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Diabetes Developments - A blog on latest developments in diabetes by David Mendosa

Inside a Diabetes Support Group

October 24th, 2011 · 14 Comments

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When I introduced two new friends in February 2008, I knew that both of them were committed to managing their diabetes. Each of them live near me in Boulder, Colorado, and had contacted me a month earlier.

Barry Erdman is a licensed clinical social worker who had learned the previous Thanksgiving that he had type 2 diabetes and told me he was already managing it quite well. Jeff R. said he had type 1 diabetes for 15 years and was then getting a graduate degree at Naropa University “with the expectation of helping fellow diabetics overcome issues that surround diabetes, particularly depression.” I had learned in 1994 that I had type 2 diabetes and have been writing about it ever since.

When we met in my favorite coffee shop on that cold morning, we connected. But none of us could imagine where that chance meeting would lead.

After more coffee shop meetings, we decided to meet monthly in my apartment. We invited other friends who also wanted to keep tight control over their diabetes. Gradually the group grew.

At first, I led the group, and we met when I would be in town. Eventually, the group outgrew my small apartment, and for the past year we have been meeting in the apartment complex’s clubhouse. Since I no longer had to be around for the meeting, we now meet regularly on the second Saturday of each month. Jeff now facilitates the meetings.

In the past three and one-half years the group has changed in more ways. We started as a group of men friends. When I learned last summer that three knowledgeable and committed women might be interested in joining our group, I polled our members. Neither then nor later did anyone object.

At the beginning of this year Barry set up another way for us to share information and ideas. This “Diabetes Healthy Living Network” is a Facebook group.

Our group will undoubtedly keep changing. Our email list now has 18 members. Typically, about a dozen members attend the meeting. I had hoped that our support group would grow larger. But when I interviewed members who know more about group dynamics than I do, I changed my mind.

“I took two group processing classes as a part of earning my M.A. in somatic psychology,” Jeff told me. “They teach that the ideal support group size is six to 10.”

Dick Williams, a group member with type 2 diabetes who has taught university courses in group dynamics, says that a sharing group shouldn’t be more than about 15 or less than eight or nine. “When the group gets bigger than 12 or 15, splitting it would be a good idea,” he says. “More than that and you get some people dominating the discussion and others who are more shy are left sitting there.”

The ideal size depends on the kind of group, Barry says. Maxing out at about eight people is ideal for an emotional support group like ours, he thinks. But if it is an educational group with a seminar format, “You could fill an auditorium and still be valuable.”

We did fill an auditorium when Loren Cordain, the author of The Paleo Diet, spoke to one of our meetings. For that talk we brought together members of all of Boulder’s diabetes support groups. Other outside speakers have spoken to our group alone.

The content of support group meetings can either be sharing or speakers. In either case it needs a focus. And for the greatest effectiveness that focus needs to be more than diabetes itself.

A central focus of our group is a general commitment to a low-carb diet, Shelley Schlender points out. She is a radio broadcaster who covers health issues. Since people can follow so many different eating plans, “It’s wise for us to have a diabetes support group focusing on a particular dietary approach,” she says. “For instance, if half our group were high carb and low fat and the other half were high fat and low carb, it wouldn’t work as well.”

Still, each meeting should focus on a particular topic, Dick says. Choosing the topic ahead of time gives the members a chance to reflect and prepare their questions, but the members can also pick the topic on the spot. In either case, support group meetings generally start by “checking in,” sharing what happened to them since the previous time they met, particularly in the area of focus.

Whatever the content of a particular meeting — sharing or a speaker — all useful meetings provide both emotional support and information. The Internet as well as books and magazines excel in providing information about diabetes. Thinking that local groups provide emotional support and that the Internet, books, and magazines provide information is too simple. They overlap.

Three of our support group members tell me that they learn a lot from the group. “To me the value of diabetes support groups like ours is the learning opportunity,” says Frank Harritt, the author of Diabetes Self-Defense.

Another group member, Balaji Sundararajan, is a project manager for a semiconductor company. He says that without the group he would never have had access to the books and articles we discuss.

A third group member, Glenn English, calls himself as “a retired computer geek.” But Glenn trusts what he hears from group members more than what he reads on the Internet because he can see us face-to-face. “I have a problem with the Internet, because I can’t figure out what’s true or not,” he says.

Support groups help us because then we feel that we are not all alone with the disease, Jay Krakovitz, M.D., tells me. Jay is an internist who practices in Denver who learned two and one-half years ago that he has diabetes. He says that he has always been a proponent of support groups for people who have chronic diseases.

“When I developed diabetes and found out about your support group, it was the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of dealing with my disease,” he says. The group bolsters him emotionally and keeps him up-to-date educationally.

You have to go to a support group meeting to appreciate how worthwhile it is, Jay continues. “But you need to be coaxed to go to the first one, because people often have a psychological barrier, like ‘Why do I want to spend a couple of hours around sick people? Do I want to get together with fellow suffers on a Saturday morning?’”

But then they realize that they are not fellow sufferers — “they are fellow copers,” Jay continues. “Instead of making you feel like you have the disease, it makes you feel like you are doing well, because everybody else you look at in a support group is functioning normally.”

Support groups give you a sense of optimism. They do the opposite of what you would think when you join together with other people who have your disease. When you begin to participate in a diabetes support group, both you and the group will change.

This is a mirror of one of my articles that Diabetes Wellness News published. This article appears in the October 2011 issue.

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Posted in: Psychosocial

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14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jim Roe // Oct 31, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Insulin No More . . .
    For over 25 years I had been two large doses of Insulin per day.
    Being recently widowed and not knowing how to cook and not wanting to learn I started to eat some raw food. I noticed my sugars dropping so I increased my raw food consumption. Within 2-4 weeks my sugars were normal. I stopped my Insulin (I have never taken diabetic drugs)
    It is now 6 months of normal sugars and no Insulin. I am about 90-95% raw at home. Dining out I eat what I am served. Recently I went 2 days -6 meals+snacks. The next morning my sugars were normal. More info on request.

  • 2 Barb // Nov 2, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    so let’s hear more from Joe. What all is he eating?

  • 3 Jim Roe // Nov 2, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    I am about 90% raw food. Remember, my goal was to avoid cooking. The sugar control was an unintended consequence. I read about the Raw Food diet and adapted to what I eat now:
    •No processed foods including, breads, meats, or dairy when eating at home. None, well, almost none . . .
    •No cooked food except baked salmon and skinless chicken breast.I refuse to use the stove top as I overstress the smoke detector.
    • Recently I was off my diet for two days. ( six meals and snacks) The next morning my sugars were normal.
    •No sugar or sweeteners. I use honey to sweeten.
    •Lots of raw fruit and raw vegetables, nuts and seeds.
    •Baked Salmon or skinless chicken breast daily loaded with Cinnamon and Chia
    •Toasted Sardine sandwich loaded with Chia and Cinnamon) for lunch daily. This is the only time I eat breads etc. at home. I put chia and cinnamon on
    •Breakfast is a bowl of ‘cereal’ consisting of a heaping teaspoon full of freshly ground flax seed, Chia, raw almonds and walnuts, 1/2 tbs of Cinnamon, cranberries, frozen blueberries and mixed fruit plus ½ tsp. Cinnamon, in skim milk, sweetened with honey, just warmed to suit in the microwave. I put 1/2tsp cinnamon and 1 tbls of chia on everything except my vineagr/water mixture.
    •Drinking many glasses of water with a tablespoon of un-pasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar (available only in health food stores). I just started adding a tsp of honey to the drink. Suprisingly the low amount of vinegar gives the water a slight sweet taste.
    •A large salad at supper with lots of spinach or kale, walnuts, various seeds, chopped apple, onion, red pepper, cranberries, tomatoes, with a commercial salad dressing for sweetness.
    I enjoy the diet very much and am slowly expanding selection of foods.
    I frequently skip a meal and rarely snack between meals; my sugars remain normal. I do have a weakness for soda crackers and unhydragenated peanut butter.
    I am 77 years old and treat my diet as a hobby to tinker with. I have told eight doctors about my achievement. Only one was impressed. The others looked right through me and carried, ignoring my remarks. My Diabetic doctor said, and I quote, “You are putting me out of business.” He inspected and tested my feet and said that I did not need to see him anymore.

  • 4 Diane // Nov 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Congratulatiions Jim. Woncxerful to hear such encouraging words, especially the Dr. complaining :) I’ve found that I’m just gravitating to a more raw diet without even thinking about it. Widowed, I can’t be bothered cooking if I can get away with it. Did all that gourmet-type cooking for many years.

  • 5 Evie // Nov 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Very inspiring I am 63, have had the big D since 26. Did you go off insulin gradually? I’m type 1! Hope to hear back, Evie

  • 6 Jim Roe // Nov 11, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I am type 2.
    I just stopped taking Insulin and waited until the numbers rised. Still waiting . . .
    I was told my heart condition caused water to build up in my left leg requiring daily doses of a diaretic.
    The diet has stopped the water build up.

  • 7 Howard Asher // Nov 16, 2011 at 5:07 am

    That is so interesting. I love raw vegtables i am going to try it except i eat out a lot Thats a problem I would love to start a downtown Phila support group

  • 8 Jim Roe // Nov 16, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    While my goal was to avoid cooking, being Insulin free was a gift. Insulin free about nine months and counting.
    Another unintended consequence: Water gathered in my left leg assumed to be due to a heart condition (CHF) which required 2-3 diuretic pills per day. Like insulin, water is no more so I stopped the pills as well as the insulin.
    I wonder what other good things are happening to my body. Perhaps time will tell.

  • 9 Jim Roe // Nov 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    See above note. It is unreasonable to assume that the improvements of diabetes and water retention are the only body improvements caused by the change in diet. I wonder what they are.

  • 10 Art Seaton // Dec 9, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Jim, I would be interested in knowing more about quantities. How much meat, how much raw veggies/fruit/seads? Any idea of what you average calorie intake is per day?
    Thank You

  • 11 Jim Roe // Dec 10, 2011 at 8:31 am

    First an update: I am prone to Gout. I inadvertenly stopped taking my Gout medicine last year and within a month I had a Gout attack.
    I have stopped taking the prescription drug and I am apparently Gout free. Time will tell . . . Previously I was a bit unstable on my feet taking frequent minor missteps. What do you expect for a 77 year old? I recently realized I no long take these missteps and walk quite well . . . To answer your questions: Breakfast is 3 level tablespoons consisting of various seeds, flax etc plus a small handful of almonds, walnuts and dried cranberries in skim milk. Lunch is a toasted sardine sandwitch . . . Dinner is baked salmon or chicken breast and a large salad. I have 3-4 fruits randomly through the day. I am not loosing weight. I frequently skip a meal as I am not hungry. I would like to drop 10 lb. I do not know how many calories I consume. I do know I do not exercise enough. Last meal was 15 hours ago and my blood sugar is normal.

  • 12 Evie // Dec 18, 2011 at 9:51 am

    This is all inspiring news. Is there a Type 1 out there who has tried this raw diet & been able to lower their insulin? I am happy to hear type2 success w/it & thought it should have a+ effect on us as well.

  • 13 Jim Roe // Dec 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    While amazing, it seemed unreasonable that controlling my blood sugar and eliminating the water build up in my left leg could be the only two benefits of my raw food diet.
    I would quickly have a Gout attack if I did not take a daily prescription drug. Out of curiosity I stopped taking the drug. I am long overdue for a Gout attack.
    Every 10-20 steps I would take a minor misstep. While I never fell or stumbled badly, I had to watch my step. My missteps disappeared about two months ago.
    For years I had a minor twinge in my left knee when going up and down the stairs. I realized a few weeks ago the twinge is gone. Insulin, water, Gout, missteps, and knee pain all gone. All this while achieving my goal of no cooking. I estimate I am about 80-90% raw food, perhaps a bit less.
    What will be next?At 77 years old, I dream of a few things I would like to improve . . . I can dream, can’t I? Why not try the diet? But start slowly.

  • 14 Diane // Dec 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Jim – You are so encouraging. I tried raw diet several years ago but didn’t have any kind of “support group”. Now simply reading the comments here gives me the encourgement to re-try. Had to go on Metformin to protect my eyes. Plan to try the raw way again. Dreaming is a great past time. Often those dreams come to fruition.

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