stories to. It’s more than just coming in and lifting weights. It’s an atmosphere of changing peoples’ lives.
Helping Other Type 2 Diabetics Take Control
Brodie is the type of GM who walks the floor of his club constantly. He’s not holed up in his office all day pouring over membership data and pursuing new leads. He’s making the rounds among the treadmills, greeting his members and asking them how they’re doing on their programs. They all know his story of being a Type 2 diabetic, because he’s not bashful in sharing it.
And when you share with others, they share with you. He knows their stories, too. Brodie estimates that 50%-60% of his members are Type 2 diabetics or pre-Type 2s.
And I’ll tell you, they’re all shapes and sizes. Some of them are skinny, some are overweight, and everything in between. It’s across the board. It’s not just one type of person. You can’t just point at someone and say, ‘That person’s a diabetic.’ I know Type 2 diabetics who are thin as a rail. You would look at them and have no idea.
I interact a lot with my members, with the people on my staff, and everyone around me. I want to share my story with people to provide hope and inspiration. And when I start sharing that I’m a Type 2 diabetic and that I used to be overweight and wear a size 40 in pants, they start opening up because we’re relating on the same level.
Challenges of Being a Type 2 Diabetic
Brodie knows what it is to be a diabetic. He wears the stigma, too. He knows what it’s like to have to answer to the “food police,” as he calls it.
People know I’m a diabetic, so when we go out to eat or if I’m bringing my lunch into the club, they’re basically looking over my shoulder saying, ‘Can you eat that?’ Once you tell people you’re a Type 2 diabetic, everyone becomes a nutrition expert, trying to tell you what you can and can’t eat. That’s why a lot of diabetics don’t tell people they have diabetes – because they don’t want people telling them what to do and what to eat and making comments. Which is another reason I’m so open about it. Because I’ve been there. I’ve been a diabetic a long time now. I know what it’s like for someone to say to me, ‘You can’t eat that.’ I want people to know there’s someone here who knows what they’re going through.
What’s the hardest part about making a lifestyle change for a Type 2 diabetic? Finding time for exercise? Figuring out what foods to eat and which to avoid? No, says Brodie. Those are just the tangible things. The most difficult aspects are those you can’t see.
I’ll be honest, a lot of it is emotional. You’re battling everything you see and smell. If you go to a restaurant and something smells good, in your mind you’re telling yourself, ‘You can’t eat that.’ And when you do fall off and have a piece of candy or whatever, you feel horrible about it. And then you’re depressed because you know it’s going to impact your body in a negative way. There’s this whole emotion that goes around everything we do. And there’s times when you go, ‘I don’t care…’ and you go off the deep end. There’s a struggle. There are times when you say to yourself, ‘I’m not a diabetic today.’ You argue with yourself. It’s depressing. That’s why a lot of diabetics are suicidal.
Not only does he know what diabetics go through; Brodie seems to know what Type 2s want as well. It’s not a huge ask, really. A normal life, that’s all.
Nobody wants to feel out of place, especially when they’re eating. A lot of times, people just want to be able to sit down at a meal and enjoy it. But it’s complicated with diabetes, because you look at foods differently. Some people may look at a food and say, ‘That’s too rich for me.’ But a diabetic looks at it and says, ‘That food could take a part of my life away.’
Most diabetics just want to feel normal. They want to be able to go to a restaurant and eat like a normal person and not feel guilty. A lot of times when we talk to people here at the gym who have Type 2 diabetes, they say, ‘I don’t want to die, I don’t want to lose a foot. I just want to be normal.’
John Brodie’s Swee2ooth Experience
In the summer and fall of 2018, Swee2ooth co-founder Thom Zwawa was a regular member at Brodie’s Coconut Beach, Florida, Planet Fitness location. The two struck a friendship immediately, due in part to their shared experiences with Type 2 diabetes: Zwawa diagnosed at age 37 and, now 53, having reversed it; Brodie hoping to do the same at age 49.
Knowing Zwawa had created Swee2ooth specifically for Type 2 and pre-Type 2 diabetics, Brodie was intrigued. But he was also a bit skeptical.
There’s stuff I eat that doesn’t impact my blood sugars but probably would other peoples’. That’s why Swee2ooth was an interesting product to me when Thom brought it over. Because most of the time when you start talking about “diabetic food,” it tastes horrible. They put so much stuff in it to make it healthy that it doesn’t taste good. So, when Thom came in with the Swee2ooth, I was skeptical, because I’d been down the path of trying stuff that’s healthy but that would gag a horse.
But then I tried it, and let me tell you… First, it tasted good. It wasn’t complicated. I didn’t have to mix it with a bunch of stuff to make it taste good. It tasted good on its own just with water. Thom and I sat here in my office taking shots of it, and I’m thinking, “Man, this tastes good. Is it just me wanting it to taste good, though?”
So, I started calling my staff in. And in fact, I called two GMs from other clubs and they came over. We’re all sitting here doing shots of the three different flavors, and we’re amazed. It went down great. It tasted good. There was no aftertaste. There was no heartburn. No bitter, crappy, vitamin taste to it.
Test #1 was passed. And now it was time to experiment with it. I took it home and bought some fruit, because I know fruit tends to spike to my blood sugar. But this was the test: Can I have my little sweet treat at night without it spiking my sugars? I mixed up some mango and pineapple with the Vanilla Swee2ooth, using just water. It was frozen fruit, so it had a nice, cool, refreshing, tropical taste to it. And man, I drank it and it was wonderful.
But the real test was an hour and a half later, when I tested my blood sugar. There was no spike. An hour and a half later is normally when you see the spike. But there was none. And I’m like, holy crap.
But the real-REAL test, I thought to myself, will be tomorrow morning, when this has been sitting in my body and liver overnight. I checked my blood the next morning and it was 75. The shake with fruit had no impact on my diabetes at all. I was amazed.