By Tanya Caylor
When Vickie Betz got to age 49 without developing the Type 2 diabetes that had caused her mom so many health problems, she thought she’d escaped that fate.
Shortly afterward she received her own diagnosis.
“I can’t have cookies anymore!” she wailed.
“Yes you can,” her doctor replied. “You just can’t have them every day.”
Though disappointed, Betz knew she was fortunate to get an early diagnosis. By the time her mom found out she had diabetes, it had already damaged her heart and kidneys and likely contributed to the massive stroke that eventually killed her.
As a nurse, Betz knew lifestyle changes could help her dodge or at least minimize a “terrible family history” that includes heart trouble on her dad’s side. He’d had two bypass surgeries.
“Do whatever you can to keep me off the operating table,” she told her doctor, who prescribed daily exercise and a simple low-fat, low-carb diet in addition to the usual medications.
“I am not a fan of exercise,” Betz says now, six years later. But she found an in-home walking video she could live with, followed the diet and lost 10 pounds. As her lab results improved, her doctor gently prodded her to increase her 20-minute walking sessions to half an hour.
Eventually Betz went to work for Dr. Kent Lehman’s family practice clinic in Berne, Ind. As a longtime patient, she liked his emphasis on prevention and tackling problems early on. She appreciated the way he encouraged patients “without beating them up.”
When the clinic added the Take Shape for Life weight-loss program, as a “tool of last resort” for patients who didn’t respond to the simpler diet he’d given Betz, Lehman asked her to undergo training as a program coach.
Betz, who carried her weight well on a tall frame but knew she was still above recommended body-mass index levels, decided to try the program herself and peeled off another 35 pounds.
“My labs were fantastic,” she says. Lehman took her off one medication and cut the dosage of two others.
Though she no longer uses the program’s prepackaged Medifast meals, Betz has maintained her weight for three years now by eating six small low-carb meals a day and exercising three to five days a week.
“I can tell on my labs if I don’t exercise,” she says, explaining that her A1c count goes up and her good cholesterol goes down during periods when she’s less active.
Though coaching patients on the diet plan is a small part of her job at the clinic, Betz can tap her own experience to offer encouragement.
“You really can make a difference in your health,” she says. “It really is listening to your doctor.”
But it’s also about taking responsibility for your actions. Betz weighs herself two to three times a week to stay accountable. She reads labels and tracks her intake.
“To me, it’s just paying attention,” she says.
“Do I eat cake every so often? Yeah. Just not every day. Maybe once a week or every couple of weeks is more like it.”
If that sounds like a sacrifice for someone who calls herself a “foodie” who enjoys cooking and baking, it’s not as bad as it sounds.
“Eating six times a day, I love that,” she says. “I just don’t eat very much at a time.”