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In Their Own Words: Transformations

Life lessons from 6 people living with type 2 diabetes

Tips for successful weight loss

Sometimes we all may need to hear encouraging words to help motivate us to make healthful changes. These inspiring people found ways to transform their eating habits and fitness routines following a diagnosis with type 2 diabetes. They share their stories in their own words. (Be sure to discuss any changes to your meal plan or physical activity routine with your care team.)

Beauty pageant mom, Jill Knapp

Jill Knapp lost 100 lbs while living with type 2 diabetes

Mother of three Jill Knapp shed 100 pounds after being diagnosed with T2, and competed in the Mrs. Idaho pageant, where she finished fifth.

“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 said.

She also started exercising, a few days a week at first, and worked her way up to forty-five minutes a day, five days a week. “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 concluded.

Read more: Jill Knapp reveals her “secret weapon” to stay off sweets. 

Chef Dennis Sheehan learns to cook healthfully 


Dennis Sheehan weighed 285 pounds when he joined a gym near his home. “I felt really bad because here I was, wearing this oversized T-shirt and I could barely walk without gasping for breath,” he said. “The dude next to me was running at about 10 miles an hour at an incline without breaking a sweat. … But finally, I thought about other things I have attempted and done well, so why not this? … The more I educated myself on exercise and eating and diabetes, it made me want to do it more.”

Dennis said he used his culinary skills to begin cooking more healthfully.

“I lost 65 pounds and was able to control my blood sugar with diet and exercise. … It’s a very empowering feeling.”

Read more: Dennis Sheehan discusses how his transformation inspired friends and coworkers. 

From couch to coach: Susan Ito

Susan Ito Type 2 Diabetes

When Susan Ito was diagnosed with T2 at age 49, she was 35 pounds overweight and leading a sedentary life. “I think my diagnosis was really a good thing because it spurred me into action,” Susan said. “If it hadn’t happened, I would’ve just kept on with my couch-potatoey ways. I wouldn’t really have been that motivated.”

After joining Weight Watchers® and the Couch to 5K® running program, Susan became a Weight Watchers Leader and completed a 5K, a 10K and even a half marathon.

“It’s about changes that you can make right now; small, doable changes that are measurable,” she explained. “Don’t do something that’s going to feel like punishment to you,” she advised. “You have to make the food or activity pleasurable … whatever I do, I have to enjoy it on some level.”

Read more: Susan Ito shares more step-by-step transformation tips.

Sarah Boison: A millennial’s transformation


While type 2 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed in older adults, it may affect people at any age. Sarah Boison was diagnosed at age 24 and decided the next day to transform her life. “I had to forgo a lot of the comfort food that I was used to. … White rice is a huge staple. My family is from Africa, so that’s served at every meal.”

She also found pockets of time to exercise between working and pursuing a master’s degree. “I lost the first 15 pounds in my basement,” Sarah recalled. “We had 10 pound weights, which I would just lift over my head. I would do some squats and push-ups. … I was very aggressive with it.”

Read more: A shift in Sarah’s perspective helped her to focus on healthful living, despite a jam-packed schedule.

Sia Figiel: It’s not too late to take your cape and fly


Poet and novelist Sia Figiel said she started walking regularly after being diagnosed with T2 in 2000, but made no other changes. “I was still in denial … I continued on with my own lifestyle of not doing as much as I should.”

When Sia moved from Samoa to Utah for a job, something clicked. “Being in a place where we knew no one gave me the self-confidence to get into a swimsuit, and start swimming and eating differently,” Sia explained. “In nine months, I had lost about 100 pounds. It was a great incentive to know I was finally doing something about it.”

Sia, who advocated at American Diabetes Association events wearing a Superman® T-shirt and cape, concluded: “It’s all about choices. And it’s all up to you. You have the power to change how your story ends.”

Read more: Sia talks more about her transformation.

Denise Elliot’s “Project Me”


Diagnosed with T2 in 1996, project manager Denise Elliot struggled to maintain a healthful lifestyle for 16 years. “At 46, I honestly didn’t know if I would make my 50th birthday,” she said. “So I decided maybe it was time to employ the principles that I would apply to a work project to myself.”

Using her project management background, Denise started on what she called “Project Me.” “In the project management universe, a charter outlines the importance of a project, how you’re going to run it, and defines some metrics and operating mechanisms.” In her first year of Project Me, Denise dropped 77 pounds and lost 14 inches from her waist.

“It’s always going to be a journey,” she said. “I’m always going to be on a continuum of making decisions and moving forward. Every day I clean the slate and start over again. That gives me a lot of strength.”

Read more: Denise describes how Project Me helped her achieve her goals and live more healthfully.

You may also enjoy:

Healthful summer eating

Strategies for successfully losing weight

How sedentary behavior may be affecting your life

Dennis Sheehan, Susan Ito, Sarah Boison, Sia Figiel and Denise Elliot received no compensation for their interviews on Discuss Diabetes; Jill Knapp received no compensation for her interview for The DX. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees and/or contributors, 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. 

Couch to 5K is a registered trademark of Active Network, LLC.

Superman is a registered trademark of DC Comics.

Weight Watchers is a registered trademark of Weight Watchers International, Inc.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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