“It’s shown me how to live well with my condition”

Lorraine, a patient living with Type 2 diabetes, shares her positive experience with the Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyles for Diabetes (HEAL-D) programme.

“You have diabetes.“

These were the words an agency nurse shouted at me from across the hospital ward. My life literally changed that day. Numb with shock trying to absorb the information, the only diabetics I knew were my grandparents, so I have an older person's condition? My follow-up came many months later, and I was sent a photocopied pamphlet about diabetes, told to go on a diet and left to my own devices. I didn't know what to do with this diagnosis, and there was not much information I could find on what I needed to do.

Fast forward ten years, I was living in aHEAL D new area. It had been a long, hard slog left out in the wilderness, battling my diabetes with little help and guidance, undertaking a variety of diets and exercises. I tried everything I could with no light at the end of the tunnel. Then, finally, I received an appointment from my GP surgery to attend my first ever diabetic clinic for 'newly' diagnosed people with diabetes, ten years after diagnosis. I participated in the workshop and was quite disheartened to be the youngest in the room and being told what I could or could not eat.

My life, it seemed, was going to be all about salads and Weetabix forever, a depressing thought.

It was not until a recent routine appointment at my GP surgery that my practice nurse told me about a programme running in the borough for people with diabetes. My first thoughts were, “Oh dear, here we go again, another programme that I could not relate to again.” I received a text about a suitable time and date to talk to someone about the HEAL-D programme. Ok, so this was new; not just a standard letter or email telling me where and when. A suitable time and date were then set so that someone from HEAL-D would talk to me about the programme. I had never experienced such interest with calls and text messages to ensure I would still be interested; such excellent customer service was very different from what I had experienced on other programmes.

I was greeted on the phone by Dr Louise Goff from the HEAL-D programme, but was still apprehensive about getting involved. I was intrigued when Dr Goff explained thoroughly what the programme entailed and how it is tailored for the Black African and Caribbean communities. I had never heard of such a programme. The programme is a 12-week programme delivered online. I did make it clear that as the programme looked at cultural and traditional food. I was not a conventional person that stuck to purely west Indian foods but enjoyed cooking foods from different cultures. However, I was assured the programme would still be relevant to me regardless. I received a thick HEAL-D booklet (very informative), a tape measure, exercise band and pedometer through the post before the programme started.

The first online session was enjoyable and informative; we used the booklet to discuss various topics such as food portions, carbohydrates, sugar, exercise, and healthy lifestyles. Each week we were given homework which we discussed with the group. I found this very motivational and, for the first time, had that peer-to-peer support, with my fantastic group sharing stories of the positive changes they were experiencing from the program. The inclusion of an online exercise session with a physio alongside some great music made the sessions even more interactive and fun. The exercise sessions are an integral part of how the HEAL-D programme runs.

I enjoyed all the sessions, but for me, it was the cultural aspects of the programme, the importance of that peer-to-peer support and finding out things that I could eat in moderation. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about diabetes, but I did not. The HEAL-D programme is not just about your cultural foods. It looks at the individually holistically. I was honoured to be among other people who understood what I was going through and the challenges I faced as they were facing them.

HEAL-D is not just about educating yourself about the food you eat, but the importance of maintaining a healthy balanced life by making simple adaptations. I have not heard of or been involved in a programme quite like HEAL-D, and I have liked that it has considered who I am, fully respecting my heritage. I have enjoyed being part of this ground-breaking programme you don't have anywhere else. As a fellow delegate has summed up, it is “sensitively and culturally tailored”, and for many in the black community, this is a vital aspect.

So yes, I can have my rice and peas and jerk chicken and Thai chicken curry, but I don't have to stop what I eat. I adapt. I am now better informed and prepared when going out for meals with friends and family and can still enjoy my life with food. It is because I am a person living with diabetes, no longer allowing the condition to control my life. The HEAL-D programme has shown me how to live well with my condition and still be my authentic self, honouring the culture and traditions of my heritage. It’s the kind of programme where you grow in knowledge, gain guidance and advice, and where the care and support are easy to access and caters for your needs. I highly recommend it to other people living with diabetes in African and Caribbean communities. Taking control is all in your hands.

Liked this article? Learn more about the HEAL-D programme by watching the video below.