Type 2 diabetes remission: how little swaps changed Janice’s life

 

Janice had Type 2 diabetes. She was stuck in some unhealthy habits – drinking four cans of coca cola a day, eating three-person portions of pasta, binging on pringles – and she needed help to make a change. In January 2018 she was diagnosed with an Hba1c level of 89, indicating a severe lack of glycaemic control.

And make a change is what she did. It began when, soon after her diagnosis, her GP referred her onto Changing Health’s Transform programme for diabetes management. Transform combines a course of digital education on diabetes with personalised behaviour change support from a lifestyle coach, and aims to give users the psychological tools to sustain a positive health behaviours over the long term.

She got off to a flying start. Kirsten, her lifestyle coach, was impressed; Janice had already begun prepping her meals in advance, swapping carbs at lunch for a healthier alternative, and dancing each night to an exercise routine – and lost a kilo in a week as a result. While it’s important to start with small changes, Janice felt she could do more, so Kirsten worked with her to set a clear, achievable short-term goal for physical activity: three brisk, 10 minute walks per day on the way to work, at lunchtime and on the way home.

By March, Janice had accelerated her progress, decreasing her portion sizes, increasing her fluid intake, cutting out crisps, swapping white bread for wholemeal and potatoes for sweet potatoes.

“She wanted to know more about the carb and sugar content of fruits and vegetables,” Kirsten says. “So I gave her a document about GI of foods and a link to a website that could be useful too. I told her carrots are quite high in GI and sugar, but they’re still vegetables and better than other things you could be eating!”

“I was very honest with Kirsten,” says Janice. “She was equally honest back, and without being judging – she was supportive and positive. I wasn’t very active – partly because I was ill and partly because of the weather, and we spoke about my frustrations with that. We discussed mini exercises I could do during the day.”

May rolled around, and it was time for another visit to the GP. There was some excellent news: Janice had reduced her HbA1c to just 55 in four months. She was well on the way to reversing her condition for good.

“I kept making swaps – I like to go to concerts, so I swapped beer for sparkling water. I haven’t touched Coca Cola, no red meat, no processed foods – I’m eating lots of fish, veggies, grilled halloumi. My partner enjoys the new diet too. I’d led him astray to be honest, but he’s just brilliant – he supports me every day”

The last time Janice and Kirsten spoke, in July, things were looking even better. Janice had reduced her HbA1c to 42 – meaning she no longer had diabetes! She’d now lost a total 14.8kg on the programme, and dropped two dress sizes to boot.

“Janice has been amazing throughout her journey on the Changing Health programme,” Kirsten adds. “She recognises that the changes she’s made are long-term lifestyle changes, rather than a short-term fix. She deserves this fantastic news!”

Does Janice have any advice for others in her position? “Be honest. That’s the key, that’s the tough thing. When I’ve been low, I’ve rung up Kirsten and beat myself up, but she looks at the bigger picture. She’s brilliant. I’ll miss her.”

Type 2 Diabetes Reversal – In 5 Steps

Author Holly Hart, MSc, is a qualified Health Psychologist and one of Changing Health’s lifestyle coaches. This article is based on real life case studies, including two users who achieved Type 2 diabetes reversal in 10 weeks between April to June, 2018..

People with Type 2 diabetes usually know they need to make a change, and they have the motivation to do so. But their self-efficacy – that is, their beliefs about their capabilities to succeed – is often low; they perceive significant barriers preventing them from sustaining a healthier lifestyle.

There are, however, some useful techniques to help people with diabetes overcome the barriers to change and translate their motivation into action.

Here are the 5 steps based on my experience supporting people to assist with Type 2 diabetes reversal

1) Letting people know that good food can be cheap

Many people think fresh, “healthy food” is more expensive (it doesn’t have to be!), while others may be hampered by a lack of social support – often key to success. Some may worry that eating as a family may require the entire family to change their diet, and some may have been disillusioned by a lack of success when trying to make lifestyle changes in the past.

2) Making education simple

People with diabetes report that one of their biggest barriers to making the changes they need to is a lack of access to education and information. Those who do receive guidance from their healthcare provider often tell us that there was too much to take in, too quickly, and they ended up with only a limited understanding of how their condition affects them. We tend to provide links to websites and tell people what to search for online instead, so they can learn at their own pace in their own time.

3) Showing that dieting doesn’t mean no food

A common misconception we find among people with diabetes is the idea that following a diet means cutting out your favourite food and getting up at 4am for an exercise class. In fact, the simplest lifestyle changes are typically the key to successful management or even remission of diabetes. The inspirational success stories you get to hear as a coach are testament to this approach, and communicating to patients that their lifestyle changes don’t need to be radical can transform their outcome expectations.

Debra, a Changing Health user who recently achieved Type 2 diabetes reversal in 10 weeks, did so by making only “little swaps”, like pasta for cauliflower rice, so a healthier diet didn’t feel like a chore to maintain. It’s also important to avoid warning people with diabetes about what will happen if they don’t make a change; research has shown this doesn’t work.

Instead, we find that listing the benefits of a healthier lifestyle can be much more effective, particularly those which impact the most on everyday life: improved cognition and memory, better concentration, reduced tiredness and feeling less out of breath when walking the dog or taking the children to the park. focusing on past successes (identifying and emphasising previous, successful attempts to initiate lifestyle change) has been linked to optimal care consultations and better clinical outcomes.

Pairing this with discussions about how to overcome barriers that have occurred in the past, or might come up in the future, enables the patient to think more positively about making a change and this positivity is key.

4) Setting achievable goals from the outset

Healthcare providers can also support patients on their journey towards a healthier lifestyle by encouraging them to set clear short, medium and long-term goals. SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – keep patients focussed every step of the way and have been proven to be effective in improving outcomes.

If patients write these goals down, the chances of success are even higher – up to 42%, according to new research. Changing Health coaches suggest users write down their progress so far on post-it notes and leave them in prominent places around the house, boosting their motivation to keep going when times are tough.

5) Personalising the approach to support

Every individual is at a different stage in their behaviour change journey and so it’s important to take their unique circumstances into account. Ultimately, it’s about re-framing the conversation to focus on their own possibilities of success, rather than the consequences of failure, at every point of contact.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt, though, is that while people with diabetes don’t often realise that transforming their health can be a straightforward process – once they do, they’re bound to surprise you.

Watch Sheinaz, a GP Practice Manager who achieved Type 2 diabetes reversal with Changing Health, tell the story of her weight loss journey in NHS Digital’s short film