Preventing diabetes, one man’s story

Olivia Stark hosting a Zoom meeting for the Diabetes Prevention Program
Olivia Stack, Community Health Education Coordinator and Certified Lifestyle Coach, hosts Diabetes Prevention Program meetings via Zoom during the pandemic.

Olivia Stack is exactly who you want on your team. Energetic, compassionate, and harboring a deep passion for helping people transform their health, Stack — community health education coordinator and certified lifestyle coach — beams a kind and enthusiastic smile through a laptop screen via Zoom.

The pandemic has moved all of her events and coaching online, including Cheshire Medical Center’s Diabetes Prevention Program (CDPP), which has helped many local residents significantly improve their health.

One in three Americans is prediabetic, at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but most have the chance to change that (take the test to learn your risk). Cheshire uses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research-based program focusing on healthy eating and physical activity. Studies showed that people with prediabetes who take part in a structured lifestyle change program like this can cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58% (71% for people over 60 years old).

At first, Stack was concerned participants wouldn’t be as committed or feel as supported via Zoom rather than in person, but many found it easier to participate. Keeping cohorts to 8–15 people keeps the sessions personal and allows the group to support one another through their journey.

“The group dynamic creates a space for close-knit connections to share successes, tips and tricks—and many laughs,” Stack says. “With the support of peers and coaches, participants really gain a new sense of control over their life and their health.”

A recent program participant, who we will call “Mike” for privacy reasons, reiterated the importance of the regular program meetings when he shared his story with us. “They provided the incentive to stay the course and keep on track. Listening to everyone's experiences and challenges was also a real benefit.”

Mike, one of Stack’s star pupils, had been pre-diabetic since 2017. When he found out, he made changes to reduce or avoid foods with high sugar and salt content, but that alone did not help as much as he hoped.

“After being in this program, I’ve not only met my weight loss goal but far exceeded that number by twice the amount,” Mike says. “As far as my glucose level, I was able to improve greatly. My A1C level, while not above the maximum limit, is now lower and comfortably in the middle of the healthy range.”

“Mike already had a routine of walking every other day for the past seven years. So he felt the goal of 150 minutes per week of exercise would not be a problem for him,” Stack says. “But this is a big change for many participants. We work together to figure out the best activities for them and how to sustainably fit regular physical activity into their lives.”

Now, Mike enjoys over four hours of activity per week, including “walking, bicycling, and kayaking in the summer. I take advantage of the rail trails, nature trails, and pedestrian paths, including city sidewalks. I also have an exercise machine when inclement winter weather makes walking impractical or risky.”

With education about physical activity, healthy eating, managing stress, and staying motivated for long-term change, each participant has different challenges to overcome to take control of their health.

“I believe the biggest challenge for me was paying closer attention to the nutritional values of the foods I eat on a daily basis, as portion sizes at mealtime,” Mike says. “I also needed to pay closer attention to the type of ‘snacks’ I ate between meals. The program’s food nutritional information definitely helped with this.”

When we asked what made the biggest difference and his journey to better health, Mike explained “The keys to success are discipline and determination. You only get out of it what you are willing to put into it yourself. The Diabetes Prevention Program provided the structure and guidance to make it happen.”

Stack is extremely excited to be able to offer this opportunity again this year, especially since Cheshire Medical Center has subsidized the program and it’s only $99 for the whole year.

“It’s so rewarding to me to help people gain the skills and confidence needed to make a real, sustainable lifestyle change, to empower people to the lives they always imagined,” Stack says. “Sometimes it just takes a little help. And that’s what I’m here for.”

To learn more about the program and future offerings, please contact Olivia Stack at (603) 354-6866.