It’s not every day that a friend suggests you enter a beauty pageant – and it certainly never struck mother of three Jill Knapp as a possibility, who just two years previously was at her heaviest weight ever, at 237 pounds. But the Boise native ended up entering the Mrs. Idaho pageant at the end of a two-year journey toward better health that began with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and led to a 100-pound weight loss.
Knapp didn’t win the pageant (she did place in the top five), but participating led her to create a website called Get Up and Get Moving, dedicated to inspiring others to better heath. “To compete in the pageant, it’s important to have a platform, something you feel passionate about,” explains Knapp. “I knew doing the pageant would give me the confidence boost I needed to start spreading awareness of type 2 diabetes.” The goal of her site, she says, “is to help others know that it is possible for those living with type 2 diabetes to make positive health choices and live more positive lives.”
Indeed, Knapp’s goal is to help others by sharing her own experiences. She shares those experiences through her site, by the talks she gives as a motivational speaker, and by visiting health fairs and weight loss groups across the country. Her story resonates with so many people, particularly women who, like Knapp, have struggled with emotional eating and stubborn post-pregnancy pounds.
As a child and a teen, Knapp maintained a healthy weight and followed a sensible diet; she was also a professional dancer who did everything from ballet to Irish folk dancing. It wasn’t until her twenties, when her mother passed away two weeks before her wedding that she began to turn to food, primarily sweets, for comfort. After she was married, she also suffered a series of miscarriages. “I remember just eating tons of sugar to numb the pain in my heart,” she says. Happily, she had a successful pregnancy at age thirty, followed by two more at ages thirty-three and thirty-seven. But like many women caring for infants and young children, it was hard to find the time to exercise to help shed the post-partum pounds, and she still continued to eat a sugar-laden diet that gave little thought to proper nutrition or calorie control.
Then, in June 2004, eight months after the birth of her third child, she was feeling unwell and made an appointment to visit her doctor; a fasting glucose test revealed that she was living with type 2 diabetes. “After I was diagnosed, I knew that I had to break what felt like an ‘addiction’ to processed sugar. I started doing research and met with a certified diabetes educator (CDE*). I learned that eating six small meals a day – instead of three – was key for me to stabilize my blood sugars and minimize my sugar cravings,” she says. Her plan worked. While she freely admits to falling off the wagon now and again, eating protein and whole grain-rich mini meals helps keep her blood sugar stable and prevents the cravings that used to result in her succumbing to a sugar-filled snack.
A few typical meals include a half turkey sandwich for lunch on whole-grain bread loaded with lettuce and fresh tomatoes, or grilled chicken breast with a cup of whole wheat pasta with red sauce and steamed veggies. She also snacks on low-sugar protein bars, and calls a teaspoon of peanut butter after dinner her “ secret weapon” to take the edge off and stay away from sweets. “It was a long, slow process, but I knew that the changes needed to be gradual to ensure I stick with them for life,” she says.
Exercise was also essential to her hundred-pound weight loss. Her husband bought her an elliptical trainer, which she set up in her garage. She started out exercising on it a few days a week, and worked her way up to forty-five minutes a day, five days a week. These days she also takes regular exercise classes at a nearby gym including Zumba®, body sculpting, and Pilates. “I have a big support system and a wonderful group of friends who support and motivate me,” she says.
She manages her blood sugar mostly through diet and exercise, and has maintained her goal blood glucose levels since her weight loss. Knapp has also maintained her weight, now a healthy 137 pounds, for nearly seven years by staying consistent with her diet and exercise routine. Her public speaking career has landed her on an award-winning video series called “Second Act” on Yahoo!, and she’s even been featured on The Dr. Oz Show; her website not only shares her story, but offers helpful weight loss tips and inspiration. “I have been truly blessed and love helping others,” she says.
Elizabeth Goodman Artis is a writer and editor with nearly twenty years of experience at some of the top women’s magazines in the country. She has held senior editorial positions at Cosmopolitan, Fitness, and Prevention, and is currently the Executive Editor of Muscle & Fitness Hers. She lives in Brooklyn. Artis is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience