A thousand calories a day — gone away

Health awareness takes off pounds, prescriptions for county worker
Tibbs: I wanna live for a long time

Written by NC Cooperative Extension staff

* Video

ROCKINGHAM — An average lunch for Richmond County accounts-payable manager Susan Tibbs, 54, used to consist of something fried and crunchy, something drenched in butter, a side of deep-fried carbohydrates, and three to four glasses of sweet tea. That was just lunch. Dinner often included varying combinations of junk food: chocolate, other candy and potato chips.

Submitted photo Susan Tibbs has found that regular exercise helps with management of hypertension as well as weight control.

Submitted photo
Susan Tibbs has found that regular exercise helps with management of diabetes and hypertension as well as weight control.

Exercise consisted mostly of housework.

Type 2 diabetes runs rampant in Tibbs’ family, and she was on six different medicines to control her diabetes and hypertension. She wasn’t having much success, though, until she signed up for classes offered through a wellness initiative coordinated by Richmond County Cooperative Extension and Richmond County government.

Through the partnership, Richmond County Cooperative Extension offered an eight-week “Eat Healthy, Be Active” workshop in 2012 for the general public as well as Richmond County employees. Another facet of the initiative allows county employees to devote 30 minutes of their workday to exercise, in a program facilitated by Sarah Mammarella, family and consumer sciences agent for Richmond County Cooperative Extension.

Since participating, Tibbs is down from three to two prescriptions for hypertension, and hopes to continue making enough progress to reduce her medication for diabetes.

She has more energy, eats more fruit and vegetables, and consumes less junk food. Even though weight loss wasn’t her primary goal for participating in “Eat Healthy, Be Active,” Tibbs had lost 20 pounds by the summer of 2013. Her main motivation has been to control her diabetes and to get her hemoglobin count down to a safe level.

“I’ve been diabetic for 20-some years, and I had recently gone to the doctor and she put me on a new medicine,” Tibbs said, groaning at the memory. “I knew I had to do something.”

Susan Tibbs, right, credits Sarah Mammarella, former family and consumer sciences agent for Richmond County Cooperative Extension.  Mammarella recently left for a new position as a government contractor.

Susan Tibbs, right, credits Sarah Mammarella, former family and consumer sciences agent for Richmond County Cooperative Extension. Mammarella recently left for a new position as a government contractor.

Diabetes costs Americans an estimated $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 million in reduced productivity, according to a 2013 report from the American Diabetes Association. Most of the medical cost of diabetes is covered by government-based, tax-supported insurance such as Medicaid, Medicare and military benefits. For Tibbs, who says she’s always been focused at work, improving her health has fueled her with even more concentration and energy for her job.

“I’m more apt to stay after hours to get a project done, if necessary,” Tibbs says, because she now has greater stamina. “I just continually want to get something done.”

In addition to attending the eight-week wellness program taught by Mammarella, Tibbs laced up her black sneakers and hit the pavement outside the county finance offices. She continues to do so at least three days a week.

Within a few months, Tibbs had lost weight and lowered her hemoglobin count from 7.8 to 6.2.

“This,” says Tibbs, “is how I grew up:

“My mom was diabetic and on insulin. She would eat whatever she wanted, no matter how many grams of sugar were in it. If (her hemoglobin level) went too high, she just took a shot.”

Her father, two brothers and a sister also are diabetic. Tibbs says her sister manages her diabetes in a style similar to their mother’s: food now, insulin later.
“That’s sort of where I was headed,” Tibbs says. “It was the fear of having to go on the insulin shots; that’s my No. 1 fear.”

Tibbs learned through Cooperative Extension how to strategically deal with the relationship between her diet and her health. She learned to read food labels, the first lesson in Mammarella’s class. She learned the caloric content of food and how to manage what she ate when dining out: to assess sodium, sugar, grams of fat and other nutritional content.

“I didn’t even know that restaurants would give you a calorie chart, or a child’s plate,” Tibbs says. “You go and eat, and you’re not aware of how much you’re eating.”

Those three to four glasses of sweet tea were about 450 calories, Tibbs learned. The fried foods were adding as many as 100 calories per serving over their baked counterparts.

Now, Tibbs usually drinks water instead of sugary beverages. She eats more fruit and vegetables, choosing “five to 10” grapes or a small apple for dessert. Lunch, these days, is more likely to be grilled chicken — without the bread basket of poppy-seed rolls — and string beans or a salad. If a baked potato is in the mix, she eats only half of it.

Because of its high-touch approach, Cooperative Extension has been able to help Tibbs do what she hasn’t been able to do on her own in 20 years. Three educational classes — a holiday weight maintenance program, the county-based exercise program and the “Eat Healthy, Be Active,” program — made physical fitness and health maintenance more attainable. And working out with a support system of friends and co-workers also helps motivate her to exercise.

“Cooperative Extension, especially Sarah Mammarella, has helped me achieve my goals,” Tibbs says. “It’s making at least 1,000 calories a day difference.”

This article was originally published on Solutions for North Carolina.

Filed in: Education, Farm & Ag, Featured News, Latest Headlines

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