Diabetes Class Series
November 18, 2019 | by The Polyclinic

What would be a more satisfying snack? Two tablespoons of dried fruit or a cup of fresh berries? Polyclinic nutritionist Kaitlyn Mason poses this question to class attendees as she uses plastic food models to demonstrate how recommended serving sizes can influence our decision making. (Most people opt for the larger portion!)

“When patients are struggling with dietary change, we try to focus our discussion on foods that can benefit their health instead of only talking about foods to avoid. This positive approach offers patients lots of good options to choose from and avoids the idea that their diet needs to be overly restrictive,” said Mason, MS, RDN, CD, class instructor and registered dietician in The Polyclinic Diabetes Education department. “Providing visual examples makes the classes more engaging and memorable for patients.”

Did you know?

Many insurance plans cover the cost of diabetes education. Some health plans, including Medicare, give the largest benefit in the first year of diagnosis. You may have to up 10 hours of education covered. Check with your health plan for details.

Learning appropriate serving sizes and reading food labels are just two items discussed in “Healthy Eating: Carb Counting and Meal Planning.” Participants also learn about macro and micro nutrients, types of carbohydrates (simple sugars, starch, fiber), and specific examples of foods considered carbs (it’s not just grains and breads).

The class is one of a three-part series focusing on managing type 2 diabetes. In 2018, on average, patients who attended the class series dropped their A1c by 1.8 percent, according to data tracked by The Polyclinic Quality department. A1c measures the average blood sugar of a patient every day over several months. To decrease just a half percentage of A1C requires reducing estimated average glucose (eAG) by 14 points.

“Diabetes is a life-long disease,” said Lori Cooper, MD, endocrinologist, and Diabetes Education medical director. “Understanding how the lifestyle, nutrition, and activity choices we make affect this process is vital. Knowledge empowers patients to take control of their disease, reducing the likelihood of diabetes complications and the need for increasing amounts of medication long-term.”

Patients are encouraged to attend the entire series, especially newly diagnosed patients, as many insurance plans cover the cost of diabetes education, with the largest benefit in the first year of diagnosis. Typically, patients may have up to 10 hours of education covered.

Structure of Classes

Class size can range but is capped at seven patients to provide an opportunity for instruction and personalized interaction. Patients also meet individually with a Diabetes Education instructor at two different points – prior to starting and six weeks after completion.

“The class environment is unique in that it allows patients to interact, share experience, and realize they are not alone in the struggles that come with managing chronic disease,” said Mason. “That shared experience is instrumental in building confidence in implementing diet and lifestyle changes.

Classes are taught by Polyclinic registered dieticians, Kaitlyn Mason MS, RDN, CD, Tracey Graber RD, CDE, and Marika Saarinen PharmD, CDE, who are also trained in diabetes education and work closely with Polyclinic endocrinologists, like Dr. Cooper, nurses and staff.

Who Can Attend

  • Patients with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Attendees do not have to be Polyclinic patients but a referral from a healthcare provider is required.
  • A friend or family member of a patient attending the class.

How to Participate in Diabetes Education Classes

Ask your primary care physician or endocrinologist for a referral to the class. A referral does not have to be from a Polyclinic provider. Visit the class schedule for upcoming dates in addition to other offerings for pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes. Call 206-860-5572 for questions.

Healthy Eating Tips

Make a list of options. Mason encourages participants to find alternate options to regulate emotions instead of using food. She asks, “What tools do I have in my toolbox to manage stress beyond eating?”

Track your progress. Tracking diet and blood sugar can help with behavior change, but it’s not for everyone. Used effectively, tracking can increase motivation and provide visibility, engaging patients to be a “detective” to identify trends in their diet.

Try frozen foods. Whole fruits and vegetables that are frozen can be picked at peak season, keeping in nutrients and helping make a nutritious dinner easier.

Train your taste buds. Taste buds can change over time. Instead of flavored yogurt, which can contain large amounts of added sugars, try plain and add sliced fruit to boost flavor.

Peek at food labels. Labels can be used to identify the amount carbohydrates in a food and inform better meal time decisions for managing blood sugar. New nutrition labels contain helpful additional details such added sugars.

Healthy Eating Food Swaps

Chocolate covered granola bar Oatmeal with a sprinkle of chocolate chips
Ranch dressing Vinaigrette dressing
Ramen noodles Soba or whole wheat
Mayo Avocado or hummus
Flavored yogurt Greek or Icelandic plain yogurt