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Preventing diabetes

Lots to lose and lots to gain.

That's how Nutrition Educator Tracy Baker describes a diabetes prevention course she is teaching beginning in early February.

The University of Minnesota Extension and Frazee-Vergas Community Education are partnering to offer this program for free to those who qualify.

The Extension office follows guidelines as to who can participate.

The program is only for those over 18 years of age and at risk for diabetes, not that have already been diagnosed with diabetes. Pregnant women also don't qualify.

"Mostly because they might be on a special diet already," Educator Sara VanOfflen said of those already diagnosed with diabetes. "This is focusing more on a weight-loss diet, so we don't want to confuse what they should be eating and what this program does."

The 16-week course preemptively helps those who are at risk for diabetes find a healthier lifestyle.

The weekly core sessions meet for one hour and go over topics such as reading labels, recipes and food tastings, reducing fat, reducing stress, exercise programs, how to plan ahead in situations like dining out or family gatherings and more.

"It's kind of like a Weight Watchers session where we will do a weigh-in, chart progress there, document and journal their food intake and physical activity for the week, and then we go through them and see where our rough spots are and ways to make changes," Baker said.

She said the class will also make food suggestions, so that while people may not like food prepared a certain way, this class will give them ideas of different ways to prepare something they might like better.

"What they have found is the best way to preempt diabetes is, especially with those overweight and sedentary, is to increase the physical activity and to decrease the weight," she said.

"That's nothing new," she added. "But we're really going to have some one-on-ones. We'll have all kinds of discussions and support."

The Minnesota Department of Health Diabetes Program has determined the best way to preempt diabetes and lose weight is through a low-fat diet.

Baker was chosen to get the training to facilitate the groups, and through Extension, is able to offer the course for free.

"I just love getting stuff for free and I just have to assume everybody else does, too," she said.

Not only is the 16-week course free, there's even an opportunity to get paid for being a part of a focus group following the initial core program.

Once the 16-week program is over, there is eight monthly sessions to help people keep on track. Those who participate in the eight-month session will receive a grocery gift card.

"There's a lot to be said to have a lifestyles coach available for you and be in a group where you don't feel alone and you feel that support," Baker said.

VanOfflen has coached the course several times and seen the results it can produce.

"People who have lost weight have reduced cholesterol and blood pressure. Many people have been able to reach their goal, 7 percent weight loss, which is the goal of the program," she said.

She said that in her experience, most of the people who went through the 16-week program have stuck with the eight-month follow-up as well.

"I've had people continue to lose (weight) or maintain their weight loss."

The 16-week program is a good start to a healthier lifestyle change. And the eight-month extra program after the core is helpful to stay focused.

"It's a realistic program where we set a goal of 5 to 7 percent weight loss. That's proven to be effective in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes," VanOfflen said.

"The goal is a lifestyle change," Baker said.

The class begins Thursday, Feb. 7, and will run from 5-6:15 p.m. in the Frazee-Vergas High School Media Center. There is no class fee, and participants will receive a $20 grocery gift card for participating in a focus group after the 16 weeks.

Call 218-846-7328 for a quick discussion with Baker to determine eligibility. Class size is limited.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.