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Group helps people live with diabetes through the holidays, beyond


Participants in Vidant Health's monthly diabetes support group discussed holiday diets this week. The group meets the first Monday of every month.


By Tyler Stocks
For The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Living with diabetes doesn’t mean you have to pass on Grandma’s fruit cake. You just have to cut back.

At the monthly meeting of the Pitt County Diabetes Support Group, members exchanged delicious holiday recipes and learned how to cut down on carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar issues and interfere with medications.

Monday’s session on Holiday Living & Diabetes was designed specifically to help members through a time when they likely would be tempted by the holiday treats, but it is a sampling of what the support group offers to members throughout the year. 

For more than 10 years, Susan Houston, nursing case manager and certified diabetes educator at Vidant Health, has helped hundreds of diabetes patients find resources to enhance their quality of life at the monthly meetings.

“The purpose of diabetes support groups is to let people know they’re not by themselves,” Houston said. An estimated 2.5 million North Carolinians, or one in three, have pre-diabetes.

The free meetings, which are held 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at Vidant’s Edwin W. Monroe Conference Center, offer participants practical tips on how to manage their diabetes more effectively.

“Diabetes is a silent killer like heart disease,” Houston said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and it’s the seventh leading cause of death nationwide.

“A lot of us are not exercising,” Houston said. “We’re staying at a computer and eating and drinking things we shouldn’t be.”

One in four don’t know they have it, she added. However, the American Diabetic Association’s website, diabetes.org, offers a free diabetes risk assessment test.

Some common risk factors include:

• Family history

• Lack of physical activity

• Obesity

• Being over age 45

• Being African-American, Native American, Latino, Asian-American, Asian, Indian or Pacific Islander

• History of gestational diabetes

This Holiday season, Houston said it’s important to count carbs and reduce portion sizes. The recommended amount of carbs is 30-35 grams for women and 40-45 grams for men.

And a “no carbs” diet isn’t the answer. The body needs a certain amount of sugar to function. The answer is diabetes education. According to Houston, going to see a primary physician isn’t enough.

“Diabetes education is not all going to come from your provider,” Houston said. “Patients need to be engaged in their care. Not enough people see a diabetes educator.”

In addition to meeting with a diabetes educator and attending support groups, Houston recommends exercising and eating healthy.

“You can walk every day and you don’t have to join a gym or eat fancy food,” Houston said. 

“You just have to know what carbs are and how to plan for your meals,” she said.

“If you can read numbers on drink bottles, you’re looking for zeros. You want bottles to have zero calories and zero carbohydrates.”

During the Monday night meeting, members shared ideas like adding zero-calorie flavoring to water, making lemonade or coffee and drinking diet ginger ale. They also recommended looking to websites, like Dlife.com or diabetes.org, for recipes to try. Other tips included offering smaller serving spoons and baking, boiling or steaming instead of frying.

The support group draws about 10 people to most of its meetings. Members like Jeff Hart, the free education Houston provides is invaluable.

“We talk about many different things,” Hart said. He recommends anyone with diabetes attend at least one meeting. “Come and check it out,” he said. “You learn so much, and if you only learn one thing, it’s important.”

For Dede Carney, a spouse of a diabetic patient, the Diabetes Support Group is informational and fun. “This group offers practical ways to cut down on holiday eating and to become more aware,” Carney said. “If [diabetes] runs in your family, you don’t have an excuse not to be here.”

Diabetes management can be difficult but having access to certified diabetes educators and support groups like this offer solace, members said Monday night.

For more information on The Pitt County Diabetic Support Group, you can call (252) 847-1436 or visit vidanthealth.com.