DESMOND – Diabetes Education and Self-Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed

I was “invited” to a course after being referred to my doctor. Attendance was voluntary, I was told, but if I didn’t attend then that would be reported back to my doctor and thought to be non-compliance. So, not really voluntary, then.

I opted to go to one at my nearby hospital and took a day off work to go. I still wasn’t (and still haven’t) told anyone at work about the diabetes diagnosis (other than one very trusted friend and I told her that if anyone else found out I would know it came from her, as I would not be telling anyone else. She hasn’t told anyone to my knowledge. Yet.)

It was a full-day course and we were told we could take someone along with us as support if we wanted to. My husband was working nights that week, so would have been asleep by 10am if he had come along. He dropped me off and off he went back home to bed. I entered the room just a few minutes before it was due to start and took my seat in the front row (why do so few people want to sit in the front row?!) next to a somewhat larger lady and smiled. No reaction. Great, I had picked a live one here. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any paired work. (I hate that anyway, but with someone who won’t even smile at you, I really hate it!) I glanced around the room, there were about 12 of us of varying ages and sizes. I was probably one of the youngest there, apart from one other woman around my age. Everyone else was in their 50’s or older. One or two were slim, but the vast majority were between overweight and morbidly obese. Luckily I fall at the lower end of that again, having lost almost 2 stone by then (28lbs).

One by one we were asked to tell a bit about ourselves. Name, when we were diagnosed, why we think we have become diabetic, were we on medication and any questions we had to the educators. I wanted to go first as everyone was being reticent. Just as I went to speak up though, someone else jumped in, then someone else. Various reasons why they thought they had become diabetic – family history, eating too much sugar, no idea….  When it came my turn I was honest. “I love cake”. I can’t deny it, I do. And I know that this is what caused it in me. The questions people had were all around medication, what to eat etc. “Why me?” asked the larger lady next to me, felling sorry for herself and not accepting that she might have had something to do with it herself. Why did she have it and not other members of her family, as they were just as large as she was. One of the educators told her that they may well have diabetes and just not know about it. She was even less happy about that. My question was about diabetes remission or reversal. The edge of surprise in the voice of one of the educators showed me what they thought of that, before they even answered the question. “We’ll come to that later, if that is ok”.

The day was useful and interesting, but it was clear that they did not subscribe to the new thinking that diabetes can be reversed. Basically they were of the opinion that once you have got it, you have got it and there is nothing you can do to stop it, only delay it. I understand that, but surely if you manage to get your body weight, BMI and blood glucose levels within the normal ranges then surely that means you have reversed it? Obviously if your weight goes back up, then there is always a risk that it will come back, but to my mind, if your results are normal, then you don’t have it and that is how I am going to look at it. I will still be careful of what I eat and watch my weight, but if I fancy a treat, then I will have one.

They talked us around what causes Type II diabetes, what the effects of it can be on our bodies, what kinds of foods we should be eating (not “more bread and more pasta” as my doctor told me). It was interesting to see how other people viewed the demonstrations they gave us. I had read ahead, so was prepared for some of the “tricks” they would use to show us our misconceptions about food. They brought out such things as 2 custard creams, a half pint of lager, a tablespoon of oil, 1 portion of cheese, a few boiled potatoes, a fun size bar of chocolate and the like and asked us to rank them in order of least to most calories. Because some of the higher fat items were smaller in portion size, I guessed that the number of calories would be about the same, but people were arguing what was worse than the others and assuming that the biscuits, oil etc would have the most calories, whereas the boiled potatoes would have the least.

Tea-break time. Everyone just got up and left, with no-one really making eye contact that they wanted to spend the break with me, so off I went downstairs to the canteen. An elderly couple caught up with me in the corridor, the man was the diabetic, his wife there to learn what she was allowed to cook for him, or “the thought police” as he called her. “It must have been quite a shock to you at your age” the wife said to me…. Bit harsh! “Yes, I said, it was quite a shock!” as is your line of questioning, I thought in my head, but was too polite to say. We spoke a bit about it on the way down to the canteen, where I got my cup of tea and made my way to a table thinking the couple would follow. They went in the opposite direction!

At lunchtime the same thing happened but by then I had made a couple of allies. We went down to the staff canteen, and were able to get a subsidised meal. You would think that hospital food would be healthy, but not really! As I was trying to avoid carbohydrates, it was a mine-field! There was soup with a roll, curry, a pasta dish, chips, sandwiches and baked potatoes with a small salad bar. I decided to go with a baked potato with tuna and a salad. I went and sat with with one of the guys from the course who had chosen a big white baguette with tuna, which he thought was the healthiest option. Like so many fat people he talked about how he thought salad and vegetables were disgusting and wouldn’t be able to eat them if he was paid to. Well, you are going to have to, I thought. I told him that the baguette was the worst thing on his plate, but he didn’t believe me. Carbohydrates are not your friend, believe me. Maybe his doctor had told him to eat more bread and pasta, like mine.  A couple of other people had joined us and asked what I was doing eating-wise. I started to tell them about the 8-week blood sugar diet and what I had been eating (or more likely not eating) for the previous few weeks. They were asking my advice as I had been walking the walk, not just talking the talk. I had lost around 2 stone and that was down to the regime and while it was hard, it was what was needed to stop diabetes.

After lunch there was one more “game” where they gave us some food items and asked us to say how many grams of carbohydrate were in it. It was amazing again, watching people get it totally wrong. Diet coke, sugar free jelly, an orange, a bar of chocolate,  “full-fat” coke were amongst the things that time. They didn’t believe me when I said that there was carbohydrate in an orange but none in diet coke. Baguette guy kept saying sugar instead of carbohydrate, showing that he was getting mixed up between sugar and carbohydrates and had not listened to anything I had said (not that I was claiming to be an expert in any way, but I knew a hell of a lot more than he did).

At the end of the class, we all went our separate ways, never to see each other again and see how we were all doing. It would have been good to repeat the class in a year or so, to see how people were getting on. Not that I really care about them, but it would be interesting to see if they had taken anything on board. One of the educators asked me where I was going home to, and was surprised that I was walking it home (only a 10 minute walk) and would be going to a kettlebell class that night. Even more surprised that I had been doing it for more than a year. There really is a misconception that everyone who gets Type II diabetes is a lazy, fat couch potato and it doesn’t help when the people who are meant to be educating you think that too.

Oh and the lovely lady who was sat next to me? I did see her again… in the cake aisle at Asda. Yes, I was there, I admit it, tempted but just looking. She was there, buying cake and that was the best incentive I had to be strong and walk away.

Next: my 6 month review



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