Kim Westrick didn’t like what she was hearing.
Every year at her physical, the Novant Health HR rep’s numbers – weight, blood pressure, hemoglobin count – inched up. Her longtime doctor told her in 2015 she was mildly prediabetic. Her condition didn’t warrant medication … yet. But he warned her she needed to pay more attention to what she ate and how active she was.
Being prediabetic is extremely common, her doctor noted, but it can be reversed.
Type 2 diabetes makes it impossible for your body's insulin to do its job of taking glucose (sugar) out of the bloodstream. When that doesn’t happen, sugars stay trapped and may begin to damage the blood vessels, which puts you at greater risk for ailments that impact your vision, feet, kidneys and heart. More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes, making it one of the nation’s largest public health concerns.
Westrick, 43, felt reasonably healthy. If her family of five made regular trips to Wendy’s, at least they offset those calories by taking regular family hikes to Latta Plantation near their Charlotte home. But year after year, her weight creeped up. And obesity – as well as the health conditions that accompany it – runs in her family. “My dad has to take a pill (for high blood pressure) every day,” she said. “I thought: I’m not going there.”
At her physical last year, her doctor prescribed blood pressure medication. “I do not like this at all,” Westrick recalled thinking. But – like her dad – she went on medication and took it dutifully.
Last year, she noticed an email at work from Novant Health powered by EXOS. EXOS human performance experts work with everyone from professional athletes to everyday people who want to get or stay fit. There was an Novant/EXOS facility around the corner from her house. That would make getting regular exercise convenient.
“I almost fainted after my first workout,” said Westrick, a human resources representative for Novant Health in Charlotte.
But she didn’t let that dissuade her.
She began going to a workout class two evenings a week. Strength training is the focus two days a week and cardio the other. Soon enough, she wanted more cardio and began going three times a week. Then, exercising at EXOS became a five-times-a-week habit.
She discovered it wasn’t just convenient. It was addictive. Feeling physically stronger inspired her to want to eat healthier. She didn’t do anything drastic: “I cut back on sweets, and we don’t do takeout or order pizza as much. We joined a healthy meal service, so I’m cooking more. We’ve added more fruits and vegetables to our diet. I can’t remember the last time I took my kids to McDonald’s.”
Her family saw her enthusiasm for her new routine and wanted in on it. Her 12-year-old daughter takes youth classes at EXOS. And her husband, an early riser, attends a 5 a.m. class.
The family, which includes eight-year-old twin boys, is now more likely to eat fruits and vegetables with their dinner entrées instead of fries.
Small changes add up. Westrick gave up fried food for lunch in favor of soup and salad. Friends know about the lifestyle changes she’s made and show their support by going to restaurants with healthy options.
At Westrick’s most recent physical, she was down 25 pounds. And her doctor delivered good news: She was no longer prediabetic. She could stop taking her blood pressure meds.
There have been even more, and unexpected, benefits. “I have more energy,” Westrick said. “And I’m happier. I can be more active with my family.”
Westrick is a great example of how small changes can make a big difference. She didn’t go on a fad diet or deprive herself of food she loves. She’s just more intentional about what she eats now. And while she thoroughly embraced her new workout routine, she started slowly and built up from there.
Kim Westrick didn’t like where she saw her life story going. So, she rewrote it and gave herself – and her family – a happy ending.
Reducing your risk of Type 2 diabetes may not be easy, but it is within your control. Start by reducing sugar and refined carbs from your diet, exercising, losing weight if you're overweight, drinking more water and – of course – giving up smoking. Here’s a great place to start.