Dr. Mehmet Oz

Photo: Ruven Afanador

1 of 5
Before I begin most cardiovascular surgeries, I look into the eyes of the patient lying on the table and wonder, "What led her here? Could she have avoided this operation?"

The majority of people who end up in my OR are overweight or obese, and many have type 2 diabetes. The fact is, diabetes has become an epidemic. There are now nearly 26 million diabetics in this country; and at least one in five girls and one in four boys born in the year 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetimes. Type 2 diabetics are up to four times as likely to die from heart disease. It's estimated that women diagnosed by the time they're 40 will lose 14 years, on average, from their lives; men, almost 12.

But here is a source of great hope: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine determined that more than 90 percent of type 2 diabetes cases can be prevented by lifestyle changes. The disease is often triggered by poor diet and inactivity, because fat interferes with the body's ability to use insulin, the hormone that ferries glucose from our bloodstream into our cells. When glucose can't get into the cells, it builds up in the blood and can lead to problems ranging from poor circulation to nerve damage, kidney failure, and blindness. Over the course of my career, I've watched patients who were destined for diabetes completely rewrite their fate by losing weight and getting in shape. In fact, even if you already have diabetes, drastic changes in your habits can put you into remission, as long as those changes are permanent.

I have developed a four-week strategy to help at-risk patients start down a healthier path. It's a gradual process, with each week building on the last. Just remember: This isn't a simple diet-and-exercise plan. It's a whole new philosophy that could save your life.

Next: The best thing about week 1: You can keep your coffee!