By Juliana Ronn, First Mile Care Director of Operations

Tomás Zapata is a success story in prediabetes management. He recently completed the year-long First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). He agreed to talk about his experiences — why he joined and the changes he has seen in himself. 

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 54 years old and live in The Woodlands, Texas, a town on the northern edge of Houston, with my wife Carmen and our youngest son. I’m a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, but moved to the U.S. in the 1990s for my studies. Since then, I’ve moved back and forth for my work to Texas, Spain, and Argentina. I’m a geologist by training and am currently a director of exploration activity in the Americas with Repsol S.A., the Spanish energy company.

2. Let’s start with the most important thing. You finished the full program. What results have you seen from the First Mile Care DPP?

My lab tests, including my A1C glucose test, are in the perfect “normal” range!  I recently had my annual checkup with my long-time doctor, Dr. Scott Kahney, who practices in The Woodlands. While First Mile Care shared my regular results with him, this was the first time I’d seen him for a checkup since I’d joined the program. He was really happy I’m back on track to good health. If I continue practicing healthy habits, I should be able to keep my A1C under control.

I used to wear large-sized clothes but am now a definite medium. I’m down 10-plus pounds, have lost two pants sizes, and have added more holes to my belts. I should add, though, that weight loss wasn’t really my main goal for the program. Even before I joined First Mile Care, I got a lot of exercise. But I was running only. Because of the program, I now mix up several types of physical activity — running, walking, weightlifting, bicycling. In fact, at one point I lost so much weight that I looked too thin. I was losing muscle mass, so at my coach’s recommendation, I changed my exercise routine and gained back a little weight, but since it’s muscle, I’m in better shape — and I’ve controlled my prediabetes! 

3. Did you know what prediabetes was before your doctor diagnosed you?

No, I had never heard of prediabetes. My father had type 2 diabetes and it became very severe over time, to the point where he even had a leg amputated. So diabetes has always been a concern for me. I’ve monitored my glucose levels for years and used to think I was getting enough exercise to control it, but exercise alone wasn’t enough. Now that I’ve completed the First Mile Care DPP, and am in better shape, eat healthily and lead a more active lifestyle, I hope to prevent my prediabetes from ever developing into diabetes.

4. How did you hear about First Mile Care?

My wife was approached first, and she decided to join. I got an email and then a follow-up phone call from First Mile Care saying that my doctor had recommended me for the program. My doctor had also mentioned the DPP to me but frankly, I didn’t pay a lot of attention at first. One of the things I’ve learned through the First Mile Care program is about blood sugar peaks and markers. And although my doctor told me my A1C test was high, since I was getting regular exercise, I thought that was enough to address it. But it wasn’t. So I’m very glad that First Mile Care followed up with me about joining the program.

5. Before joining First Mile Care, had you tried other lifestyle changes or weight loss programs?

I started having cholesterol problems after I turned 40. The ratio between the good and the bad types of cholesterol — high density and low density — was out of balance. I tried to address it with diet, multiple times, and also took medication for a while. When I stopped taking the pill because my level had improved, I tried to replace it with physical activity, running several miles a day. But the thing was, I didn’t change my eating habits. I’d go for a run and then eat chocolate or other unhealthy snacks. The more I’d train, the more I’d eat. Several years ago, when I was working in Argentina, I consulted a nutritionist and lost weight after following her instructions. But I reverted to my bad habits, and thought that exercise alone would be enough to keep me healthy, regardless of what I ate.

6. What do you like about the First Mile Care program?

The program is well built and self-explanatory. The materials and information provided are easy to understand. The coach offered good examples. I found it really helpful that we would circle back to things that we’d discussed earlier.  You think you’re going in the right direction with your meal planning, for example, or types of physical activity, and it’s useful to go back and recap what you learned in an earlier class now that you have more perspective. It keeps you on the right track, or helps you get back on track.

7. What role has your coach played in your success?

My coach, Kathy Gregory, was great. She lives in The Woodlands like me so was able to give specific tips about local foods in season and markets and activities. What I enjoyed about working with her was that she didn’t dictate or try to impose her will on us. She was very patient and persuasive and explained why it was in our best interest to follow the program. Her presentations were interesting and she encouraged lively discussions. 

8. First Mile Care emphasizes neighborhood-based DPP groups. Did you find this helpful?

I felt really happy when I saw other people losing weight and meeting their goals, as it was encouraging to me. Since everyone lived in the same areas near The Woodlands, talking with them became like talking to your neighbor. We shared information about our local facilities and amenities — the gyms that were open, the trails for running, nice areas to walk, what was available in the farmers’ markets, which restaurants offer healthier menus than others. My wife was in the group with me, and we both have met up with other people in the group outside of the meetings, for a walk and to go to the gym. I look forward to continuing these relationships.

9. What kind of changes have you made as a result of the First Mile Care DPP?

What I really like about this program is that it emphasizes variety and choices. You don’t have to give up anything or focus on just one type of food or exercise. If I want to have a beer, okay, I’ll have one, but only one, on the weekend. And then I really, really savor it and enjoy it. I’ve learned that sometimes using mindfulness techniques, thinking about how something tastes, and really concentrating on that memory, is enough to satisfy my desire for it.

My coach has encouraged me to try foods that were new to me, especially vegetables, and to go shopping in new places to source those foods. I used to be a typical shopping victim, where I would go to the market just before lunch or dinner, when I was hungry and would try all the samples and make impulse purchases. Now I have a protein bar before I go food shopping, and I’m able to make smarter food choices.

I’ve also experimented with new cooking methods. While my wife does the cooking during the week, I often cook on the weekends. I’m a stereotypical Argentine, preferring meat to vegetables. I used to cook unhealthy things like barbecue, but now I use different sauces and put more vegetables on the grill. My coach taught me how to balance my plate by evaluating colors, portions, proteins, and carbohydrates. Using a food tracking app or journal makes the mathematics of calorie-counting easy.

I’ve also learned techniques for controlling stress, which is one of my triggers for bad eating habits. It’s so obvious, but I’ve learned how to take breaks and disconnect. I used to feel anxious about tasks I had to accomplish at work, and reach for chocolate or snacks. Now I have healthy snacks. When people in my office noticed that I looked healthier and more fit, they asked me what I was doing. I told them about First Mile Care and now everybody on my floor is trying to eat less chocolate and more fruit. 

The sleep presentation in the program was also really interesting. I quit using electronics before going to bed, and tried to establish a healthy sleep routine. I sleep better now and feel more rested.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve also mixed up my workout because the program recommends doing a variety of physical activities. Whereas I used to just run, now I have enrolled in a group to do different types of exercise twice a week, and I ride a bike as well.

10. So you’re done with the year-long DPP course. Will it be difficult to sustain the changes you’ve made?

No, I don’t think so. In fact, I am absolutely convinced that I will be able to sustain my progress. I don’t follow the program because somebody is putting pressure on me. I do it because I’m convinced it works and because I see the results from following it. My lab test is worth more than a thousand words. 

The program doesn’t force you to stop doing things or give up things you really want. Instead, you learn to reduce or make substitutions. You learn to make smart choices.  I learned to replace bad habits with good ones. I still have my occasional beer or chocolate. But thanks to the program, I choose to ignore bad habits and I feel better. For me, it’s been very rewarding. And for that reason, I strongly recommend the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program.

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!