The Centers for Disease Control reports that one in three U.S. adults has pre-diabetes, as determined by a patient’s glucose level (A1C) of 5.7-6.4. Approximately thirty percent of those with pre-diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes, a condition that can result in skin infections, kidney damage, nerve damage, blindness, limb loss, heart disease, stroke, and death.
The good news is that both type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes can be managed and improved through better nutrition, exercise, and weight loss. Natalie Feyrer, a physician contracting specialist at Banner Health, who lives in Scottsdale learned this firsthand.
In 2019, Natalie was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes based on an A1C level of 7.2.
“I knew I had to make an immediate change, as I didn’t want to use insulin,” Natalie says, referring to a medication that is often delivered by injection or pump when blood sugar can’t be controlled through other means. “I also had been gaining a lot of weight, and had difficulty sleeping due to sleep apnea, which occurs mostly in overweight people.”
Natalie’s primary care physician set her up with a nutritionist who taught her how to pay attention to both the amount and type of food she consumed.
“I needed to really rethink my food choices, but I needed convenient options. Given the high amount of sodium used in frozen dinners, I couldn’t eat those anymore, nor any processed foods,” she adds. “Instead, I learned how to control food portions by purchasing plastic containers with compartments.”
Thanks to those changes, a year later Natalie’s A1C level had dropped to 6.2. She no longer had diabetes, and with the help of a CPAP machine, she was sleeping through the night. She was still pre-diabetic though, so she wanted to do more.
“That’s when I got the email from my health insurer Banner|Aetna, inviting me to participate in its new Healthy Kitchen Program,” she says.
Developed in partnership with Feeding America, the invite-only Kitchen Program provides hands-on, clinical evidence-based lifestyle instruction to Banner|Aetna members diagnosed as diabetic or pre-diabetic at no cost to the individuals or their employers. Every two weeks for four months, Natalie and 15 fellow members attended a “dinner party” held at a Scottsdale culinary institute where a professional chef and a dietician taught participants everything from how to use kitchen knives effectively to which spices to select to improve the flavor of one’s meal without adding unhealthy carbs, fats, or sodium.
Dressed in their Banner|Aetna aprons, Natalie and the other participants learned how to prepare a different easy, healthy, and tasty meal each session under the chef’s watchful eye. The entire group then sat down together at the table to eat what they prepared. The dinner conversation included a discussion about not just cooking, but also tips for good nutrition and incorporating physical activity into daily life. The members leave each party with a free bag of groceries containing ingredients from the meal so they can go home and practice what they have learned.
Upon completing the program, members also receive a gift card to Sprouts Farmers Market or Sur La Table to help them continue to eat and cook healthy, low-carb meals.
Natalie says she learned so much in the Kitchen Program, particularly about how to introduce more vegetables into her diet and how to cook easy but delicious meals with them.
“I had never eaten lentils before. Or eggplant and zucchini. Now I know you can put zucchini in grilled cheese. I’ve bought myself a plant-based cookbook to try even more recipes and vegetables. I learned simple tricks like not to eat any carbs after 4pm so you don’t wake up with high blood sugar,” Natalie says.
“I no longer get heartburn because I am eating the right foods for my body. I also no longer suffer from blurry vision. I am an avid reader and the idea that I could lose my eyesight from diabetes really scared me. Most of all, I learned that changing how I eat and approach exercise is not temporary. This is a lifelong journey,” she adds.
Banner|Aetna continues to support Natalie on her wellness journey, and she is working with a coach to kick off her participation in Virta Health’s innovative diabetes management program. Virta’s diabetes treatment program helps people with prediabetes and diabetes actually reverse their condition without medication so they can get back to doing what they love the most.
Virta’s program is available at no cost to eligible members of Banner|Aetna’s fully insured and Administrative Services Only groups.