As Vice President of Human Resources at Canal Barge Company, one of my roles is to oversee the benefits and wellness programs offered to employees. The maritime industry, with its licensure requirements, reinforces the importance of keeping a healthy lifestyle. A Coast Guard License includes medical standards related to Type 2 Diabetes, meaning those with an A1c greater than 8.0% (average blood glucose of 183) are subject to medical surveillance or license revocation. A mariner losing their license is equivalent to losing their career and livelihood. Though I am not licensed, a part of my job has been reinforcing the critical need for our mariners to monitor their health, including diet and exercise, and see their doctor regularly.
I believe modeling healthy behaviors is important to inspiring them in others. However, having been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes myself and carrying around more weight than I would like, I felt like I was holding others to a standard that I was not willing to hold myself to. Talking to others about the importance of wellness in their daily lives yet not practicing what I preached was beginning to wear on me.
When my doctor told me several years ago that my A1c was around 7.0%, it didn’t mean much to me at first. I knew it was something I should pay attention to, but I didn’t see the urgency. The doctor prescribed metformin, which gradually grew in dosage until I was taking 1,000 MG a day. I tried to follow a good diet and increase my physical activity on my own, but my dedication was sporadic.
Still, I wanted to actively improve my health in order to be a model for my family and for our employees. So I started a strenuous cardiovascular exercise routine, which helped control my weight some but had little effect on my average blood glucose. Eventually, I realized that my carbohydrate-heavy diet was to blame, as I regularly enjoyed bread, beans, and pizza.
In mid-2019, a coworker told me about Virta and how it helps those who have Type 2 Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes improve their diet and health. I did the research and thought this could be the treatment I needed. I signed up with Virta right away and have been going strong ever since.
I always thought of myself as pretty well-versed in what makes certain foods good or bad. For example, it is well-known that sugar and diabetes don’t go together. Virta has built on that understanding with simple, practical information about nutrition that I never knew. Take beans. All my life, I’ve been told that beans are healthy. They’re not made of sugar, so how could that affect diabetes? Virta taught me that beans are full of carbohydrates, which is just a fancy word for sugar.
So, no more beans. This might sound like a difficult adjustment given that “Red Beans & Rice on Mondays” is a cultural food staple of New Orleans, but my health coach at Virta provides support at every turn, including finding me all kinds of great new foods and substitutes. I’ll admit that the first couple of weeks were slightly difficult as I made changes and stopped eating some things that I really enjoyed. Fortunately, those cravings went away after a little while, largely because Virta offers so many alternatives that fit into the treatment. For example, spaghetti and meatballs were one of my favorite dishes, and Virta showed me that “zoodles,” made with zucchini, make a pretty good substitute for pasta.
I also very quickly started to feel the benefits: more energy, greater mental clarity, and better overall health and mood. I also no longer felt any ‘energy lows’ between meals. My first round of labs while on Virta showed my A1c had dropped to 6.2%, down 0.8% from 7.0%. This means I have reversed my Type 2 Diabetes before suffering any of the debilitating results of diabetes such as impaired vision, fatigue, and kidney damage.
My next goal is to get my A1c in the low 5s, which will indicate that I am at a normal blood glucose level and have moved below the threshold for Pre-Diabetes.
The advice I would give to anyone, especially Canal Barge employees and dependents, is this: think about your future and play the long game. Beyond the job, the licensure, and the careers that Canal Barge employees enjoy, a healthy life is a good life. Why work all of your life only to spend your later years homebound with illness because your body can’t do the things you want it to do?
I challenge everyone who is struggling with their weight or Type 2 Diabetes to look into the Virta treatment. I may still have a long way to go, more weight to lose, and better dietary choices to make; however, my journey toward better health has begun, and I feel like I am in more control than ever thanks to Virta.