Sitting opposite her GP in the doctor’s surgery, Cynthia Morris thought she knew what was coming. A blood pressure test had registered high and the mum-of-three assumed she was about to get advice on managing her ongoing high blood pressure. What she wasn’t expecting to hear was that she had type 2 diabetes.
For a moment, Cynthia was speechless. She’d seen her late dad struggle to manage his type 2 diabetes with insulin, needing to inject himself several times a day, and finding she might be on the path to a similar health future filled her with fear. ‘I was only 32 when
I lost my dad to complications from his diabetes,’ she says. ‘With my youngest aged 11, I knew I didn’t want my three boys to go through that same grief.’
Type 2 diabetes is a condition where your body can’t regulate the amount of sugar in your blood and, if left unchecked, it can eventually affect all the organs in your body, leading to serious complications. Cynthia had already noticed some classic symptoms – fatigue, thirst, blurred vision, headaches – but she’d put them down to other causes, like getting older, stress, high blood pressure and the fact that she wore glasses.
Like 90 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes, Cynthia found her weight was a contributing factor. There’s good news, though... Managing type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes, medication, or a combination of both, can make a big difference to the way your body regulates blood sugar, says Sarah Woodman, a specialist dietitian who works with the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation. ‘In some cases, losing weight through healthy eating and exercise can cause the symptoms to disappear and bring your blood sugar to a healthy level.’
Reassured by the doctor that there were things she could do herself to manage the condition, Cynthia felt determined.
She knew it would mean some major changes to the way she was eating, but she was all too aware of how much her dad’s life had changed as his diabetes had progressed.
‘Our lives revolved around his insulin injections,’ she says, ‘so when I thought about my options – making healthy, long-term changes, or trying to fit in medicating myself between rushing around after the kids and travelling for work – it didn’t seem like a difficult choice.’
To get Cynthia started, she was offered a one-day NHS education course, known as the DESMOND programme (Diabetes Education and Self Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed). ‘The course was such an eye-opener,’ Cynthia says. ‘Because of my dad’s experiences, I thought I knew about diabetes – I’d believed sugar was the main cause, so I’d stopped taking it in my tea. I thought that would help, even though I was still eating chocolate and cakes. On the course, I found out that sweet foods were just one part of the picture, and certain refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, cause a sharp rise in blood sugar – and I’d been in the habit of eating four slices of toast in one sitting.
‘I’d started comfort eating after losing Dad, and then I got promoted to IT manager at work, which meant going to lots of corporate events with rich meals in big portions. I began following a restrictive diet and lost 3st, but as my mum’s health declined due to dementia, the stress of nursing her on top of doing my job began to take its toll, and I ended up putting all the weight back on, plus a bit more. I ate to soothe myself – even more so after she passed away.’
Following her diabetes diagnosis, Cynthia realised she needed support and to find a healthy way of eating that she could stick to long term.
So, in May 2017, Cynthia asked a friend to join Slimming World with her and they went along to a group in West Norwood, south London. ‘I couldn’t believe it when I found out I weighed 15st,’ Cynthia says. ‘Even though the dress I’d bought for my mum’s funeral was a size 18, I’d assumed the shop had got its sizing wrong because, in my head, I was a size 14.’
One of the biggest surprises for Cynthia was how simple swaps could really make a difference. ‘When I started Food Optimising, my first thought was what I could swap in for the sweet treats I’d always turned to for comfort. I stopped buying chocolate and instead had fresh fruit or a low Syn yogurt. And instead of sugary drinks, I’d choose black coffee with a dash of low Syn flavoured syrup, or diet cola.’
If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, Food Optimising can be safe and beneficial, says Slimming World dietitian Jennifer Kent. ‘As well as helping you enjoy a balanced diet in line with Government healthy eating guidelines, it’s easy to follow, helping you to lose weight effectively,’ she says. ‘And losing even five to 10 per cent of your starting weight can bring significant health benefits.’
By July 2017, Cynthia had lost a stone and felt confident enough to join her local gym. As well as supporting weight loss, Sarah Woodman says exercise can make a big difference to type 2 diabetes symptoms. ‘It reduces the level of circulating glucose in the blood because your muscles are using it to fuel the exercise,’ she explains. ‘It burns calories, which can support weight loss, and it also helps to lower blood pressure and keep your circulation healthy. One of the long-term side effects of diabetes is neuropathy – losing the feeling in the extremities of your body – and exercising regularly can help to reduce the risk of that, too.’
At a routine check-up six months after joining Slimming World, Cynthia was amazed to be told her type 2 diabetes wasn’t just under control, but had gone into remission.
‘I was relieved. I couldn’t believe my health could change so much in such a short time – and all without medication,’ she says. Two and a half years on from her initial diagnosis, Cynthia’s diabetes hasn’t resurfaced. Fit, happy and bursting with energy, she’s now 10st 5½lbs and a size 10.
As well as Food Optimising becoming a way of life for Cynthia, she’s fallen in love with exercise, regularly going to Zumba and box fit – often with her two younger sons, Reece, 15, and Kieran, 14. ‘I walked seven miles with a friend from group the other day,’ Cynthia says. ‘She’s 20 years younger than me and I can keep up with her – I used to think my age was holding me back, when really it was my weight.’
At her most recent check-up, Cynthia’s doctor couldn’t believe she was the same patient. ‘And I couldn’t feel more different,’ she says. ‘My migraines have gone, my blood pressure and vision are normal and I’ve got so much energy. It’s a huge comfort to know that if I stick to my new lifestyle I’m less likely to get as ill as my dad, and I can be there for my kids as they get older. That’s all I want in life.’
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes:
Being overweight or obese
Having a waist size of 31½ins (women) or 37ins (men) or more
Drinking too much alcohol
Being physically inactive
Having high blood pressure
Having a parent or sibling with the condition
Being of South Asian, Afro-Caribbean or Black-African descent
If one or more of these apply to you, ask your GP for a blood glucose test, particularly if you are experiencing symptoms such as:
Urinating more frequently
Wounds taking longer to heal
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.