By Polly Keary, Editor
At 61, after many years of struggling with her weight and health, Nan Whybark of Sultan was running out of hope. Her doctor told her that she was pre-diabetic. She was afraid she would never be able to turn things around before she wound up seriously ill.
But then her doctor told her about the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, a year-long lifestyle program designed to help people make permanent changes in the way they eat and exercise.
Today, Whybark is in better health than she’s been in years, has lost more than 25 pounds and gets regular exercise.
The Monroe YMCA is soon to start another of the year-long classes, and people whose doctors have found that they are at risk of type 2 diabetes can qualify to enroll.
Long term lifestyle changes
The idea of committing to a year-long class might intimidate some, but Whybark liked the idea.
“It was encouraging to me that it wasn’t just three weeks or six weeks; that it was a whole year,” she said. “I felt like in a year with support I can make the changes I need to make.”
For the first 16 weeks, the group met weekly. Each week, the course administrator introduced a new topic.
The participants learned to examine food labels for hidden fat content, the difference between fat and carbohydrate calories, and the way they affect the body.
“I thought I was pretty good at eating a fairly healthy diet, but boy, I was really surprised,” said Whybark.
The people taking the course also kept a log of everything they ate and drank.
The goal of the class was to help everyone enrolled to lose seven percent of their weight, develop better eating habits, reduce their fat intake and get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week.
Whybark had enjoyed physical activity in the past, such as hiking and swimming, but those activities were hard to do at a heavier weight.
“I think a lot of us were in the same boat,” she said.
But the YMCA gave everyone in the group a free three-month membership, and Whybark started taking a few classes.
“They have programs for everyone, no matter what your ability,” she said. “I started H2O fitness, a water aerobics class. It was great.”
Once the first 16 weeks were over, the group started meeting once a month, and will for the rest of the year.
Whybark started the program in September; six months in she’s lost 25 pounds and gone from a size 20 to a size 16.
She walks three miles at a time carrying three pound weights. She’s progressed from 20 minutes to 45 minutes of exercise a day. And her cholesterol and other markers of pre-diabetes are all down.
“I’m toning, gaining muscle and endurance, and I can feel the difference in myself,” she said. “I’m much more energetic. I feel a lot lighter. I can move much better.”
The camaraderie and the nonjudgmental leadership have been key to her success, she added.
“The leader, Megan, she’s been wonderful,” said Whybark. “She’s not preachy or condemning. She’s understanding and empathetic, and we all talk about the struggles we are having with the weight loss and the eating, and we feel the support of each other and we are rooting for each other, and encouraging those who are still struggling.”
Everyone in the class has made at least some improvement, Whybark said.
She hopes to lose another 55 pounds.
“I’d be delighted if I could lose that,” she said. “I think I’d be at a healthy place for my body.”
New program starts March 5
The program that Whybark is taking was actually developed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
“The program is part of the CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program and is highly evidence-based; research by the National Institutes of Health found that this lifestyle program can reduce the number of cases of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent (compared to a common drug, metformin, which reduces the number of cases by only 31%),” said Andrea Weiler, Healthy Living Director at the Monroe YMCA.
Deb Nalty, a Monroe physician and medical director of Providence Clinic in Monroe said the program has been valuable for her clients.
“For lifestyle changes, long-term support is needed and the program provides it,” she said. “It is reasonably priced, about the same as Weight Watchers, and is much more comprehensive. Diabetes is reversible with lifestyle changes and this program is the only one of its kind around. I am so grateful we have it.”
In order to qualify for the program, a person must be 18 or older, have a BMI of greater than 25 and have test results that show the person to be at high risk of type 2 diabetes.
There are many good reasons to avoid type 2 diabetes. Common complications of the condition include blindness, dental disease, lower limb amputation, increased risk of stroke and heart disease, and premature death. People with diabetes also average more than twice the medical expenses of those without.
A new Diabetes Prevention Program will start at the Monroe YMCA March 5 and will meet Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.
To learn about fees (many YMCA program costs are income-based) and about qualifying, contact Andrea Weiler at the Monroe YMCA at (360) 453-2190.