Metro-East News

YMCA diabetes program helps people lose weight, get healthy

Diabetes prevention program offered at Belleville YMCA

Margie Reaka of Freeburg found help through the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program, which is now in it's second year. It is a one-year lifestyle change program that is geared toward at-risk participants.
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Margie Reaka of Freeburg found help through the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program, which is now in it's second year. It is a one-year lifestyle change program that is geared toward at-risk participants.

Margie Reaka knew she had to do something when her doctor told her she was on the verge of becoming diabetic.

Reaka, of Freeburg, found help through the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, which is now in it’s second year.

She liked the gradualness of the program.

“It’s a very slow-moving program,” Reaka said. “It was something that didn’t start off with ‘today you have to stop eating this and start walking five miles a day.’ It built, and I think that was the beauty of it. Through that building, we learned what we needed to do to improve our health.”

Since starting the program at the Belleville YMCA in August, Reaka said her health has improved “very much,” and she’s lost 18 pounds so far.

When she went back to her doctor in November, her blood sugar levels had dropped. “I was getting out of the danger area,” Reaka said.

In February, she had more testing done, and her blood sugar levels had dropped even more. “It dropped 41 points from last year,” she said. “At that point, I was totally out of danger; that was my big dramatic notice.”

The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program is a one-year lifestyle change program that is geared toward at-risk participants. Participants aim to achieve a 7 percent weight loss goal within the first six months and then maintain their weight loss for the remainder of the program. They also work toward increasing their physical activity level to 150 minutes per week.

“It’s a moderate lifestyle change program. It’s nothing drastic,” said Stefanie McLaughlin, wellness coordinator who runs the program for the YMCA. “Through research, we have figured out by reducing body weight by 7 percent and increasing physical activity to 150 minutes per week that, that segment of the population is in the high risk category ... can significantly reduce their risk factors for developing diabetes.”

The physical activity is equivalent to a “brisk walk. Anything that gets your heart up,” McLaughlin said.

It’s a very slow moving program. It was something that didn’t start off with ‘today you have to stop eating this and start walking five miles a day.’ It built, and I think that was the beauty of it. Through that building, we learned what we needed to do to improve our health.

Margie Reaka of Freeburg

The one-year program covers 25 sessions lead by a certified lifestyle coach. The first 16 sessions are run on a weekly basis. That’s followed by bi-weekly and then monthly meetings.

“It’s a lot of ‘this is what you should do in order to improve your health,’” Reaka said. “You’re not forced. ... It’s always very supportive.”

McLaughlin said 12 people participated in the first session of the program, and seven people are in the second session.

The cost of the program is $429. Reaka’s medical insurance through her employer Wells Fargo in St. Louis covered the cost.

“They are very, very health consensus,” she said of Wells Fargo. “They are always wanting to do things to improve the health of their employees.”

McLaughlin said medical insurance often covers the cost of the program for participants.

In the future, Greg Davenport said the program will be covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Davenport is the associate executive director of the East Belleville YMCA.

Like Reaka, other employees of Wells Fargo participated in the YMCA’s program.

“We bonded well and were a good support for each other and still are,” Reaka said.

Prior to starting the program, Reaka said she wasn’t big on exercise, but now she is walking almost every day.

“My goal is five times a week, and I hit that most weeks,” she said, noting she mostly goes by how many minutes she’s walking.

Her goal is 30 minutes on most weekdays and an hour on Saturdays and Sundays.

“I have more agility now,” she said.

This month, Reaka’s walking goal is 820 minutes. In February and March, she said she walked well over 1,000 minutes.

Reaka said that’s something she learned in the program — that you have to keep increasing the amount of exercise you do.

Reaka has also changed what she eats as a result of the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program.

“I especially watch the carbs — the breads and the rolls — I don’t do too many of those,” she said. “I cut out desserts. I wasn’t a huge dessert eater, but I cut way back on those.”

Reaka also doesn’t eat too much fried foods and eats more vegetables.

It’s a moderate lifestyle change program. It’s nothing drastic.

Stefanie McLaughlin, wellness coordinator for YMCA

Participants are encouraged to keep a food journal, McLaughlin said. “Our participants get a fat-gram goal per day,” she explained. “Based on their current body weight, they get assigned a fat-loss goal, which will put the overall intact within the range where they are going to loss a moderate amount of weight.”

The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program was developed by the University of Pittsburgh. Nationwide, the YMCA has run more than 30,000 participants through the program. To qualify for the program, participants must be 18 years old, have to be in the overweight to obese category and be diagnosed as pre-diabetic.

The YMCA in Belleville is the first branch in the eastern district of the Gatway Region YMCA to adopt the program and hosts classes out of the Belleville YMCA Corporate office. YMCA membership is not required to participate in the program. Participants get a free two-month YMCA membership.

The second program began April 21, and slots are still available. “We can take participants up to mid-May,” McLaughlin said.

The program meets at 6 p.m. on Thursdays at the corporate office, 424 Lebanon Ave. in Belleville.

Other Illinois class locations will be added in the future.

For more information, or to enroll in the program, contact the Gateway Region YMCA at 314-436-1177 or preventdiabetes@gwrymca.org.

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

At a glance

This is what you need to know about the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program:

  • Who is eligible: 18 years old, in the overweight to obese category and diagnosed as pre-diabetic
  • Cost: $429 (may be covered by medical insurance)
  • Where: YMCA Corporate Office, 424 Lebanon Ave. in Belleville
  • Information: Gateway Region YMCA at 314-436-1177 or preventdiabetes@gwrymca.org
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