Sitting opposite her GP, Cynthia thought she knew what was coming. A blood pressure test had registered high and the mum-of-three assumed she was about to get advice on managing her ongoing high blood pressure. She wasn’t expecting to hear that she had type 2 diabetes.
Cynthia had seen her late dad struggle to manage his type 2 diabetes with insulin, needing to inject himself several times a day, and discovering she might be on a similar path terrified her. ‘I was only 32 when I lost Dad to complications from diabetes,’ she says. ‘With my youngest aged 11, I knew I didn’t want my three boys to go through that same grief.’
Type 2 diabetes is a condition where your body can’t regulate the amount of sugar in your blood and, if left unchecked, it can eventually affect all the organs in your body, leading to serious complications. Cynthia had already noticed some classic symptoms – fatigue, thirst, blurred vision, headaches – but she’d put them down to other causes, like getting older, stress and the fact that she wore glasses.
Determined to make a change
Like 90% of people with type 2 diabetes, Cynthia found her weight was a contributing factor. There’s good news, though... Managing the condition through lifestyle changes, medication, or a combination of both, can make a big difference, says Sarah Woodman, a dietitian who works with the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation. ‘In some cases, losing weight can cause the symptoms to disappear and bring your blood sugar to a healthy level.’
Reassured by the doctor that there were things she could do to manage the condition, Cynthia felt determined. She knew it would mean making changes to the way she was eating, but she was all too aware of how much her dad’s life had been affected as his diabetes had progressed.
Our lives revolved around his injections, so when I thought about my options – making healthy changes, or trying to fit in medicating myself between rushing around after the kids and for work – it didn’t seem like a difficult choice.
Cynthia was offered a one-day NHS education course, known as the DESMOND programme (Diabetes Education and Self Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed). ‘The course was an eye-opener,’ Cynthia says. ‘Because of Dad’s experiences, I thought I knew about diabetes – I’d believed sugar was the main cause, so I’d stopped taking it in my tea, even though I was still eating chocolate and cakes. On the course, I discovered sweet foods are just part of the picture. Certain refined carbohydrates, like white bread, cause a sharp rise in blood sugar – and I’d been in the habit of eating four slices of toast at a time.
‘I’d started comfort eating after losing Dad, then I got promoted to IT manager at work, which meant going to lots of corporate events and eating big, rich meals. I started a restrictive diet and lost 3st, but as my mum’s health declined due to dementia, the stress of nursing her on top of work began to take its toll, and I ended up putting all the weight back on, plus a bit more.’
I ate to soothe myself – even more so after Mum passed away.
Cynthia realised she needed support and to find a healthy way of eating that she could stick to long term. So, in May 2017, she joined Slimming World. ‘I couldn’t believe I weighed 15st,’ Cynthia says. ‘Even though the dress I’d bought for Mum’s funeral was a size 18, I’d assumed the sizing was wrong because, in my head, I was a 14.’
One of the biggest surprises for Cynthia was how simple swaps could make a big difference. ‘Instead of snacking on chocolate, I’d have fruit or a low Syn yogurt instead. And rather than sugary drinks, I’d choose black coffee with a dash of low Syn flavoured syrup, or diet cola.’
If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, Food Optimising can be safe and beneficial, says Slimming World dietitian Jennifer Kent. ‘As well as helping you enjoy a balanced diet in line with government healthy-eating guidelines, it’s easy to follow, helping you to lose weight effectively,’ she says. ‘And losing even five to 10% of your weight can bring significant benefits.’
Cynthia’s also fallen in love with Body Magic, regularly going to Zumba and box fit. ‘I walked seven miles with a friend the other day,’ Cynthia says. ‘She’s 20 years younger and I could keep up!’
As well as supporting weight loss, Sarah Woodman says being more active can ease type 2 diabetes symptoms. ‘It reduces the glucose in the blood because your muscles are using it as fuel,’ she explains. ‘It also helps to lower blood pressure and keep circulation healthy. One of the long-term effects of diabetes is neuropathy – losing the feeling in your extremities – and exercise can help to reduce the risk of that, too.’
At a routine check-up six months after joining Slimming World, Cynthia was amazed to be told her type 2 diabetes had gone into remission.
I was so relieved. I couldn’t believe my health could change so much so quickly – and all without medication.
Two years on, Cynthia weighs 10st 5½lbs and is a size 10 – and her diabetes hasn’t returned. In fact, at her most recent check-up, Cynthia’s doctor couldn’t believe she was the same patient. ‘My blood pressure is normal, too, and I’ve got so much energy. It’s fantastic to know that I’m less likely to get as ill as my dad, and I can be there for my kids as they get older. That’s all I want in life.’
AM I AT RISK?
A number of factors can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes:
Being overweight or obese
Having a waist size of 31½ins (women) or 37ins (men) or more
Drinking too much alcohol
Being physically inactive
Having high blood pressure
Having a parent or sibling with the condition
Being of South Asian, Afro-Caribbean or Black-African descent
If one or more of these apply to you, ask your GP for a blood glucose test, particularly if you are experiencing symptoms such as:
Urinating more frequently
Wounds taking longer to heal
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.