When Dana Weston learned that her mother’s blood glucose level had reached a dangerous level, indicating diabetes, she kidnapped her and put her in a get-healthy boot camp.
Well, sort of. After consulting with her father and sister, Dana, 31, talked her mother, Del Weston, 67, into moving from St. Louis to Charlotte for a month of training in proper diet and regular exercise.
Del balked. But Dana was persuasive.
“She said, ‘Dad can do without you for a month or he can do without you for a lifetime.’ That was the clincher,’” Del said.
An estimated 70 million Americans have pre-diabetes and more than 650,000 North Carolinians have been diagnosed with diabetes, one of the leading causes of death. Type 2 diabetes can be treated with exercise and diet.
On their first day at the Childress Klein YMCA, Dana planned 30 minutes on stationary bikes. They could take breaks, but they would complete the half hour no matter how long it took.
After two minutes, Del complained her bike was so hard to pedal, it must be broken. They traded machines and started again. Five minutes later, Del was tired. “I’m old. I can’t do this,” she remembers saying.
When her mother started to leave the machine, Dana stopped her. Taking a break meant pausing for a few minutes, not walking away.
“She stopped and cried,” Dana recalled. “But her tears weren’t getting her out of the exercise. She cried while she pedaled.”
“It was miserable,” Del said.
Eighteen days later, Del was pumping away for 60 minutes without stopping.
By the time she returned home to Missouri Monday, Del had lost 16.2 pounds and two dress sizes, down to 18. She is hoping for an improved glucose number after her next blood test.
“This past month was not a quick fix,” said Del, the retired director of financial aid for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “It was just a jump start. If I don’t continue what Dana and I did this month, then shame on me. Because I know better now.”
A new beginning
Daughter Dana blogged about the experience, starting on Nov. 4.
She explained that her mother’s glucose level had reached 146 mg/dL, compared to the normal of 99. Levels of 100-125 mg/dL are considered prediabetic. Anything over 126 indicates diabetes.
Del would need another test before getting an official diagnosis. But Dana, who is director of business development for a division of Novant Health, decided to bring her mom to Charlotte first for some education about diabetes, healthy eating and exercise.
Dana created an exercise schedule for the two of them. Six days a week, sometimes twice a day. Bike, treadmill, swimming pool, weight machines.
“Watching my mom workout at the gym has been inspiring,” she wrote on Nov. 6. “She is truly pushing herself, both mentally and physically.”
Dana also offered weekly prizes for achieving weight-loss goals. The rewards – workout gear, a facial and manicure-pedicure – were paid for by Dana’s sister, Erica, of Wichita, who wanted to support their mother’s efforts.
After losing eight pounds the first week, Del got new tennis shoes. She chose a gray pair, in keeping with her mostly gray and black wardrobe. But at the checkout counter, she changed her mind and went back for the sassy hot pink.
Dana quoted her mother’s comment as they left the store: “I hope we have a workout tonight because I need to show off my new shoes.”
Skipping the bread
Dana and Del also met with a Novant Health diabetes educator, Kim Kyle-Trejos, for tips about making better food choices.
“When I left my head was spinning,” Del said. “The one thing she told me that I will never forget is, ‘This is the new normal for you. Forget about how you have been doing things. It’s a new way of eating.’”
Dana was impressed by Kyle-Trejos’ approach. “She didn’t lecture her, scold her or shame her into submission. Instead, Kim celebrated, encouraged and taught us both.”
Armed with new knowledge, Dana and Del shopped for groceries, sticking mostly to perimeter aisles for fresh fruits and vegetables. They also bought salmon, chicken, veggie burgers, and black beans. They stayed away from starches, such as bread, rice and pasta.
On a “field trip” to a SouthPark restaurant, they asked the waiter to skip the basket of bread and just bring a small slice with their meals. When their entrees arrived, they asked for carry-out boxes and set aside half of each meal before they started eating.
“We enjoyed our meal, and we were comfortably full at the end,” Dana said. “Everything is just so oversized in restaurants.”
When cooking at home, Dana sometimes baked salmon with lemon juice, salt and pepper. No oil or butter. They used medium-sized dinner plates and filled half or more with vegetables and a quarter or more with lean protein. They reserved whole grains, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta, to a quarter of the plate, if they ate them at all.
“We aim to consume no more than 40 grams of carbs per meal and 150 grams of carbs per day,” Dana wrote on her blog. “We use an app called ‘Lose It’ to help my mom keep track of both the calories and the carbs she is consuming.”
Del learned to eat less by eating more slowly. “We wouldn’t sit before the TV,” she said. “We sat at the table, and we talked. It would take us a good 20 minutes, (the time it takes) for your brain and your stomach to realize that you’re full. … If you gobble it up, then you overeat. Before, if I wanted another plate of spaghetti, I’d get up to get another.”
Near the end of the month, Dana was proud of her mother, but worried it would be hard for her to walk away from poor habits she’d had for so long.
So, she asked her mom to “write a break-up letter to her old way of life.”
Del cried as she wrote the letter, excerpted on the blog:
You and I have been one for many years. However, this past month without you has opened my eyes to how badly you have treated me…
With the support of my family and others, I am now armed with the knowledge I need to live and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.… You always told me that I couldn’t exercise due to my bad back and arthritic knees. You have consistently encouraged me to quit … and sweetheart, my mama didn’t raise no quitter.…
I cannot stay with you any longer. … Yes, I have already found someone else. Me. And I am making a commitment to improving the years I have left. I know you’ll want to hold on to me, but you’ll have to wave goodbye to my slimmer backside … because I’m already walking away.
This is our final correspondence.
Back in Missouri, Del planned a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for her family. But she’d keep her half- and quarter-cup measures nearby to guide the size of her smaller portions.
“I want to dance at my 15-month-old grandson’s wedding,” Del said. “I want to be there for graduations. Even if I’m walking slow, I want to be there. And I’ve got to take control of my health. No one can do that but me.”
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