What does it take to change your life and improve your health? Classmates in Sisters are finding answers as they seek ways to avoid Type 2 diabetes. Most of the adult students either have pre-diabetes or are teetering on the edge of a diagnosis. It’s Kylie Loving’s job to guide students who either have pre-diabetes or are concerned about getting the potentially debilitating disease. A collaboration with Prevent Diabetes Central Oregon, the Sisters program began in January with a dozen participants. Together they’re navigating the challenges and rewards of getting active, losing weight and feeling better.

Loving is a Health Educator with the Crook County Health Department and has been teaching a year-long class in Sisters for the past two years. She’s dedicated to providing the tools necessary to make behavioral changes that promote overall health and decrease the possibility of adverse health risks associated with being overweight or an unhealthy lifestyle.

Students learned that avoiding diabetes takes more than just shunning sugary food and drinks. Fats, both saturated and unsaturated, can play an important role in becoming diabetic. Some fat is beneficial. To find a healthy balance of fat in their diets, students learned that saturated and trans-fats (often solid at room temperature) and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (often more liquid) have different effects on the body.

To gain insights into their eating habits and how it may be affecting their health, students began tracking the total fat and calories they ate daily. They began reading packaging and investigated the fat and calories in animal products and plant-based foods. For many the realization of how much fat and calories were in certain foods was shocking. That knowledge helped them decide to control and balance how much, and what, they were eating.

At the beginning of the class, each student had a six-month weight-loss goal that was approximately seven percent of their starting weight. With a daily target for exercise and total grams of fat and calories, students could expect to lose one to two pounds per week. Then COVID-19 entered the picture, adding a level of stress and challenges to everything from having weekly meetings to managing food-related triggers.

The pandemic took a toll on the class with some students deciding to stop and possibly start again next year. “Zoom meetings were tough for some of the students,” said Loving from her home in Redmond. “Overall, there was more engagement this year and many of the people have made steady progress with the class.”

Facilitating online meetings and a weekly curriculum, Loving guides her students as they explore the inevitability of stress and how to manage it.

“We talk about alternative strategies when deeply ingrained, unhelpful choices tend to show up. With what we’re going through now it’s super understandable. People are more home-bound and are using food to cope,” said Loving. “We talk about finding strategies for specific situations to stay healthy and maintain beneficial goals during stressful circumstances.”

Loving has heard students in the virtual meetings say they appreciate the interaction and materials.

“They tell me if they hadn’t joined this program, they’d be so much worse off. At least they’re able to maintain and not completely spiral. They are more aware now and realize when they’re turning to food. There’s a greater awareness and they were healthier before entering this stressful time.”

At the halfway point, Loving finds that some people decide they’re not committed and choose to step away. A second group is finally feeling ready to fully commit to some of the changes they’ve learned but weren’t completely following yet.

“Six months is a good landmark,” she said. “Some may drop off while others commit to the whole year. Then there’s the third group who just plugs along, has done a lot of the work and are ready to solidify it. The first six months are about checking in and helping people not slide into old habits. It’s not realistic to think you won’t have moments of backsliding.”

To keep people moving in the right direction, principles are reinforced to solidify those changes. It’s all designed to change each person’s status quo as they shift habits and continue to get healthier.

Age, family history, and being overweight are all factors for those concerned about Type 2 diabetes. By losing five to seven percent of their weight students can reduce the possibility of getting diabetes.

There are other benefits, too.

“I hear about people who go to see the doctor and are happy to find they lowered their blood sugars. Studies have shown that losing that weight is effective and reduces the risk of getting diabetes by half. The goal is to get there by six months,” said Loving. “The second six months is either maintenance or setting another goal of 5 to 7 percent. It’s about making changes that are sustainable and not just something you stop after a few months.”

Other benefits to following the program can make exercising easier.

“Every person who takes the class and is successful in following the program, always reports health benefits whether it’s less joint pain, better sleep, lower blood pressure medication or feeling more in control. The positive results are usually attached to weight loss. There’s a real sense of accomplishment when they’re able to lose weight and make their goals. It’s a fun class and the year-long program provides interactions and relationships with classmates that often continue when it’s over.”

Takeaways for success are consistent. A big key is tracking what you eat.

“The people who track are more successful. They can see in black-and-white what their habits are and where they could make changes. Just the act of writing down what you eat is a key component in managing weight and weight loss. People are often unaware of how much they’re eating and how often. That awareness piece is vital,” said Loving.

For more information contact Sarah Worthington with Deschutes County Health Department at 541-322-7446.