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Special Delivery: How Vanessa Nemeth Stays on Track with her Exercise

Strategies for staying motivated while living with type 2 diabetes

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

We recently highlighted the inspiring stories of Dr. Mitchell Schare and Will Ryan, both of whom are featured in Dr. Beverly Adler’s book, “MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Men with Diabetes.” Today we’d like to introduce you to Vanessa Nemeth, MS, MA, who is featured in Dr. Bev’s other book, “MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Women with Diabetes.”

Vanessa Nemeth
Vanessa Nemeth

Growing up, Vanessa was well-versed in daily life with diabetes. Her father and grandmother both lived with type 2 diabetes. “My father was very successful at keeping his weight down, which I have always had problems with,” she said. “He managed his blood sugar with diet for many years. He also used to jog and do yoga. He was very careful; I never saw him have extreme lows that were debilitating. He served as a very positive role model for me.”

Her grandmother represented the other end of the spectrum for Vanessa. “My dad’s mom passed away from complications related to diabetes before I was born,” she said. “She was probably in her late sixties, early seventies. She was really obese. People would tell me how much I looked like her and I worried that I was going to be like Grandma. I had these two pictures in my head of how living with diabetes could be: really awful or how it could be more positive like my dad’s experience.”

Though upsetting, her type 2 diabetes diagnosis at age 29 did not really surprise Vanessa, given her family history. After an annual physical, her doctor informed her she had diabetes and suggested losing weight and exercising more.

To help with her motivation to be more active, her friends sent her a special “package” that needed to be picked up one night. “My friends told me to meet this flight at the airport, and there would be a package for me there,” she said. “It was a black lab puppy. I fell in love instantly because I had been wanting a dog for such a long time.” Vanessa named the dog Curly because of its uncharacteristically curly tail.

Getting the puppy changed her attitude about exercise. “It was almost like I couldn’t walk just for myself. I needed inspiration and knew I definitely had to take care of this dog. I was too heavy at the time to jog but I could definitely walk. I tried to focus on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do. With diabetes and exercise, there’s almost always something you can do; you just have to figure out what it is. That has really helped me out a lot.”

Vanessa found that her motivation to exercise builds on itself. “I go walking and then I notice that my blood sugar is often better and it really motivates me,” she said. “Even to this day, I’ve noticed that on the days I don’t exercise I don’t feel as good the following day.”

While the exercise did help bring her weight down, Vanessa’s doctor eventually suggested she enroll in a weight loss program through the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Why WAIT is a 12-week program for weight control and intensive diabetes management. Each weekly session is about two-and-a-half hours long, with about 20 participants. The sessions begin with a weigh-in, followed by a one-hour exercise class, concluding with a group discussion facilitated by a psychologist or dietitian.

“Each week we would talk about some kind of emotional issue related to diabetes,” she explained, “such as dealing with diabetes at work or with family or with travel or challenges with meal planning. We talked about how we felt, shared ideas and issues and motivated each other to stick with it. It was a fantastic program that I would highly recommend for anyone who is having challenges with diabetes. I learned so many good habits on how to deal with things that I probably wouldn’t have found out on my own.”

The trainers in the program helped Vanessa adjust her exercise routine to be more productive for her needs. “For me, it wasn’t enough to have just a regular walking routine,” she said. “In order for me to lose the weight, I have to incorporate interval training, doing resistance training and aerobics, at least three times a week. The strength exercises also helped bring down my blood sugar for longer periods of time. That was really important for me to realize.”

These days Vanessa finds motivational support in the online community SparkPeople.com. Not only does she use their food log, but she also enjoys one message board in particular. “There’s a group of people who are trying to go cross-country virtually, either biking, walking or running across the US,” she said. “You log your miles, get little trophies and see how other people are doing. It’s fun to see how far you’ve gotten; I’m two-thirds of the way from New England to Washington State.”

Vanessa also motivates herself with personal goals. “I give myself little challenges,” she said. “For example, this year I’m going to Spain in September. We’re going to be doing a lot of walking so I’m giving an extra push to be as fit as I can be for that trip. I want to grab my camera and visit the country my great-grandparents were from and have fun. I’m taking good care of myself so I can enjoy my trip.”

Vanessa’s motto of focusing on the things you can do, versus the things you can’t, is inspiring and something I can personally relate to having had surgery recently. There are a lot of activities I am not able to do right now, but I am very focused on what I can. At the moment, that happens to be a lot of walking, albeit I am no where near crossing two-thirds of the country (yet). Keep it up, Vanessa – you are an inspiration! Many thanks for sharing your story.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Vanessa Nemeth received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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