For more than 20 years, Cynthia Brewer had been able to manage her diabetes largely on her own. If her blood glucose levels became elevated, Brewer would adjust her daily diet based on what had always worked for her.
“If I knew I was going out to supper and have a baked potato, I would watch what I ate all day and could manage it that way,” says Brewer, who lives in northern Moore County.
But when those efforts recently stopped working, Brewer decided to completely cut out foods such as potato chips and crackers, believing that would control her glucose levels.
“Even though I was watching what I ate even more carefully, and had eliminated certain things from my diet, my sugar levels were still high.”
Simultaneously, Brewer realized she did not feel well many days and was becoming discouraged about suddenly being unable to control her diabetes as she always had.
That all changed recently when Brewer’s physician referred her to FirstHealth’s Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center. Working with certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian Michelle Cole, who directs the program, Brewer has adopted new strategies to manage her diabetes.
One of the fundamental changes has been her daily approach to eating, Brewer says.
“Mostly, I’ve learned to watch what I eat, and compensate for things I’ve cut out with other foods,” Brewer says. She’s also learned that she doesn’t have to completely eliminate the foods she likes, something she had done before joining the program. “I’ve really cut down on things like bread—I’ll cut an English muffin in half each morning and eat that with egg and a little bacon. Then for lunch or dinner, I might fix a hamburger and toast the other half of the English muffin and have it with my burger.”
Cole says education is a key component of the program, especially when it comes to diet.
“It is very common for our patients to make comments such as, ‘I can’t believe I can actually eat this much food’ or, ‘I was told I can’t eat anything white, but now I see that I can.’ Many people believe that once you are diagnosed with diabetes, you must then deprive yourself of foods and ingredients, or limit your intake of food in general.”
Instead, Cole says she and her staff of diabetes educators and dietitians tell patients that no foods are off-limits but provide them with information on how certain foods affect the body and which ones are better for overall health.
Patients meet with one of the staff dietitians and receive an individualized meal plan, as well as tips for new recipes and making wise choices while grocery shopping.
A healthy diet is just one component of diabetes management, and Cole emphasizes the program works with patients on other areas that are critical to their health.
“We help patients with an overall approach to exercise, monitoring glucose levels, taking medication, problem solving, reducing risks, and healthy coping,” Cole says.
In addition to her dietary changes, Brewer’s diabetes management plan now includes insulin. She admits she was reluctant at first, but other diabetes medications weren’t an option for her.
Cole explained how insulin works in the body, and that sometimes diet and exercise alone aren’t enough for some patients to manage their condition.
After that discussion, Cole followed up with Brewer’s physician to recommend an insulin prescription. “I felt very confident that Michelle had my best interests at heart, so I felt good about it.”
FirstHealth’s program offers individualized and group sessions, depending on each patient’s needs.
“We often hear feedback from our patients that having someone listen to them and spend time with them, whether in a one-on-one session or group, helps alleviate anxiety surrounding their health conditions,” Cole says. “Many patients particularly enjoy the group setting, meeting others and learning from their experiences of dealing with the same day-to-day obstacles they do.”
Cole and her staff work hard to inform patients and dispel the myths that sometimes surround diabetes management.
“In today’s society, there is a magnitude of information available,” Cole says. “Sometimes it’s difficult to decipher between truth and misleading information, or even harmful information. Our program provides evidence-based information, which is derived from national standards of care.”
For Brewer, the program has vastly improved the quality of her life.
“I feel the best I have in a long time,” Brewer says. She is quick to credit Cole, her staff and the program for giving her a new outlook on life with diabetes. “It’s not that you have to go through life saying I can’t have this, I can’t have that. You just have to have common sense about it.”
Courtesy photo: certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian Michelle Cole (L) and patient Cynthia Brewer.