Getting a Handle On Food, Fitness & Type 2 Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association is famous for the Tour de Cure bike series, and now they have launched a new series just for women! The first ride is this Saturday, September 13 in Southern California, and the next one will be on Sunday, October 26 in Northern California. Their goal is to get more women on bikes while also supporting the ADA’s movement to Stop Diabetes. 

Sharon Steele is the Chair of the 2014 Northern California event. Her mother and several members of her mother’s family have type 2 diabetes, and with her increased risk, Sharon set out to reduce her weight and achieve an active lifestyle in hopes of preventing type 2 diabetes. Sharon has already lost 93 lbs and is just 20 pounds shy of her goal weight. Wow! 


A Guest Post by Sharon Steele  

Sharon Womens Series 2013My mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the mid-90s. Both of her parents had type 2 along with several of her siblings. I have watched her struggle with complications of the disease, including hypertension, neuropathy and vision loss.

I realized that being obese increased my own risk for developing type 2, so I set out to reduce my weight and achieve an active lifestyle. I know I am not necessarily doomed to develop diabetes simply because it is prevalent in my family.

I am now 93 pounds lighter and within 20 pounds of my goal. How did I get there? It’s been a long, up-and-down road for me—almost 20 years.

It started with a food addiction

Like many people, I struggle with an addiction to sugary foods. I often joke that it’s my “drug of choice,” usually in the form of cookies. During stressful times, I would secretly binge on cookies, donuts, pies and so on.

My first major weight gain was when I was pregnant with my daughter in 1994, at age 26. This was the first time my weight surpassed the 200-pound mark. I went from 160 to 210 pounds, despite my vegan lifestyle. Though I lost a good amount of the weight after her birth, a stressful period in 1997 sent me on a lemon meringue pie binge. All-natural pies from Whole Foods still pack on the pounds! I could eat an entire 9-inch pie in one sitting! In no time I was back in the 200+ pound club.

Tired of carrying the extra weight, in 1999 I began taking cardio-kickboxing classes. Within six months I dropped below my pre-pregnancy weight, into the mid-150s. I maintained this weight through healthy eating and an active lifestyle for a couple of years.

I got married in 2001 and soon became pregnant with my son. I gained a whopping 60 pounds during that pregnancy due to an insatiable craving for steak. (Yes, I went from being vegan with my first pregnancy to a ravenous carnivore in my second.) I otherwise ate healthfully, but steak has a lot of calories and fat. My son was a big baby –10 lb. 3 oz.–so I instantly dropped from 220 to 185 when he was born. However, I gained 20 pounds back while I was nursing him. I learned firsthand about the often-overlooked calories in juices and other sugary beverages. I was drinking juice like water, racking up calories AND pounds.

I managed to get things under control and was working my weight back down—but then 2003 happened, bringing two life-changing events. First, I lost my job as an independent contract technology trainer and consultant, and I was ineligible for unemployment. A few months later, my husband told me he no longer wanted to be married. BOOM! Two days later, I learned I was pregnant; however, that ended in miscarriage in the ninth week. BOOM again!

After the miscarriage, I worked feverishly to lose the excess weight. I was at the gym at 5:30 a.m. five days a week, hoping to regain my husband’s attention. Within just a few months I was back to the mid-150s. However, despite all my efforts to save my marriage, I finally realized divorce was imminent.

My divorce was filed in the summer of 2004, kicking off a binge that sent my weight soaring to heights I had never known. I stopped weighing myself once the scale read 262 pounds. Though I appeared to hold it all together, inside I felt ugly, unlovable and ashamed of what I had allowed my body to become. But God, by His mercy and grace, had a purpose for me.

Embracing my dream of a career in fitness…

But get this: I’m now a fitness instructor! I first taught a fitness class in 1986, when I was 19 years old, but I really did not know what I was doing. I quickly withdrew, figuring I was no good at it.

Fast-forward 20 years. In June 2010 I weighed 195 pounds, having just completed the P90X program. More importantly, that is when I became licensed to teach Zumba® Fitness. My first classes launched the Saturday after Thanksgiving with my local parks and recreation department.

In the months between getting licensed and starting my classes I managed to get back up to 232 pounds (this time, I blamed Starbucks). I wanted to add more classes to my schedule but, as you might imagine, it can be a challenge for an overweight/obese fitness instructor to be taken seriously by club managers. After being turned down a couple times, I got my first break. I did a 30-minute demo and nailed it. The students loved it and I was offered my first club job.

It was a great experience, but eventually I decided to take my classes directly to the community as an independent instructor. That’s just what feels right to me. The growth of my classes and the people I have met over these last two years have been true blessings.

How did I FINALLY get the weight off?

I have learned that physical activity is vitally important to overall health, for weight loss and so much more. I had the exercise piece locked down.

It was more a matter of getting a handle on what (and how much) I was putting in my mouth. What worked for me was completely abstaining from refined sugar and flour and embracing fresh, whole foods, including lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit and whole grains. (Except wheat; I learned I have sensitivity to it and my body responded very positively when I removed it from my diet.)

I won’t pretend that I don’t get sucked into the feasting of the holiday season, like a lot of people. I’ll pick up a few pounds, but I know how to get back on a healthy eating regimen to lose it and maintain a healthy weight going forward.

My message

With my story I hope to encourage others who may have similar struggles. Start where you are. It does not matter what you weigh now; what matters is knowing your goals and taking that first step. Some struggles will always be there; you need to learn to manage and navigate them. I know that I cannot be handed an entire box of cookies and expected to eat only one. Just give me one cookie and hide the box (in another building!).

Why I ride 

 I am passionate about raising awareness about diabetes and its complications. Thanks to the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure®, I have developed a love for cycling. I am even in the process of becoming a certified cycling instructor and cycling coach! Now there’s the Tour de Cure Women’s Series, which gives women a chance to ride in sisterhood to celebrate all those who live with diabetes.

In 2013 I rode the Tour de Cure Napa Valley (50 miles) and the inaugural Tour de Cure Women’s Series in Santa Barbara (67 miles). This year, I am taking on my first full century ride in the Tour de Cure Napa Valley and serving as the volunteer chair for the Tour de Cure Women’s Series in Northern California.

I’m taking the ride of my life! I count every moment, every tear, every struggle and every triumph as a blessing. If you live in California, I hope to see you out there for the Women’s Series!

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