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.”

The Silver Bullet For Population Health? Personalised Care

Personalised care may be the solution, considering that most of us can’t exactly make rational decisions about what we eat. We, as a nation, know full well that consuming too much sugar and fat, and too few vegetables and fruit, is detrimental to our wellbeing and longevity. Yet the vast majority of us do it anyway.

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) published by Public Health England in March showed that in 2014-16, adults consumed on average 4.2 portions of fruit & vegetables per day, fewer than PHE’s recommendation of 5 per day – to which just 31% of adults adhere. As a result, only one third of the UK population is not overweight.

So why do we make these choices? Information and guidance on nutrition is widely available. The argument that “not everybody can afford to eat healthily” is – at least in 2018 – a myth, as was recently evidenced by Changing Health lifestyle coach Holly Hart in her mission to document an entire week’s worth of healthy, tasty cooking for just £20.76.

The answer lies in behavioural psychology. We often make rapid decisions on what to eat based on habitual, social and environmental factors – “it’s takeaway Friday”; “everyone’s heading to a steakhouse”, “I’m hungry, and I’m drive past McDonalds on my way home from work”.

Overcoming these psychological factors is not easy. Many people need support to do so. Some face-to-face interventions, such as WeightWatchers and Slimming World, can give people a better understanding of how they could eat more healthily and assist in weight loss, but don’t equip people with the repertoire of psychological tools needed to sustain such a change over the long term.

Changing Health Provides Personalised Care

More personalised care, however, can be highly effective in translating motivation into new behaviours that become firmly established over time. Changing Health’s team of expert lifestyle coaches, trained in health psychology techniques, help programme users to make this happen.

Coaches devise a unique programme to each user’s individual needs, which requires a thorough understanding of that user’s current lifestyle habits to identify barriers to change. Open-ended questions and active listening are therefore crucial from the outset.

As Carl Lumsden, Changing Health Coaching Team Leader, puts it: “Lifestyle coaching offers us the ability to explore every client’s needs and tailor make our behaviour change programme to suit them. I often find that many users have digested all the guidance on diet and exercise. They know they need to make a change. However, they’re rarely equipped to put this into practice.”

Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) goals, from skipping takeaway fridays to walking home from work, is key to success. For example, research shows that those who write their goals down, share them with a mentor or friend, and provide regular updates on progress are 33% more likely to achieve them.

Reflecting on and summarising interactions shows users their coach has listened to them and understood, while feedback on performance, social support and prompts and cues are all important for continued motivation.

Personalised interventions have been proven effective in better engaging people with their health and healthcare, and facilitating long-term behavioural change. If they can be adopted at scale, the implications for public health are boundless.

Changing Health’s behavioural science white paper will be published on 16 May 2018 at the Primary Care Conference, NEC Birmingham. Meet the author Mark Williams on our About Us page.