Using Small Changes to Overcome Prediabetes


 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose or A1C levels—which reflect average blood glucose levels—are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.Prediabetes is a growing concern within the United States. 1 in 3 Americans have prediabetes and nearly 500 million will have it by 2030. Being diagnosed with prediabetes is an opportunity to prevent or delay the progression of Type 2 diabetes through healthy lifestyle changes. However, these changes are entirely possible and small changes over time can have a dramatic impact on your glucose levels, as well as other health indicators such as cholesterol and blood pressure. Just ask Karen Morrow, the cohost of the popular Charlotte-based podcast, The Black Guy Who Tips. Karen’s story shines a light on how one’s positive attitude and open-mindedness towards change can help one overcome prediabetes. Karen chatted with Beyond Type 2 to share what changes she made to her diet, how she got into running, and what advice she has for others who are also impacted by prediabetes.

BT2: Hi Karen! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your prediabetes story. When were you diagnosed?

I found out a few years ago in 2017. When you’re younger, you always hear people talk about diabetes or the sugar, as we called it, and hear about people losing limbs but you don’t really ever take it seriously. But as you get older, your metabolism slows down. I just turned 41 and I noticed my metabolism started slowing down when I was around 38 or 39. I went to the doctor, and she told me my glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure numbers were high and I had prediabetes. I really didn’t know how to handle it. I really didn’t know what it meant.

I thought that once they said you had prediabetes, you were probably going to get diabetes. I didn’t realize that there were changes that you can make to adjust accordingly. I think, for me, it was more of a shock because it always seemed like a condition someone else would get. You never think it can happen to you.

Do you have a family history of diabetes?

My family history consists of more cancers — breast cancers, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. But my aunt has prediabetes, but she didn’t get it until she got much older in life.

What recommendations did your doctor make to help you?

She recommended me to be active and eat well. She’d been telling me this for a while, but I blew it off and was in denial. Still, health is important, and you only have one life. But particularly, being a woman, and particularly being a Black woman, a lot of times, you put everyone else before yourself. You’re concerned about other people’s health, but you never really consider your own. Learning I had prediabetes seemed abstract to me, where it wasn’t a real issue, until one day I did a google search to learn more about it. I started to learn how it impacted your body and how it increased the risks of heart attacks and strokes. At that point, I thought to myself ‘I’m too young to be dealing with things like this.’ Plus, I was overweight at 170 pounds, especially for my 5’2 size, which was one of the biggest factors that contributed to my prediabetes diagnosis.

What lifestyle changes did you begin to make to improve your health?  

I’ll tell anybody this – I love to eat, and I live in the south [in North Carolina]. People who follow me on social media know that I would love to go out to eat before the pandemic. If it’s fried, I’m all about it. That was something I had to work on changing. What was ironic for me was that I’d been wanting to get braces for a long time. As a child, my mama couldn’t afford to pay for them for me and Medicaid wouldn’t pay for it unless it interfered with your speech. When I was finally able to afford them, I started eating less and naturally losing weight because of it. Also, I couldn’t stand getting food stuck in my braces. I started eating softer foods like oatmeal in the mornings and grapes for snacks.

When my husband and I would go out to eat, I noticed how ridiculously huge the portion sizes were. I started cutting my portion sizes in half and put the other half in a to-go plate. This was new for me because I was raised very old school – if there is a plate of food in front of you, you must eat it all. Back then, I would feel like I would be wasting food if I didn’t eat it all.

I also started noticing my cues when I was getting full. Once I got full, I started doing things like putting trash on top of the food, putting my silverware on top of the food, because once I did that, I knew I wouldn’t eat it anymore. Other things I would do is push the food out of my line of sight; if it wasn’t in front of me, I wouldn’t consume it.

Considering current events, I had so much stress and frustration that I didn’t know what to do with, so I started running. That’s when the pounds began to fall off of me. That wasn’t the only benefit, running kept my mind free and helped me feel at peace. I actually didn’t realize I was losing weight until my coworkers noticed. I went down several sizes – from a 14-16 to an 8-10, even a 6 depending on the cut. Eventually, I lost about 50-60 pounds in a year or year and a half. Each time I went to visit my doctor, she remarked how great my numbers looked.

For Black and people of color, who may be feeling ashamed to have been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, or feel as if it’s inevitable, what advice do you have for them to address these health challenges in their lives?

Being in the black community, we already deal with all types of shame anyway. We deal with shame from the outside world. You deal with, sometimes being a black woman, shame would be in the women. It’s all kinds of stigmas that you have to fight every day. I shouldn’t have to have my health be a stigma too.

It can be difficult to make those changes when you’re surrounded by processed foods with artificial sugars and fats, even when some things are considered “healthy.” For some of us, it can become an addiction to sugary, fatty foods. But you’re never alone in dealing with these challenges. I think society teaches us not to talk about our issues with food, but there are so many others who are going through the same thing. It just takes someone else’s testimony and words of encouragement to help turn your life around or change your perspective.

For people who feel like they are predestined to have prediabetes or diabetes, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can do your best to prevent that from happening. Sometimes it’s hard, you need to look outside of yourself and realize that you are important, and your life is worth living. There are people depending on you and need you to be alive and healthy. Don’t be wrapped up in your own mind. There are people with all types of diseases that live long, healthy lives. If you have to take medication, so be it. If you need to take shots, so be it. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

It’s about small changes. I say: if you love fried fish, get baked fish. If you love fried chicken, get oven-fried chicken. There are ways to make these new changes work for you. They don’t need to be dramatic, sweeping changes that you won’t stick to. For example, when I started drinking water each day, I noticed I wasn’t as bloated. My ring finger used to be so big and I would get headaches all the time. Drinking more water changed all of that for me.

Another thing? Ask for help. Don’t have so much pride that you’re willing to put your life on the line because you think you can do it alone.

Speaking of asking for help, how did your spouse help you reach your goal to overcome prediabetes?

Well, I can truly say, for my husband, my husband is like, “I don’t care whatever size you are. Whatever size you are, I’m happy.” He’s always been like that. He’s like, “I love you. You, as an individual person,” and says if I’m happy, he’s happy; if I want to lose weight, he has no issue with it. His support has always been there.

Some people have spouses that are very negative towards their body shape. I never really had to deal with that and I’m very grateful for it. He noticed the weight was coming off and he started to lose weight, too. I started making minor changes in my eating habits such as snacking, choosing baked over fried foods, and eating in smaller portions.

One of the best decisions we made was to start using Blue Apron and HelloFresh to start cooking at home. At first, I was doing the bulk of the cooking, but my husband wanted to learn how to cook and ended up loving it. The great thing about preparing your food at home is you can control the sodium, salt, sugar, and fat content. I think the meal deliveries we started using helped us with portion sizes. There’s only two of us and our meal plan gave us enough for two people. Even now during the pandemic, he still cooks us delicious meals.

Thanks for chatting with us, Karen! Please let our audience know where they find you and your podcast.

Yes, if you have any questions, I and my husband do a podcast called, The Black Guy Who Tips.  You can find us at: on our website, The Black Guy Who Tips on Facebook, @TBGWT on Twitter. If you want to hit me up on social media, my social media on Twitter is @SayDatAgain.

WRITTEN BY T'ara Smith, MS, Nutrition Education, POSTED 09/10/20, UPDATED 09/23/20

T’ara was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in July 2017 at the age of 25. Since her diagnosis, she focused her academic studies and career on diabetes awareness and living a full life with it. She’s excited to have joined the Beyond Type 1 team to continue her work. Two years later, T'ara discovered she'd been misdiagnosed with Type 2 and actually has LADA. Outside the office, T’ara enjoys going to the movies, visiting parks with her dog, listening to BTS, and cooking awesome healthy meals. T’ara holds an MS in Nutrition Education from American University.