Drive Away Diabetes with Community-Based Food for Life Classes
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.
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.
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 TKemp@PCRM.org 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 MHuff@PCRM.org 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.