By Juliana Ronn, First Mile Care Director of Operations

Jeannie Lawson recently completed the year-long First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). She agreed to talk about why she joined, the results she has seen, and her tips for leading a healthier lifestyle.

1. Don’t keep us in suspense. What results have you seen from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program?

First Mile Care is helping me to lead an active, vital life that makes me happy. I like to travel, especially overseas, and I have to be in pretty good shape for that. Traveling is important to me, and it’s what I want to continue to do until I absolutely can’t — and I want that to be a long time from now. I’ve learned some good healthy strategies through the First Mile Care program which will support me in my long-term travel goals.

Besides my general feeling of good health and well-being, I’ve seen several measurable benefits: 

  • My blood sugar level in my recent A1C test was 5.6, in the average range. This has been consistent since I joined First Mile Care. I’ve been able to stop taking cholesterol medication as my cholesterol level is now in the normal range.
  • I’ve lost — and kept off — 12 to 14 pounds, depending on the day. I have not lost as much weight as some people in my group, but I didn’t have as much to lose at the start of the program. 
  • I’ve lost inches. I now consistently wear a medium instead of a large. I’ve dropped at least one numerical clothing size and sometimes two, depending on the item. 

2. Tell us a little about yourself. What were your health challenges before joining First Mile Care?

I’m a retired educator — high school English and later, head librarian.  I live in The Woodlands, Texas, on the northern outskirts of Houston. I’m 74 years old. Over the past several years, I have gradually lost weight through a variety of efforts, but it was not having a positive impact on my blood glucose. My doctor became concerned that I was in the prediabetes range, and it wasn’t improving despite my weight loss. I was also taking medication to control both blood pressure and cholesterol.

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

While diabetes doesn’t run in my family, I do have an in-law who is a type 1 diabetic, so I have been very aware of the disease.  For years, every time we looked at the numbers, my doctor, Thimos (Tim) Paschalis of Physicians’ Group of The Woodlands, told me I was in the range for prediabetes. But I like carbs and love sweets, and wasn’t really motivated enough to do anything about it. 

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

I had joined Weight Watchers in the past. It’s a good program, but I needed more structure than it offered me. I wasn’t very consistent. And some of the diet programs that require you to buy food can get very expensive. I also joined a gym and, later on, the YMCA. Since I was not someone who has ever particularly liked to exercise, I was just kind of plodding along. 

5. How did you hear about First Mile Care?

One day I received a letter from Dr. Paschalis introducing First Mile Care and the Diabetes Prevention Program. I contacted the physician assistant Lindsay Domangue, whom I’ve also known for several years, and she told me it was a great program and they’d recommended me for it. I thought about it for a while before committing, because I’m a methodical person and don’t just jump into anything. And it’s been so easy! It’s also amazing that it’s available at no charge to me.  I’m really grateful that they sent that original letter inviting me to join the program!

6. What do you like about the First Mile Care program? Why do you think it has worked for you?

The group encouragement and accountability was critical to me, and the valuable coach instruction and advice. We talked a lot about learning to read food labels. I used to track points in Weight Watchers, but now I track the calories and am shocked at the high calorie and fat content in most fast foods. It has made me very conscious of what I put in my mouth and has changed how I do my grocery shopping. Now when I am in the store, I use a smartphone app called Lose It!, which reads the barcode and tells me the label information. It helps me with tracking what I consume and deciding if I really want to buy that food item with high calorie or carbohydrate or salt count.

Tracking food intake, calories, and activity helps me stay on track and recover when I slip up. I’ve learned it doesn’t work to think you can eat crazy and then exercise like crazy, as what you eat is more important for losing weight than the exercise alone. It’s better not to eat crazy in the first place. I also learned that First Mile Care recommends getting a minimum of 150 minutes of activity each week. I knew movement was important, but it helps me to have a baseline number to hit. 

I used to not pay attention to what I ate when I traveled, but I travel a lot. And I’m very social, so I often dine out with friends. I might lose weight but then gain it back when I was socializing or traveling. Now, I’ve developed the habit of tracking calories and making healthy choices as a result of the First Mile Care program. I have the confidence that I can continue making healthy choices even when I’m eating away from home. It’s become a behavioral pattern.

For example, I was able to spend a week during the summer at a spa hotel in Mexico which has fabulous food. I’ve gone to that hotel several times over the years and have always gained at least five pounds because of eating desserts or not taking a morning walk. And then when I got home, I’d think, “Oh well, I’ve blown it.” But now, after being in the First Mile Care program, even though I didn’t actively track that week, it was always in the back of my mind. I knew the choices I was making and how to reconcile them. This time I only gained one pound — which I easily lost at home.

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

It was really important for me to participate in a group for motivation. In this program, because we were meeting every week and I knew that I would be speaking about my week, I always came prepared, and so did everybody else. We felt accountable to each other to take the program seriously. The sharing of their challenges helped me. It sometimes became pretty personal. A couple of the people in my group lost family members so we supported each other through those trying times.

Knowing we were from the same geographical area helped us become comfortable with each other. We were all in the same boat with our prediabetes and were united in wanting to improve our health. We knew the same restaurants and neighborhood places and could make recommendations to each other for where to buy certain items and how to fix healthy snacks. Even though we had to do Zoom meetings because of COVID-19 restrictions, I felt as if people were in the same room with me. We were able to meet in person a few times outside and also met with some of the other First Mile Care DPP groups. 

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

Coach Karalyn Cass was fabulous. I can’t say enough good things about her. She was approachable, knowledgeable, and very positive. Like any coach, she had a definite plan for each meeting which started and ended on time. She directed our conversations so everyone could share and be heard but not feel rushed. She added strategies and offered instructions at the end of our time together. I know she really listened because she would refer back to comments people had made in previous sessions. It was also helpful that she was a part of the local community, as she knew the places we walked, and how the weather was affecting our activities. That gave a personal touch which made people feel comfortable. Our group would have been dysfunctional without her facilitation. 

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

One of my weaknesses is sweet things. So I’ve learned in the DPP that when I go shopping, I just do not pick up cookies or other sweets. When I made Christmas cookies last year, I kept them at my neighbor’s house to remove the temptation. Instead, I keep fruit in my refrigerator for when I’m craving something sweet.

I have also become aware that one of my triggers for snacking is to sit for long periods of time. I can easily sit in my chair all evening, reading or watching TV and snacking. So I asked my children to chip in together to give me an Apple Watch for my combination birthday and Mother’s Day gift. I love it because it prompts me to get up every half-hour, and it’s kind of a competition because I want to see the circles close on the activity tracker. I would probably never have asked for the watch or used a digital tracker if not for what I learned through First Mile Care.

We also talked quite a bit about what Coach Karalyn called “sleep hygiene” and how it is connected to weight control and good health. So now I try to get ready for bed earlier and quiet myself so that I can go to sleep more easily.

10. Now that your year-long DPP course has finished, how are you sustaining the changes you’ve made?

The year I spent in the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program has really built up my confidence. The material provided throughout the program has been invaluable to me. I have saved everything in a notebook and go back and refer to it. You can diet all you want to, but unless you learn some strategies to continue the changes you make, you slide right back as soon as you leave the program or stop the diet. Well, I’m not going to slide back! I know that I can make healthy lifestyle changes and continue them.  

One of the things I’ve learned from First Mile Care is that doing something with a group really helps keep me motivated. So now I have a small walking group. It’s just a few ladies walking almost daily inside our local mall when the weather is hot, or along The Woodlands waterway when it’s cooler. It’s been a great companion group to my First Mile Care class. I also do Zumba, chair yoga for seniors, and have even started weight classes at the Y.  First Mile has taught me to appreciate the value of the group.

I am so happy about — and thankful for — the health that I have. A lot of my friends have had surgeries and other kinds of health problems. I want to remain vital. And I think that First Mile Care has played a big role in my journey to good health and my ability to stay healthy.

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!