Meet Sheinaz. She’s a GP Practice Manager in Gateshead, Newcastle, and she was largely sceptical of the power of digital interventions to help people Type 2 diabetes change their lifestyle and better manage their condition. Until she tried one out for herself.
On 13 January 2018, Sheinaz was diagnosed with diabetes. Her GP told her that her HbA1c level, an indicator of blood glucose control, was at 52. That meant her condition was under control – but only just. It was enough to motivate Sheinaz to begin making some big lifestyle changes, and when her GP offered to refer onto the Changing Health programme to help her do so, she accepted – albeit with some reservations about whether it would be of much use.
The programme comprises a course of digital education on diabetes to improve participants’ understanding of how diet impacts on their condition, combined with one-to-one lifestyle change coaching from an expert in health psychology and behavioural science.
“I was devastated to hear the diagnosis, absolutely devastated” she says. “I just thought, ‘I have a healthy diet, I do all the things I could possibly do, what more can I do?’ Going to a group session wasn’t really sustainable for me, and the other option was having a health app.
“When you’re being monitored by your GP practice you’re only seen once a quarter, so I thought having the app available will help me to maintain that consciousness of the long term condition I have, and it’s an alternative that actually works better than seeing your GP”
As Sheinaz worked her way through the programme, her preconceptions of digital health apps changed entirely. She was moving more. She had more energy. With a few pointers from her lifestyle coach on the best changes to fit her own circumstances, soon she was cooking tasty, healthy meals every day, building positive habits into her daily routine rather than treating weight loss as a chore. “I increased my physical activity on a daily basis using the app, and having my own personal health coach really helped too.”
It was a complete change of mindset for Sheinaz – and it paid off. In just ten weeks she had lost 18lb, or a little over 8kg. Then came more good news.
“I spoke to my GP on the phone. He said ‘you don’t have diabetes’ – I said ‘yes I do, I was diagnosed ten weeks ago!’ – and he said ‘well your blood sugars are normal; you’ve reversed your diabetes.’”
Sheinaz was ecstactic. And six months on from the original diagnosis, she’s living a whole new life. “In myself I feel better, my memory’s much better… I’m sleeping really really well, bouncing with energy, and bouncing with confidence. I love the diet and I’ve got so much energy as a result, and I’m still losing up to half a pound per week but I never feel like I’m on a diet.
The Changing Health programme was designed to empower users not only to adopt healthier habits, but crucially, to keep them up – for good. That looks promising for Sheinaz. As of mid-July, she’s now lost a total of 24lb and dropped two dress sizes.
“I can still use the app and the coaching sessions for another six months, but I don’t really need them; it’s become a habit now. I’m being creative about cooking, and I’m eating less carbs, but you know what? I don’t miss them at all.”