Threat of diabetes changes Houston entrepreneur Richard Yoo’s lifestyle


Richard Yoo isn’t one to settle for the status quo.

He credits his time in high school with showing him that pursuing his own interests could be more rewarding than paths that others might prescribe.

Yoo’s teachers recognized that when he acted out in class, the reason was boredom. They placed him in a gifted and talented program.

“I immediately became more engaged,” he said. “It was all about, ‘What are you interested in? Let’s go research that.’ It was self-motivated. I could deep-dive into things.”

That spirit stuck with Yoo in college, where he eventually dropped out to focus full time on digital. “I started my first business,” he said. “I knew this was the future. I didn’t know what it would look like, but I knew this was awesome.”

In 1998, he created a web-hosting company — and retired in 2006, two years before the business went public. He was only 32 at the time.

Now his interest in new ventures in technology comes with his role of advising emerging start-ups.

“With technology, there’s not a textbook,” Yoo said. “Other industries are much slower. With technology, if you write a textbook today, it will be outdated. When I got into health, I realized, the pace is just as fast.”

That was part of the appeal to Yoo. He started his own journey into diet and fitness about five years ago. Since then, he’s been able to dive into the research and see how to apply it in practice in his life — in much the same way as he has with technology.

“I enjoy the pace of the new research and recognizing new data, “he said. “It’s a familiar playground for me.”

When it comes to his health, Yoo doesn’t want to wait years to find out that he should have been doing something. He prefers to get started right away.

Intermittent fasting was where it really began, Yoo said.

“I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the idea of living longer,” he said.

For a while, Yoo wanted to know about the possibility of cryogenic freezing upon death.

“It was really interesting, but it’s not something that’s going to happen anytime soon,” he said. “But living to 100 – that’s a plausible thing.”

One thing that stood in the way of a long life was a family history of diabetes.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ you’ll get diabetes, but ‘when,’” he remembers his doctor saying.

Yoo knew that something would have to change to avoid the risk.

Around the same time, he became fascinated with the work of investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, whose research led her to write, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.”

“She now eats meat, butter and all of this stuff she totally avoided in her life,” Yoo recalled. “She felt duped.”

Yoo also began to peel back the layers and question all his knowledge about health.

“I felt I had been lied to,” he said. “I started to doubt everything. All of this healthy doubt started to crop up.”

Throughout his childhood, Yoo thought his physician’s words were gospel – but he learned that lobbyists, the government and pharmaceutical companies were all too often influencing medical decisions.

“It all suddenly clicked that we didn’t know how this works,” he said. “It just blew my mind. I realized I have to take ownership of my health. This was disappointing and exciting all at once. But I didn’t know what to do about it.”

Then he discovered Michael Mosley, a television journalist with the BBC who started researching fasting.

Mosley introduced the 5:2 diet on a television documentary, “Eat, Fast & Live Longer” in 2012. The idea was to fast two days of each week. He wrote “The Fast Diet” a year later, outlining exactly how the process worked.

Yoo also learned that populations that restricted their caloric intake lived longer.

He decided to give fasting a try.

“That first week, I thought I was going to die,” he said. “It was so terrible. But I was convinced by the book.”

In his second month of 5:2, the power of eating started to wear off. At the same time, he lost about 20 pounds.

A year passed since his last doctor visit, so he went for a check up and his numbers all looked better – even his blood sugar.

“I continued fasting,” he said.

Yoo added the practice of “Time Restricted Feeding” or TRF to his regimen, which calls for eating all meals during an eight-hour period of the day.

Yoo also started following the ketogenic diet. “There’s all this new science that says fat is good for you,” he said.

Other research explored insulin levels and relations to cancer and heart attack. The keto diet, Yoo explained, could help the body maintain glucose levels and reduce the need for insulin.

“For me, this journey was triggered by diabetes and wanting to live as long as I can,” Yoo said. “I want to put in the least amount of effort and get the best results. I’m not going to run a marathon or prepare certain meals.”

He will, however, just restrict what and when he eats.

“It turns out, in the scheme of things, not eating is relatively easy,” Yoo said.

In addition, he’s become more interested in the importance of gut bacteria and has tried to add probiotics to his diet.

When Mosley’s book, “FastExercise: The Simple Secret of High-Intensity Training,” was released, Yoo picked it up.

“I couldn’t wait to hear what he was going to say,” Yoo said. “I couldn’t wait to figure out the hack for exercise.”

He learned from the book that staying in a target heart rate did not have to last for very long.

“I knew that I would never do that much exercise,” Yoo said. “I don’t like running. I don’t like sweating. It’s hot here. I don’t like wasting my time on a treadmill.”

Instead, he discovered he could exercise for 15 minutes a week.

“It’s more getting in and out of that window that gets you health benefits,” he said.

Yoo started exercising for five minutes, three times a week. Each session, he’s aware of a need to get his heart rate up as quickly as possible.

“Oscillation is key,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing any less exercise than this and still calling it exercise.”

Now, he actually performs better on his stress tests than he did in his 30s.

In total, he’s lost about 40 pounds and is down to his weight in college. But most importantly, he said, he feels healthier and more energetic.

“It’s a constant struggle to make sure, I’m stacking the odds in my favor,” Yoo said.

Ultimately, he has learned to take ownership of his health.

“I have to do the homework,” he said. “I have to be in control of my own body. I cannot outsource it. It’s been a journey over the past five years. It’s been exhausting but rewarding and eye-opening.”

Yoo suggests asking, who is in control of your health?

“If you decide to do it, then are you getting the best care possible?” he said.

You are the only person who really knows how you feel each day of the year, Yoo explained.

“You know what you’re eating; you know how you’re sleeping,” he said. “The only person who can really monitor and make sure you’re doing well is yourself.”

Yoo said anyone can decide to take ownership of their health and make their own needed adjustments.

“Today, we’re in a culture where everything is outsourced,” Yoo said. “The needle is starting to swing the other way. It’s becoming more like, ‘I should take care of my body and not listen to what someone else tells me to do.’”

That’s a mantle Dr. Medhavi Jogi wishes more patients would take up. The adult endocrinologist met Yoo, because their children attend the same elementary school, and the doctor’s wife grew up on the same street as Yoo.

“We hit it off immediately, because his interest happens to overlap with my practice,” Jogi said.

He explained that often doctors are charged with finding medicine to address a problem, but often pharmaceuticals have side effects and preventive care might have better results.

Losing weight could help those facing diabetes, high cholesterol, heart attack and stroke, Jogi added. In fact, he personally is mainly vegan and practices intermittent fasting.

“I do advise my patients to do it, and it doesn’t require anything but a watch,” he said.

Jogi said eating healthy and losing weight sets the body up to heal. “Your own body can fix itself,” he said. “Your body is amazing. It can heal itself if you let it.”

Yogi believes that patients should follow in Yoo’s footsteps and learn about health. “We all have an iPhone now, and we’re all researchers,” he said.

Still, Yogi said Yoo is unusual. “Not only does he gain the knowledge, but he has a mental fortitude to do that,” he said. “He has the willpower, which is unusual.”

Yogi said Yoo represents a small number of patients who are willing to learn and adjust their habits to live longer, healthier lives, who are interested in working hard and reaping the rewards. He hopes that changes in the future.

“How do you approach the other 99 percent?” he asked. “That’s a very difficult problem.”

Have you made a healthy transformation? If you or someone

you know should be featured, email

us at health@chron.com



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