Jackie Romo stepped on a scale and smiled. After three weeks of increased physical activity and diet modifications, she'd lost five pounds — a small milestone toward her wellness goal of preventing diabetes.
Romo is overweight, and even though her blood sugar isn’t in the diabetes zone, her doctor had a dire warning: If she did not modify her lifestyle, she would face a future with diabetes.
“When he said I was obese and needed to make life changes to not get diabetes, it was a wakeup call,” she remembers. “My dad had diabetes and died young because of it. I don’t want that to be me.”
Although Romo’s doctor didn’t diagnose her with prediabetes, her A1C test result was 5.5% — a high normal. An A1C test is a blood test used to diagnose type 1 and type 2 diabetes. A percentage in the range of 5.7% to 6.4% is diagnosed as prediabetes.
Persons with prediabetes have elevated blood sugar levels higher than normal but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 84% of those who have prediabetes don't know it. Prediabetes increases a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke and early death.
Romo was at risk of receiving a prediabetes diagnosis in the near future. Being overweight, having a close relative diagnosed with diabetes, and being sedentary put her at higher chances for the disease.
Knowledge is power
“The first step is to find out if you are at risk for diabetes or if you have prediabetes,” shares Dr. Soe Naing, medical director of the Community Diabetes Education Center. It’s best to do that through a regular blood test at your doctor’s office, but you can also assess your risk at home.
The CDC provides a short, online prediabetes risk test that asks about diabetes in your family, blood pressure history, age, ethnicity, gender, height and weight. The test takes less than a minute. With your results, you get tips to improve your chances of preventing diabetes.
“When I took the risk test, I got a 5 out of 10. I was at high risk. I knew I needed to make changes,” Romo says. With advice from her doctor, Romo is working towards losing weight by adding more vegetables and fruits to her diet, and increasing her physical activity.
Lifestyle changes for health start with small steps
To prevent diabetes, the National Institutes of Health recommends losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight for those who’re overweight. This weight loss can help significantly reduce chances of developing diabetes.
After learning your risk, there are several things you can do to lose weight and improve your health. Dr. Naing says, “The key is small steps that lead to big rewards.” He suggests the following:
Eating smaller portions
Reducing fatty and fried foods
Making healthy food choices like vegetables, fruits, fish, lean meats, beans and peas, whole grains and low-fat dairy products
Starting with 15 minutes of physical activity daily and increasing it by 5 minutes per week to build up to the recommended 30 minutes a day
Even though modest lifestyle changes can be tough at the beginning, Dr. Naing encourages patients to not give up. “Keep at it! Even if you fall off a few times, the key is to just keep at it.”
Romo shares that she struggled at the beginning. “I wasn’t used to doing any exercise. I started walking around my block, now I am able to jog and walk for more than one mile.”
Have a game plan
Getting healthy and making lifestyle changes takes a community approach. After knowing your status, talk to your healthcare provider about local resources that can help with diet and nutrition information as well as physical activity referrals.
Share your weight loss goals with friends and family who can encourage and keep you accountable. Opt for walking, dancing or bike riding with your spouse, children or friends. Track your progress by using a handwritten or printed log, step counter or even on your smart phone.
And remember, diabetes is not a mandatory destination. Dr. Naing says that diabetes prevention is “proven, possible and powerful.”
Romo is living proof. “Making better food choices and moving more really does make a difference. I have more energy and I feel great. For me, this is not a sprint, it’s a lifetime race for my life,” she shares with a smile.