The Physicians Committee

Drive Away Diabetes with Community-Based Food for Life Classes

  August 27, 2014    

In my work as a diabetes researcher, I’ve learned two important lessons about type 2 diabetes: First, it does not have to be a one-way street—it can get better and sometimes even disappear. Second, to successfully turn around the disease, it pays to have support—from family, friends, or a class. For the past few months, the Physicians Committee has been hosting free five-week-long series of Food for Life diabetes workshops for Washington, D.C.-area residents hoping to manage type 2 diabetes by adopting a healthful, plant-based diet. Since starting in February, the program has put more than 200 people on the path toward improved health.

I start each series by talking with participants about the root causes of diabetes and why our country’s growing obsession with meat, cheese, and other fatty foods has contributed to the escalating epidemic. I also share research and success stories that show that plant-based diets have the power to reduce the risk for diabetes and benefit those who have already been diagnosed. I ask participants to wade into this new way of eating by testing out healthful possibilities to see what they like. Together, we brainstorm ideas for plant-based meals that are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. After testing them out, most people are surprised to find how easy and delicious this transition can be.

Sweet Potatoes Sweet potatoes are high in nutrients and extremely versatile!

For the next four weeks, the class puts this information into practice in a supportive group environment. Every Tuesday night, the class meets to discuss the week’s challenges and successes, and participants learn new techniques to help them easily transition to their new diets. With the support of the group, everyone feels prepared with all the tools they need. Our weekly meetings keep people feeling motivated to stick to the plan. Food for Life instructor Kara Blank-Gonzalez taught a recent class to prepare a flavorful leafy green salad with baked sweet potatoes and oil-free dressing, fiber-packed brown rice with black bean chili, and Chocolate Cherry Nirvana Smoothies. Throughout the food demonstrations, class participants asked questions and shared tips with one another about best practices, local grocery store finds, and food substitution ideas, creating a positive, friendly environment.

Diabetes Class Food for Life Instructor Kara Blank-Gonzalez preps a leafy green salad for the class.

Recent projections show that if we don’t act now, 17.9 million new diabetes cases are expected in 2015, with 51.7 million new cases expected in 2030. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can turn this trend around by working together as a community to focus on the foods that best promote health. Our most recent class series started Aug. 26! Check it out on the Physicians Committee Meetup Page. And a five-class Kickstart Your Health series begins Oct. 9. For more information or to reserve a spot in an upcoming class, please contact Tara Kemp at or 202-527-7314. The Physicians Committee also has free Spanish-speaking classes starting tonight, Aug. 27. For more information or to reserve a spot in a Spanish-speaking class, please contact Mallory Huff at or 202-527-7347. Remember: It’s important to continue to work with your doctor or health care provider to track your progress and monitor your medications.



Do you know when your clinic is scheduled to open? I'd like to become a patient ASAP ; I was a participant in your last type 2 Diabetes workshop

This is awesome. I vote we roll these classes out nationwide!

we eat whole unprocessed srtcahes like oatmeal, beans, brown rice, corn and potatoes with no butter fat or cheese on the potatoes. she is supposed to be helping people with diabetes and yet she had never heard of dr john mc dougall or the starch based diet. i said dr mc dougall is an internist who has written books and been practicing medicine for over 30 years. he gets hundreds of diabetics off insulin & reverses heart disease with his starch based diet plan.I said we both follow an unrefined, unprocessed, high carbohydrate, lower fat, very high fiber, and plant based diet & we have much better health. I said our diet is based on fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, “intact” whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes. It is not only very healthy; it is also very effective for weight loss/management, diabetes and heart disease. It is low in calorie density so if you eat this way you can fill up without overeating and not worry about being hungry. In addition, it is very high in nutrient density, so you will be optimizing your nutrient intake at the same time. I don't need to worry about weight like my husband does so I can eat more nuts, bread, pasta and avocados than he can. I told her my husband lost 40 pounds, got his blood sugars controlled and has a 145 cholesterol and is off statin drugs and BP meds. She almost did not know what to say.

i am having troble with my hemoglobin A1C

I am extremely grafetul for my personal physician on Cape Cod who practices lifestyle medicine. He's part of the largest internal medical practice on the Cape Emerald Physicians and with its 11 offices, each staff member of this unique practice is making an impact on the entire Cape community. My doctor often lectures gratis on Saturdays, and spreads the message about the healing benefits of plant based foods. He is whole foods,plant based, a physician who walks the talk! Imagine that!!! Every year the practice sponsors a VivaPalooza Health Fest with speakers, vendors, food, etc. In 2008 Dr. Esselstyn was the Health Fest's keynote speaker. Still, there are those physicians, down the street, who continue to practice medicine in the dark. A friend who was eating healthy' for a few months went to his physician on the Cape, and the doctor wanted to know what lifestyle changes he made since his BP and cholesterol were remarkably lower. This elder friend responded that he was eating vegan'. His doctor, reportedly, was aghast and told him not to indulge in that; that those people' are sickly. Well, you can imagine the rest of the story. Our friend returned home, told his honey that he was no longer going to eat twigs and nuts', and that he wanted a steak. Can you guess how his health is today? This should be a paradigm shift that sweeps across the country like the Santa Ana winds. It's blowing, not gale force, as yet, but change is happening. With physicians like those in our family (you know who they are), word is spreading. So, Jim, you are a light in this crusade. Bless you for your fortitude, faith, tenacity, and truth telling. Keep it up. You are appreciated!

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Connect with Dr. Barnard



Stay Connected

Receive action alerts, breaking medical news, e-newsletters, and special offers via e-mail. Sign up >