Philip Freedman: YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program Participant

Learn about Philip Freedman's experience with Diabetes and how the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program helped him.


I graduated with a graduate degree from M.I.T. in 1972. I began a career as a Professor and I weighed 160 pounds. Following our adult children out west, in 1997 I relocated from Boston, where I was Provost & Interim President of Bentley College in Waltham, MA to the Bay Area, where I was hired as Provost of Golden Gate University [GGU].  For six months, both institutions asked me to continue in both positions and travel between coasts weekly.  This arrangement was extremely stressful.  At the time I weighed 186 pounds.

Food was always a great source of comfort and pleasure to me and back then, the way to relieve stress was to enjoy even more.  By 1999, I was completely engaged at Golden Gate University [as President – more stress. In those two years I gained 20 pounds. By 2007, I had gained 100 pounds! At 286 pounds, I gained 10 pounds a year!

I left the Presidency of GGU in 2007, returned to being a professor and less stress lead to no more weight gain… but it didn’t mean I lost weight, I could only stabilize.

My physician, Dr. Ben-Zeev was relentless in pointing out the health dangers of carrying that much weight, but for a decade I couldn’t commit to change and moreover, I was sure it would not be possible to do so.

In 2015, Dr. Ben Zeev told me two things, 1. Blood tests showed I was headed for Diabetes [Glucose of 110] and 2. There was a program she wanted to put me into – it was the YMCA/ John Muir Diabetes Program.

The prospects of the disease were dire, I wanted to prevent it, but a PROGRAM – aarrgghh!  The alternative was some form of lap-band surgery – even worse.

So I reluctantly agreed to be enrolled.  I remember telling my wife, Susie, that as we approached the start date of March 5, 2015 – “my life as I know it will now be over – nothing good to eat ever again!” and ‘I’ll be sitting around SHARING!!! – nooooo”

On the first night, I meet Tracy Rogers, Program Coordinator [Fabulous Miracle Worker!].  She asked us three questions:

Why did I join the program? – Answer: “Ben-Zeev said I had to!”

What do I hope to achieve? – Answer: “Not much, but maybe a bit of improvement”

How will healthy eating and being active help me? – answer “Prevent disease or heart attack?”

I wanted to live to see my grandchildren grow up…

I had very low expectations. Was I wrong! So wrong!  The program changed my life! And so it started.  Goal: lose 7% of weight [20lbs] and increase exercise/activity from my ZERO base, to 150 min. a week.  I was told, do this and the risk of the onset of Diabetes goes down by 66%!  Great deal, except how was I going to do it?  Losing 20 pounds was daunting – I hadn’t lost 20 ounces in a decade!

But as hard as it was to conceive of the weight loss goal being accomplished, forget about the exercise goal – no way. I was a lifetime member of AA [Athletics Anonymous].

But Tracy knew how to get it started – slowly.  For the first several weeks, we concentrated on one goal… reducing fat in the diet. I was given a fat gram budget -55grams and told – eat what you want, but stick to the budget.  Fortunately I’m very statistically minded. With the help of the CalorieKing app, it was easy to chart.  I realized almost immediately that I had to become dedicated to the charting and more importantly, to calculate fat grams BEFORE eating a meal so as to not go over budget.

More veggies, less cheese. No cake, but zero fat Fig Newtons. More fish, less beef. Less Mayo and more Tzatziki [Greek yogurt with dill and cukes].

I began to lose weight! Three to four pounds a week! By week six, I was down to 262! It had been 15 years since I was that light!!

The next step was the dreaded exercise program – I was terrified.  I had purchased a treadmill and I was only able to do 5 minutes a day before exhaustion stopped me.  Tracy told me about “interval” exercising – instead of trying 3.5 for 5 min and giving up, she said to try 1.8 => 2.3 for 3 mi and then 2.0 and then 2.5 and such… I started to gain minutes.

By July, 2015, only 5 months in, I was down to 240 lbs. and 150 minutes a week – amazing.

Every summer from 1997 onward, my extended family would spend a special day in San Francisco.  Ferry from Jack London square to Pier One walk uphill to Chinatown – have dim sum at the Great Eastern on Jackson and afterwards, walk the 2 miles to Ghirardelli square.

I could never do the walk with the rest of the family.  It was taxi or Uber for me.  But this past summer, I not only made the whole walk, but I did it carrying a back pack and I wasn’t even winded!

And then I took another blood test – glucose = 95!  Wow.

By the end of the program this February, I was down to 220 pounds – a reduction of 66 pounds or a drop of 23%.   I never really suffered, because the program was so well designed. I got to know some amazing co-participants and I got to know the spectacular Tracy Rogers.

My wife of 48 years, Susie is delighted and in an unanticipated case of “collateral damage”, she lost 25 lbs. from 142 to 117. She’s looking to gain some back!

When people I know who hadn’t seen me every week, notice the extraordinary loss [52-inch waist to 44 inch and new clothes!] they ask. How did you do it...? I reply… Let me tell you a story!

To learn about the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program, Click Here.