“I didn’t want to know. I was in denial,” said Romulo Villanueva, a 23-year King County employee in Roads. However, something urged him to attend one of the on-site diabetes screenings King County offered to employees last January.
His result came back high… prediabetes. He went through the motions of signing up for the Diabetes Prevention Program, not really sure exactly what was in store, but knowing that he wanted to do what he could to prevent himself from suffering through the devastating toll diabetes took on his mother. This was a wakeup call. He shared the numbers with his doctor at his next physical, who repeated the A1c blood test that he had had at the screening event at work. Sure enough, the number was high again. Romulo knew that it was time to get real and be honest with himself. He was on track for becoming diabetic.
Romulo started the 16-week Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) in February at 220 pounds, a weight he had been at for years. His goal was 198, or 7% of his body weight. This is the amount of weight loss that research shows can significantly reduce the chance of diabetes for people at risk. The lifestyle coach leading his DPP class encouraged the group to become conscious of what they were eating. For Romulo, rice was his downfall. He ate large portions of it. It was part of his routine, part of his upbringing. Decreasing to a smaller portion size was hard, nearly as hard as when he had quit smoking over 30 years prior. But he kept at it with the encouragement of the lifestyle coach and the rest of the class. Tracking what he ate was eye opening. And each week, when he weighed in at class he began to notice that what he ate made a difference. 218 pounds one week, 216 the next. If his weight went up or not down as much as he expected, he looked back at his food log and could pin point exactly what he had put into his body that resulted in the number he was seeing on the scale. Over time, he began to eat smaller and smaller portions of rice, and found that he wasn’t craving the large amounts he once did.
A few weeks into the program, Romulo noticed his new belts were getting loose. He had to add another hole. By December, he not only needed new belts, he needed new jeans. Much to his surprise, he pulled out some old jeans from his closet he had put there 15 years before. “And what do you know, they fit! And they are back in style too!” he says laughing. He had gone down four pant sizes and reached his goal weight a few weeks before the end of the program. By the last class, he was at 196 pounds, 2 pounds under his goal. The change in Romulo wasn’t just in his weight. His blood sugar was improving too. After the screening event at work and visiting his doctor, he began testing his blood glucose every morning when he got up. Today, his blood glucose level has decreased by 60% and is close to the normal range. Romulo and his wife also began walking together in January. “A terrible time of year to start something like that,” he says now with a smile. “It’s raining and cold – get your jacket, get your umbrella!” And they did and went anyway. Walking is just part of his routine now. A 45-minute route with his wife each night and a 15-minute walk on his breaks at work.
His advice for others? “Be honest. You have to be honest with yourself.” Romulo’s next goal is 182 pounds, with a long-term goal of 175. With the skills and lifelong changes he has made as a result of the Diabetes Prevention Program – and 3 beautiful grandchildren to be there for – he will certainly get there.