Retired Appellate Judge Peter Grometer of Aurora knew he had gained weight as he had gotten older, but when his annual physical showed his blood sugar levels were climbing, he figured it was time to take action.
About that time, he learned about Provena Mercy Medical Center's new diabetes prevention program, A-List: Achieving Good Health. He enrolled in the free eight-week program last year, losing 25 pounds and reducing his blood sugar levels to near normal.
Since then, he has kept the weight off, maintained a stepped-up exercise routine, and traded in quarter-pounders with cheese and fries for healthier food choices.
"I learned a great deal about my eating habits and their effect on my lifestyle and health. I felt so much better after I completed the program," he said. "In the past, I had done other diet programs but this was by far the most successful."
Maria Iniguez, clinical manager of Provena's Center for Diabetic Wellness in Aurora, said the hospital has long had education programs for diabetics, but decided the growing epidemic of obesity called for earlier action. Only adults who have one or more risk factors for diabetes, but who have not yet developed the disease, are accepted into the A-List program.
"There was nothing available for people at risk," she said. "This is the first diabetes prevention program in the area."
A $30,000 grant from the Dunham Fund has allowed Provena to expand the program from the two sessions it held last year to offer it year-round. New participants can start the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Sessions are from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Mondays.
"It is completely free," Iniguez said. "The program is offered in Spanish and English."
Participants who apply must have at least one risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes, such as being overweight, having high blood pressure or cholesterol, living a sedentary lifestyle or having a family history of diabetes.
They receive initial screenings that include weight, body mass index, glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight to height ratio. In some cases, applicants are found to already have diabetes and referred to other programs, Iniguez said.
Those accepted are asked to set goals for themselves and receive five weeks of education classes, two sessions with a dietitian, blog support from fellow participants, final screenings and a graduation luncheon. Six-month, one-to-one follow-up assessments also are done.
Grometer said the program required him to keep a daily chart of what he ate and the calorie count. "It was a real eye-opener," he said.
He still goes out for pizza with his kids and has steak occasionally, but now he carries a healthy snack rather than stopping for fast food. Grometer said he also walks, bikes or works out on the treadmill four or five days a week.
"I think it's a wonderful program. It really worked," he said.
Cindy Casas of Plano, who was recognized as the female participant who made the most significant lifestyle changes in last year's program, said she learned to incorporate more exercise into her everyday life by taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking farther away from a building's entrance. The emergency room nurse learned to read food labels and make better choices.
"I've been a nurse for 18 years and I learned a lot," she said. "The small changes you make in your life make a huge difference in our weight and our health."
Casas admits she still has more weight to lose, but the 20 pounds she took off have stayed off. She's equally pleased that her daughter, now 22, started making better food choices and working out after hearing her mother talk about what she was learning in the program.
"Because I went through the program, my daughter has lost 60 pounds," she said.
Iniguez said nearly 26 million American adults and children have been diagnosed with diabetes, and 79 million are prediabetic. With the growing obesity in the United States, the American Diabetes Association predicates that by the year 2050, one in three adults could have diabetes if current trends continue, she said.
"Studies show that with lifestyle changes and modest weight reduction, a person with pre-diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of the disease by 58 percent," she said. "Lifestyle intervention is one of the leading ways to reduce the risk in developing the disease."
Diabetes can cause health complications that include blindness, neuropathy, kidney problems, poor circulation and difficulty in healing. But even people who already have early diabetes can control it with diet and exercise, delaying the time they might have to go on insulin, Iniguez said.
"People may not be aware they are at risk," she said. "People have a hard time finding time to exercise or seeing the importance of it."
Erika Browder of Plainfield, a current participant in the A-List program, joined because she is a borderline diabetic and has high blood pressure.
A worker in the health care field, she knew the consequences of diabetes, worked out and thought she had a healthy diet. So she didn't understand why it was so hard for her to lose weight.
"The two classes, I went to, I learned a lot," she said. "I think I was overeating carbohydrates and snacks as well."
Kristi Brewer, another participant in the program from St. Charles, said she joined because she has diabetes in her family and needs to lose weight.
She's made it a goal to lose half a pound a week and already is packing healthy snacks in her car instead of stopping at McDonald's when eating on the run. She's encouraged by the idea that small changes can work.
"It's definitely doable," she said. "I've tried other things."
Anyone interested in learning more about the A-List program can call (630) 897-4000 or visit www.provena.org/mercy/AList.