diabetes and SWAP

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written by a SWAP graduate

In May 2016 I received the news that I had Type 2 (sometimes known as late onset) Diabetes, which came as something of a shock as I had only gone to see the doctor to find out whether I was menopausal.  On reflection I really should not have been surprised as I had been sleep walking towards the disease over a number of years.

According to Diabetes UK there are over 4 million people in the UK with Diabetes (3.5 million adults), that represents an increase of 65% over the last decade.  Worse still there are thought to be over 500,000 people with undiagnosed Type 2 Diabetes.

You may now be incredulous at the idea that anyone could be walking around with a potentially life threatening condition and not recognise that there was something amiss.  Take it from me it is all too possible, I had none of the symptoms: no excessive thirst, no lack of energy, no constant tiredness and no constant running to the toilet.

What I did have was excess weight, particularly around my middle, a BMI of well over 30 and poor eating habits; I didn’t eat breakfast and packed myself at lunch and dinner with a lot of refined carbs.  The sweet tooth, love of milk chocolate and cake, combined with a love of cooking and baking and cooking and eating too much had all taken a very serious toll.  The most sobering part of the diagnosis was that I had been walking around with the disease for at least 3 years with absolutely no clue! I should also mention that I had a blood sugar level of 10 when the upper range of normal is 6.1, so not a good position to be in.

the first steps

Once I recovered from the devastation of the diagnosis and worked my way through my anger issues – I have a Biology degree and majored in physiology, “how could I have been so stupid?” I reverted to the constructive person I like to believe I am.  I researched the disease, signed up for the Diabetes UK newsletter, went to a training day with Diabetes UK to get information on my condition and how to manage it.

I got off my backside, got myself a step counter and started to walk, the reality of just how sedentary I had become was another shock.  On a normal day without realising it I struggled to do 3000 steps.  The recommendation is for 10,000!  I started with a target of 8,000 steps and gradually worked my way up to 10,000 per day by getting off the bus early and walking to work, walking at lunch time and getting off the bus even earlier on the way home and walking again.  I cut out all cake, chocolate, alcohol - yes I know this might sound dire, but when the alternative is: amputation, blindness, infection, heart disease, increased risk of cancer ( I could go on) you find the motivation. In 3 short months I lost 10 kilos and then I plateaued and started looking around for inspiration re how to take my weight down further and increase the potential and extent of my remaining years.

It was coming up to Autumn, I may not feel like walking when the weather turned and in any event I needed to do something additional to walking to move the extra weight.  I had started at 94 kilos and at 84 kilos nothing else was budging.  The ideal weight for someone my height is a maximum 65 kilos. I was uninspired re my diet and the healthy alternatives that were out there for me.  I knew I needed help.

finding SWAP

As luck would have it I worked in a building where there is a women’s only gym which is owned by The Bridge who run a weight and activity programme S.W.A.P (Southwark Weight and Activity Programme).  I noticed a poster in the lift advertising for participants and I had a lightbulb moment.  Now at this point I can hear you screaming “are you stupid?  There is a gym in the building that you could use.  Isn’t the solution obvious?”  The answer to your question is NO!  I have spent the last 30 years avoiding the gym, the thought of the tedium of the treadmill, my whale like proportions in Lycra let alone attending, Yoga, Pilates or heaven fore-fend Zumba classes absolutely appalls me and I suspect that I am not alone in that opinion. Quite apart from the fact that I would not know where to start or what to do once in a gym, the whole prospect for me was intimidating and totally off putting. So for me a gym was not a solution but a scary and intimidating prospect.  So much as I like to think of myself as sensible, logical and constructive, for me pride and cowardice trumped all.

Luckily for me that poster was a big turning point.  I was accepted onto the next S.W.A.P programme and I can say it was the best 12 weeks of my year and in all seriousness has probably gone a long way to improving my long term prospects for managing my condition.  “How can you say that?”  – I hear you ask.  Well, my weight is now down to 74 kilos, I have gone from obese class 2 to overweight with a BMI of 28 and my blood sugar level is down from 10 to 6.6.  “How did this happen?” – The answer is simple S.W.A.P!

Over 12 weeks I was introduced to a new world, the variety and enjoyment of exercise, each week sampling something new: Swing Train, Boxing, Mindfulness and free gym membership with induction and on- going help for the duration.  We had cook and eat sessions, learned about nutrition and portion size, really thought about and understood what we ate.  Simply put, it equipped me with everything I needed to live a healthier life.

For those of you still doubting and muttering that you could learn all that from a book, trust me when I say it is not the same.  S.W.A.P not only brings everything to life in a positive, encouraging and nurturing environment, it introduces you to new friends. I have met some really wonderful people who have made my life richer, so I feel it has not only catered for my physical wellbeing but also my emotional and mental wellbeing. My doctor is thrilled and impressed, I am relieved and hopeful.  Better yet, even though my programme completed at Christmas I have two years further support from the programme to help keep me on the straight and narrow and help me lose the additional weight. 

Now tell me what could be better than that?

Sarah Hicks