Diabetes Forecast

Channelle's Crash Course to Control Type 2

By Lindsey Wahowiak , , ,

Channelle Washington is just 23 years old, but she's already deeply familiar with type 2 diabetes. She's been living with it since she was 11. But it took a crisis of her mother's health, not her own, to make her take control of the disease.

When Washington, of Hercules, Calif., started her diabetes care, she did it by the book: making drastic changes to her diet, getting frequent exercise, testing her blood sugar, and taking her medication. Once she hit high school, though, Washington admits she got lax with management and, in college, dropped it altogether.

Her A1C (a measure of average blood glucose over two to three months) reached 11 percent and higher. "I started down the slippery slope to bad health, so to speak," she says. "Drinking sodas, not checking my sugar levels, eating poorly, lack of exercise, and denial. I was in denial for many, many years, up until recently."

Get Fit Channelle's Way:
21 Jack
Channelle Washington had a month of intense training to kick-start her workout routines, but now at home, she continues to exercise, without trainers or a gym. You can do the same thing! She uses workout videos to guide her three days a week. Her other favorite routine is called 21 Jack. It requires no equipment, just time and energy. How to: Pick three to five simple exercises (we like jumping jacks, knee lifts, crunches, and modified push-ups, but you could do anything here) and give yourself a time limit—say, 30 minutes, the minimum recommended daily amount of aerobic exercise suggested by the American Diabetes Association. Set your timer and begin, doing each move 21 times. When you finish that round, do each move again 20 times, then 19 times, and so on, until you get down to one or time runs out (and time will most certainly run out before you can come close to completing the exercise countdown!). Try to improve every time you work out—even if it's only by one crunch or one knee lift. Remember to consult your doctor before taking on a new fitness routine.

Her mother's major heart attack in early 2012 was a terrible awakening for the whole family. Washington became the main caregiver after her mother had quadruple bypass surgery. Not wanting to suffer the same fate (her grandparents and other family members also dealt with diabetes and heart disease), one night she sat down and wrote a heartfelt, free-form letter detailing her history and her fears for her own health. She sent it to every gym, health organization, and fitness center she could find. And one day, she got a response—from Core Fitness Solution in Madeira Beach, Fla., near Tampa.

Something in the letter spoke to Linda Mullins, owner and CEO of Core, a comprehensive live-in fitness and wellness camp (think of the ranch on The Biggest Loser). Washington, a first-generation college graduate, described her history of diabetes and reflected on her fears that a perfect storm of poverty, lack of access to healthy foods, and chronic illness would devastate her health. It made an impact on Mullins. After talking by phone with Washington, Mullins offered her Core Fitness Solution's first-ever scholarship to spend a month overhauling her health. "I get a lot of requests for grants, but hers was different," Mullins says. "It was very detailed, and it really moved me."

It was an awesome offer, as Washington says she could not have afforded the $12,000 program on her own. Her scholarship was contingent on two things: Washington would need to maintain her health after camp, and she would become a volunteer and champion for the American Diabetes Association, a partner with Core Fitness Solution in the Tampa area. Washington accepted the conditions and arrived at the camp on August 5 last year.

The cross-country trip to Core was the easy part of her journey. Upon arrival, gaining control of her diabetes was Washington's job, 24/7. She worked out for six hours a day, partnering with a personal trainer who pushed her to her physical limits. Washington hadn't been on a bike in years, and now she was scheduled to ride in her local Tour de Cure® when she returned to California. She hadn't worked out in months, and now she was being asked to run in the heat of a Florida summer. It was overwhelming. "I was trying to build my lung capacity and endurance, but I was definitely not prepared," she says. "It was an adjustment."

When Washington and the other campers (from three to seven others at a time) were not working out, they met one-on-one with nutritionists who helped them navigate not only their own kitchens but also grocery store aisles and restaurant eating. They met with a psychotherapist, who helped them understand their mental health as it related to physical health and their relationship with food. "I learned so much about myself, what triggers my unhealthy habits and customs," Washington says. "I was able to learn about myself and figure out why I do the things I do." Making healthy choices can be tough, she says, when others around her are eating food that's high in carbohydrate and saturated fat. But working with her Core therapist helped her realize she can make her own choices.

The holistic support also helped Washington as she prepared to leave Core nearly a month later—22 pounds lighter and with blood glucose levels that had dropped "from 300 and 400 mg/dl to 81, 79, 100." To leave that support behind made Washington a little nervous. "It was scary because I did see significant changes in my fitness abilities. Being at Core, I was in sort of a bubble," she says. "But you don't leave without a plan." From almost the first day at Core, Washington says she worked with her trainers, nutritionist, and therapist to create workouts, menus, and support systems she could put into effect back home in California.

And, in fact, she did. It wasn't always easy. She picked up a full-time job as an administrative associate at a biotechnology firm, plus a volunteer role with Garden of Peace Ministries (where she shares what she's learned about healthy eating and exercise with area children). Washington worked hard to make sure her busy schedule allowed her to get some exercise. Three nights a week, she does the Insanity workout (a series of interval-training moves designed to maximize stamina). She also performs some workouts she learned at Core. She participated in the Oakland, Calif., Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes® event and will ride in this year's Tour de Cure. Using worksheets, she logs what she eats, when she exercises, her blood glucose levels, and medications. She also gets weekly calls from the Core Fitness Solution staff to check in and keep her on task.

And when she falls off the health wagon, Washington knows she can get back on track. "I've slipped up. It's not easy," she says. "You can't make life changes like this, 1-2-3, easy-peasy, it's done. But Core does weekly conference calls and check-ins. That holds me accountable to maintain and sustain my health. They've given me the help to … keep the ball rolling."

Melissa Brochu Parsons, manager of the ADA's Tampa office, trained with Washington at Core. Parsons calls Washington a role model for people looking to take control of their diabetes and their own health. "She just has a passion for life," Parsons says. "It really impressed me that she would travel across the country to do this. … It was an honor and a privilege to meet her."



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