Managing Diabetes through Lifestyle Changes
Two Patient Stories
Twenty three years ago, Francis Castillo (now 53 years old and a Greenbrae resident) emigrated from Mexico to find a better life for her children. “I’ve had a lot of troubles in my life, including depression and domestic violence,” she says, “all of which created a lot of stress.”
Ayah El-Beshbeeshy, a Clinics registered dietician, explains that life style issues and genetics are the main causes of Type 2 diabetes. In addition to food and exercise, stress can also play a role in blood sugar levels.
Clinics patient Francis Castillo, who has diabetes, takes her daily walk
“Diabetes is very common in our patients,” she reports. “Many of them have multiple life challenges that can complicate their diabetes. Also, Latinos in general are at high risk due to their genetic predisposition.”
Eight years ago, Francis was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Currently on insulin as well as other medications, she is an active participant in the Clinics’ wellness programs. She attended the Clinics’ Diabetes class series and met with the Clinics’ health educator to learn how to modify her diet. “Before, I ate lot of ‘pan dulce’ [sweet bread]. I learned about eating smaller portions; now, I just eat a little piece in the morning and that’s enough.”
Once a week, she attends the “Balanced Life” class that teaches stress reduction techniques like breathing exercises, yoga and Tai Chi. “I like it all,” she says. “The class helps with my stress and also with my arthritis pain – and I do the exercises at home too.”
Today, Francis takes a daily, one-hour walk and volunteers at Canal Alliance. She sees her Clinics physician on a regular basis and continues to attend our programs. When she sees children who are overweight, she knows they may be at risk for diabetes, and talks to their mothers about better nutrition and exercise. And, as she says, “I feel very good.”
Miguel Rivas Ventura (age 50) came to the US from El Salvador in 1991 for a better life and to flee the dangerous civil war. A resident of San Rafael, he currently works at a number of jobs, and has what for many might be a stressful life.
Until 2017, Miguel had always been healthy. But when he became chronically tired, started drinking a lot of water, and going to the bathroom frequently, he knew it might be diabetes. He came to our Clinics for tests and his intuition was correct.
“At first, I didn’t understand why I would have this disease,” explained Miguel. “It didn’t run in my family and I was eating well. But then I realized that chronic stress, with the impact it has on the body, was one of the causes.”
Excercise, good nutrition and stress reduction
For a short time, Miguel was on insulin. He also met with El-Beshbeeshy to learn what foods affected his diabetes. He educated himself about the condition and soon decided to manage most of the lifestyle changes on his own, still checking in with his doctor. He is now off insulin, exercises twice a day, and has adjusted his diet to include more vegetables, fewer tortillas, and less ice cream. He avoids stress by not taking on too much work, talking issues out with others, and thinking positively.
“Right where they should be”
Today, he no longer needs to test his blood sugar on a daily basis – he “just knows.” “If the urge to eat ice cream comes up, I take a walk instead; if I am working hard physically, I know I can have more.”
“Self-care is such a critical part of living with diabetes,” explains El-Beshbeeshy. “Both Francis and Miguel are role models for how active engagement in a wellness program can make a difference. They are right where they should be.”
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