Pre-Diabetes Weight-Loss Study Follow Up

Way back in the Spring I wrote a series of posts about vegetarianism, and my eating habits in general. In them I mentioned how I was part of a medical study called E-LITE that tracked risk factors for Diabetes, and other related lifestyle risk factors. Dr. Ma finally published the results.

The original abstract is here: http://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.laneproxy.stanford.edu/pubmed/23229846, but you need access to the database to read it. Instead there is an article in Time about it here: Diet Strategies Show Promise in Lowering Risk of Diabetes (also here: Diet strategies show promise in lowering diabetes risk)

In essence, the study showed that there are good ways to get people to exercise and eat right other than geting expensive personal coaching, and they work pretty well. The group I belonged to in the study used videos, emails, and online tracking tools, along with some in-person training to help us stay on course toward losing weight and getting our blood tests in order. The training provided a goal for the program, and basic set of tools.

The trick for me seemed to be that I was responsible to someone for keeping up with my weight-loss efforts. I more-or-less knew what to do, but being given clear tools and procedures, plus expert advise on how to count calories and track my activity took the decision of which guru to listen to out of the equation. Once I masted the techniques for eating properly and staying active, I sought out more tools, like phone apps, exercise software, and more in depth info on food chemistry. The basic foundation was still the same though.

Having to check in and give blood every 3 months made my commitment real, and a fixture in my life. There was no convincing myself I was in good medical shape if my blood sugar came in high, or my cholesterol was off. There was a lot of power in the notion that this effort was about something other than the rolls of fat on my belly; many of which I still have despite much better blood test values.

The institutional nature of the program seemed to help keep my effort focused on numbers. Food and weight are so emotionally charged, but when a medical institution tracks you without passing judgement, it is easier to get out from all those issues that revolve around self-esteem and being “healthy”. I’ve never been comfortable taking off my shirt in front of people, because of the “other”‘s judgement I feel, but the study technicians that measured my waist size every visit put that discomfort at ease. I knew they were seeing everyone come down in weight, and that they would be keenly aware of the disconnect between weight and health. I knew I was getting healthier (my blood tests were getting better, anyway,) so I felt better about the rolls on my gut. They also seemed to have been trained, or were genuinely very gentile about being pleasant and encouraging about the whole process.

Through the whole study there was a good combination of humanity existing within a large anonymous institution that worked really well. Beyond the health and medical basis of this study, it was in fact a study of how an institution can relate to people as individuals and encourage them/us en masse to do the better and harder work of getting healthy in our lives. I think it serves as a model for any institution that needs to change people’s behavior, yet doesn’t have endless resources. Make people feel like there is someone at the other end of the needle, chart, and monitor, and the heavy lifting becomes a team effort instead of yet another chore on our list of life’s burdens. We all benefit when we all are in it with each other.

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