By Maria Ibarra
I am a 40-year-old Hispanic woman living in Sacramento, California, and I have diabetes. When I was diagnosed five years ago, I thought I was well-prepared to deal with the disease. Both my late mother and my brothers already had diabetes, and since I work in health care, I figured I knew everything there was to know.
But two years later, I saw no improvement. I started feeling frustrated, so I decided to talk to my doctor about it. That's how I got referred to a diabetes educator.
And that's when things started to change for the better.
I joined a small group where I participated in diabetes education classes regularly, which helped bring everything I knew about diabetes together. The program provided helpful tips and reminders, like healthy food substitutes and ideas for staying active. It also showed me how to put them into practice. Coming from a Hispanic home, I still wanted to enjoy all the traditional foods—just in a healthier way. My educators taught me how to do so.
I also took part in a diabetes education study, which was very rewarding. I used a tablet at home to record information such as testing times, sugar levels and meal sizes. I was able to share the data in real time with my diabetes educator, who helped identify changes that I needed to make in my daily activities, like when I should be testing and what I should have for dinner. I kept a journal for the 12-week study, and every week I saw improvement. To be able to visually see my progress was very rewarding and helped motivate me to keep moving forward.
And the most important part? It worked.
I lost 35 pounds, bringing my sugar levels down and making my diabetes more manageable. I have kept my focus on living with the changes I made for my health and still check my levels twice a week. I'm still working on my last 20 pounds I'd like to lose, but I know with continuous exercise and a balanced diet, I'm on the right track.
If I had to describe my experience with diabetes education, I would call it eye-opening. It was the little things I learned, such as that I should walk for 10 minutes after every meal, that helped me make progress.
One key to my success in fitness was purchasing a Fitbit. It tracks my daily steps and my overall activity. I aim to reach 10,000 steps per day. My coworkers, who also have Fitbits, are great at challenging one another and striving to keep healthy.
I am still working with a diabetes educator to this day. And like anyone, I have good weeks and weeks that challenge me. Having a diabetes educator keeps my goals present and achievable.
I recently also joined a patient advocacy and advisory committee with University of California–Davis, helping others manage their diabetes while I manage my own. It's so rewarding to be able to take what I learned and bring it to others. I think it's helpful that I can relate to them and tell them that I've been in their shoes.
For anyone out there considering diabetes education, I want you to know that it can really save your life. Coming from a family with a strong background of diabetes, I thought I knew enough for my own health. In fact, I did not. The education from the diabetes educators gave years to my life.
For more information about how a diabetes educator can help you create a plan to get and stay active, visit the American Association of Diabetes Educators website.