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Jahna Houston

Jahna Houston is a married stepmom of one and nana of six, who has been an active member of the ADA’s Step out Walk to Stop Diabetes® planning committee for Southern California since 2009. She also serves as the Congress at Home committee chair on the SoCal ADA Advocacy team.

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Jahna Houston
(Photo/Kevin McIntyre Photography)

Living with Diabetes Around the Holidays Can Be Hard. I Navigate it with Gratitude and Hope.

It’s not about depriving yourself, it’s about enjoying yourself wisely

Real Women, Real Stories

As told to Nicole Audrey Spector

I felt perfectly healthy the day I popped into the doctor’s office for some routine bloodwork. I was living my best life, managing a women’s gym and teaching the weight loss and weight management class.

There was no reason to suspect anything was wrong, so when my doctor called saying she wanted to talk about my results, I was surprised.

“You have diabetes,” she said.

My jaw dropped.


I was shocked.

“Just tell me what I have to do to avoid the needle,” I said.

By “the needle” I meant insulin therapy.

My mom had been living with diabetes for 10 years at the time, and I had been closely watching how she was handling — and sometimes not handling — her own diabetes journey. I wanted to be more attentive and less resistant when it came to how I managed the disease in my own life.

Like my mother, I had Type 2 diabetes, meaning that the condition had developed over time and was related to my body’s abnormal response to glucose, as opposed to being the result of a genetic cause, as is generally the case with Type 1 diabetes.

“You’re already doing what you need to do,” the doctor said.

Uh, really? Now I was puzzled.

“The way you serve your clients,” she said. “You need to serve yourself the same way.”

Then I understood what she meant. At the gym, I was my clients’ biggest cheerleader, and though I did certain exercises and routines with them during their daily workouts, I was mostly the club manager. What the doctor was saying was that I needed to be as committed to the workouts for myself as they were.

“I will see you in three months,” the doctor said. “And in that time I want you to have two goals: Bring your A1C down and bring your weight down.”

The next time I met with my group of ladies at the gym, I approached them less as a coach and more as a peer. To some extent, I felt that I had to represent my real self to my clients — and that real self was now a woman with diabetes.

“I want you to know that when you show up for weight management class, I’m right here with you — and here’s why,” I said, then shared my diagnosis.

I poured my all into that workout and after class, a few clients came up to me and shared that they too had diabetes, but hadn’t told anybody. Sadly, society often looks upon those with diabetes as living an out-of-control life and just needing to cut their sugar, which causes embarrassment and inner struggle for many with diabetes.

I gave my best effort to participate in all my workouts and overhaul my diet to make it more diabetes-friendly. I cut out all white carbs, increased my intake of green veggies, and reduced my protein to only lean chicken and fish. Lo and behold, when I went back to the doctor three months later, I’d managed to bring my A1c down from 8.2 to 6.7 (the goal is to get it below 7 for most adults with diabetes) and I’d lost weight as well.

But this wasn’t a one-off battle. I would need to continue to focus on getting in shape and managing my diet every day. I was up for the challenge, but admittedly was thrown a bit of a curveball when my siblings and I took my mother on a 80th birthday cruise together.

You know the kind of cruise I’m talking about. The all-you-can-eat kind? Yes. This would be quite the test indeed.

How would my mother and I navigate all those delicious dinners and desserts? Those buckets of breakfast pastries? I had to figure out some kind of strategy for us or we were both going to get off that boat heavier — and less healthy.

I decided to make it a game. My mom and I would pick our meals ahead of sitting down at the buffets, so we wouldn’t fall victim to any last-minute temptations. We would take the stairs to go up to the dining area and then take the elevator down as a reward. We exercised a couple of times in the gym, and if we were seduced by that hunk of cheesecake, we’d scheme a solution.

“Okay, Mom, see that cheesecake? Here’s what we’ll do. If you want it, just cut all of the other carbs off your plate,” I’d say. “And then, you and I will get a small slice and split it.”

My mom and I not only had a fantastic time on that cruise, we actually each lost five pounds.

Then the holiday season came. This meant not only a joyous time with family and friends, but, well, a joyous time with food. I easily could have been in over my head. But I knew by then that it was all a matter of being prepared, being firm but gentle with myself and rewarding myself for good behavior — within reason.

I implemented the same plan I’d used when I was on that cruise ship. I decided on what I would have ahead of time. Additionally, I brought my own dishes — something I knew would be healthy for me to eat and others would enjoy, too. This is a win-win because you’ll be setting yourself up for success while also pleasing the host of your event.

When it came time to eat, I compromised with myself, just as I had on the cruise ship. So much of enjoying food is about pacing yourself and not feeling denied.

There was one particular Christmas party where the temptations were incredible. Every kind of food you could imagine was available. And the desserts? Forget about it. It was difficult not to go wild, but again: Strategizing, pacing and rewarding myself is how I got through. If you’re dying for a piece of pumpkin pie or apple crumble, you just take the tiniest bite and then walk away.

With every bite I take or don’t take, I know that I’m taking control and responsibility for my health — for my life. And I remember that those of us living with diabetes have hope that we didn’t have 20 or even 10 years ago, thanks to advancements in science, research and medication.

If this is your first holiday season living with diabetes, you may feel lost or confused and like you don’t know where to begin, or like this is the end of enjoying food.

It’s not the end.

You just need to be a little more thoughtful about how you’ll enjoy it, and remember that you’re not denying yourself by saying no — you’re rewarding yourself with smart decisions you’ll feel good about later.

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