One look at Brett Kahn and you’d never doubt this 30-year-old Mount Pleasant man is a bona fide bodybuilder. But a chiropractor? Maybe. And a diabetic? Definitely not.
It turns out, though, that Kahn, who co-owns Mobility Spine and Rehab Center off Long Point Road, checks off all three boxes.
The Michigan native has been dealing with Type 1 diabetes for nearly a decade. His daily regime has long revolved around eating the right foods and keeping physically fit, but last year, he decided to take that healthy lifestyle to the next level.
That’s when Kahn entered a local bodybuilding contest and found out he had a knack for “Men’s Physique,” a division of competition geared to men who “keep fit and eat a healthy balanced diet but who prefer to develop a less muscular, yet athletic and aesthetically pleasing physique,” according to the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness.
Kahn place first in his division.
“I did pretty well,” he said. “And then, I did another (competition) last year and I won my division and I won overall for the show.”
Now, he’s done with the amateur league. Kahn earned his professional bodybuilding card at a show in Chicago last month.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” he admitted. “A lot of people work years and years for that.”
Now, he’s preparing for a national competition this year or next and has been busy courting sponsors, all in his spare time, of course.
“It can’t take up too much of my time because it’s a hobby, it’s not a job,” he said.
Kahn recently sat down with The Post and Courier to talk about diabetes, bodybuilding and how other diabetic patients can manage their condition.
The following conversation has been edited for length.
Q: When did you develop Type 1 diabetes?
A: When it started, I was actually in college. I was playing college football at Michigan State University, which is a Division One program, and it requires a lot of you, physically.
Somewhere towards the end of my sophomore year, into my junior year, I just started feeling off. I didn’t feel right. I was real tired, lethargic. I was losing a ton of weight and saw doctors here and there, didn’t really know what was going on at the time. What was happening was my pancreas was slowly stopping secreting insulin.
By my senior season, when things had gotten pretty bad, I had lost 20-something pounds. That’s what happens when your blood sugar has been so high for so long.
Traditionally, it was called juvenile diabetes, but that trend is kind of shifting. Now, they’re utilizing the term Type 1 because there’s a lot of individuals who are getting it much later.
If you look at the statistics, I believe more individuals are being diagnosed between 16 and early 30s now.
Q: How did your lifestyle change after you were diagnosed?
A: I became a lot more food-conscious. Prior to that, I could really eat whatever. I was lucky with my metabolism.
The biggest thing for me was really looking at foods: what’s in it, how many carbs, where is it on the glycemic index, what activity am I going to be doing?
It’s all day, every day, 24/7.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue bodybuilding?
A: Growing up, playing sports, I’ve always been active. I’ve always loved to compete and push myself in that manner. When you’re eating a cleaner diet and you’re spacing your meals out, it kind of mirrors (the diet) that one would eat when competing in a physique show, like bodybuilding.
My division is men’s physique, specifically, which is less of the huge, monster-type guys and more of an aesthetic, cover-of-Men’s Health, beach-type look. You wear board shorts. You don’t wear the posing trunks like bodybuilders do.
It allowed me to continue to eat healthy, which helped me manage my blood sugar levels, my Type 1, even better. It also helped me train when I needed to in a manner that I avoid injury. Plus, I love the human body, anatomy, nutrition. Everything was just kind of right up my alley.
Q: But this must be much more difficult that just eating right and exercising.
A: There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that you have to do in order to gain one or two pounds of muscle. It’s almost like you’re an artist with clay — trying to add a little here, take a little there — which is the fun part for me because I love the science, the strategy behind it. It takes a lot.
Q: Is there anything you don’t eat now, that’s totally off limits?
A: No. Everything in moderation.
If I’m competing, I’m eating 95 percent clean. If I’m not, 80 percent clean. And by clean, I mean, whole foods, clean sources of protein, clean sources of carbs, vegetables, fruits, those sorts of things.
I personally don’t go really, really low-carb or no-carb. I need energy and I prefer to have more carbs in my diet and maybe do a little more cardio. These are things that you learn and see how your body responds to as you compete a little bit.
Giving yourself the ability to be human, to be flexible and still have those meals out, those sweet treats, keeps you sane and keeps things balanced, too.
Q: Most diabetic patients don’t work out as much as you do, and many of them don’t manage their diets quite so rigorously. Do you have any basic advice for them?
A: The biggest thing is trying to come up with a game plan and a strategy. What does your day look like? What should you be eating and when should you be eating it?
And then being consistent with it. The consistency being the most important part.
You can really live a life much like anyone else, as a Type 1 when it comes to types of foods you can eat.
That’s a common misconception. They say, “Oh, you’re a diabetic. You can’t have this.” Well, if you’re keeping your blood glucose levels in a tight range and you understand exactly how what you’re eating will affect your blood glucose and account for it based on the insulin you’re taking, then you can. At the same time, if you’re just guessing what’s in that, that makes it difficult.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.