A medical professional holds a mini chalkboard that says, 'Diabetes.'
An in-depth diabetes education program at Spectrum Health is designed to help patients avoid the onset of Type 2 diabetes. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

It’s generally accepted that eating healthy, losing excess weight and exercising are the best ways to prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Most folks, however, find it difficult to take the initiative without getting the support needed to achieve these goals.

Janine Riemersma, 54, of Ada, Michigan, understands this well.

“I have for the past few years become more active in managing my health,” she said. “But I needed to learn more about eating correctly and finding that balance between eating, exercising and how to combine food and meals to give you a lasting energy level.”

Enter Spectrum Health and its offering of a national program designed to give people with pre-diabetes the tools they need to avoid the development of Type 2 diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designed the program, which is being offered at Spectrum Health partly through an American Association of Diabetes Educators grant. The CDC has made the Diabetes Prevention Program available to medical centers throughout the nation.

Riemersma has been one of the first patients to complete the Spectrum Health Medical Group Diabetes Prevention Program.

“It was outstanding for me,” Riemersma said. “When we did my final weigh-in, I had lost 20 pounds over the past year.”

The program is geared entirely toward people diagnosed with blood sugar levels in the range for pre-diabetes or being at risk for developing diabetes, said Emily Woodcock, a Spectrum Health registered dietitian and a diabetes educator.

The program involves 16 weekly sessions, followed by a six- to eight-month period in which participants meet once a month, Woodcock said.

Participants are provided fitness and food logs and shown how to make an action plan.

Each person’s plan may vary from week to week, Woodcock said, so that if someone discovers they’re not eating properly, they can adjust the plan.

Along with healthier eating and improving exercise routines, participants are also encouraged to lose 5 to 7 percent of their starting weight. If the program doesn’t get them to their proper weight, they’re encouraged to continue dieting after leaving the program.

The Spectrum Health program is sponsoring four groups, each comprised of about 10 to 15 participants.

Members of Priority Health can participate for free, while the grant covers the cost for anyone who doesn’t have Priority Health, Woodcock said.

Each participant needs a doctor’s prescription before starting the program and they must also have pre-diabetes. This means anyone with diabetes cannot join the program.

Generally, the participants are age 50 and older, although younger individuals are accepted if they’re at high risk of developing diabetes.

Riemersma found the program’s moral support and encouragement particularly helpful.

“I liked the group atmosphere,” she said.

She’s also grateful that she can maintain contact with her group leader. If she has a question or simply needs some support, she can give Woodcock a call. She also has the email addresses of everyone from her class, so they can contact each other from time to time for encouragement.

Riemersma’s husband, Kevin Moore, didn’t participate in the program but he’s also a big fan. He enjoys indoor stationary cycling, which means he gained a workout partner in Riemersma.

For her part, Riemersma remains wholly impressed with the program.

“Some people dropped out, but it’s worth the yearlong commitment because it helps you for a lifetime,” she said.