Proactive for a healthy life

Zorn attacks risk factors for diabetes through YMCA program

By Melanie Speicher - [email protected]



SIDNEY — The risk factors were there. And Amy Zorn, of Sidney, decided to be proactive about her chances of developing diabetes.

“I realized there were too many risk factors for developing diabetes in my life,” said Zorn. “I don’t have diabetes but both my parents had diabetes. I was approaching 60 years of age and my BMI (body mass index) was not good.”

A member of the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA, Zorn saw a story in the Sidney Daily News last year about a new program being started at the YMCA called the Diabetes Prevention Program, which is designed to help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

“I was reading it on my iPad at a quarter to four in the morning,” said Zorn. “I called the YMCA at 5 a.m. because I wanted to be sure I could get a spot in the class.”

The yearlong program started in November and has been led by Abbey Bensman, who is a dietitian and personal trainer in addition to being the program coordinator.

“We filled out questionnaires and a survey at the first class,” said Zorn. “The first four months, we met every week for an hour. The remaining months, we met once a month.”

Zorn said the goal for people participating in the class was to reduce their body weight by 7 percent.

“This will help put off trouble with diabetes,” said Zorn. “I was able to lose the 7 percent in the first months and I’ve been able to maintain my weight the rest of the year.

“It’s been a good program for me,” she said. “I’ve had a year to make my lifestyle changes.”

The meetings, said Zorn, are held in a classroom setting. Each person received a notebook which was filled with weekly lessons, which they then went over during the class.

“Weight loss is part of the program, but it’s not the entire focus,” said Zorn. “Nutrition is the focus. We learned what makes good choices for our good health.”

Exercise is also included in the program, she said.

“I had exercised before starting this program,” said Zorn. “I’ve learned good healthy eating means making choices. I learned the portions of food I was eating were too big. I can eat whatever I want, I just eat smaller portions. This is a painless way to lose weight.”

Zorn said she has lost 9 percent of her body weight since she started the program. Eight people have stayed with the program the entire year.

“This is a very confidential program,” said Zorn. “Abbey shows each person their weight. It’s all done in private and there’s discussion and good tips on healthy eating for people who are struggling with healthy eating choices.”

Zorn said she is using the “My Fitness Pal” app on her iPhone to help her with the program.

“We turn in a log, which made me write down what I eat,” said Zorn. “The key is for someone to check on you each week.”

After being enrolled in the program for nearly a year, Zorn said she has a “good idea of what works and what doesn’t” work for her.

“When I went on vacation, I did no damage to my eating,” she said. “I was able to maintain my weight and still enjoyed my vacation.”

A lot of food, she said, might not be good for you. She adjusts the not-so-good food by eating smaller portions.

“I eat butter,” she said. “I don’t like the low cal butter. It used to be if I didn’t lose 3 pounds every week, I was upset. If I lose half a pound a week now, I’m OK with that.

“Each person has to put their weight loss in perspective,” she said.

Each person, she said, has different goals and rewards through the program at the YMCA.

“I’m a swimmer, so if I walk, my reward might be a cinnamon roll. I have a 10-pound weight loss goal, which means I can buy a new swimsuit because I’m near that goal.”

The class, said Zorn, also offers a buddy system for those who need it.

“I go to the pool at the YMCA and I see my friends,” she said. “I swim laps and there’s no time to talk while I do that.”

In the classroom, she said, everyone is learning the same topic each week. There are individual activities for the people to do and there’s something for everyone in the lesson.

One of the sessions, she said, dealt with fast food and how to eat healthy when you eat out. Participants talk about their successes in eating out and what barriers they encountered to achieving their goals.

“You have to plan ahead,” said Zorn. “When you’re ordering, ask for what you want. Ask for what amounts you want. Take a container home with you. Ask for a box right away and put half of you food in it right then.

“You have to take charge of what’s around it,” she said. “You have to learn what triggers you to want to eat. You have to know when you can’t say no and take two steps back. Decide ahead of time what you want to eat at the restaurant. I have to order first or I listen to what others order and then I’ll change my plan.”

Zorn said she is grateful that the YMCA is offering the program. The local YMCA is one of 146 YMCA’s in the country that offers the program.

“This has made a permanent change in my health,” said Zorn. “It’s a healthy living class with weight loss being just a part of it.

“I hope when I look back at this 10 years form now, I’ll still be doing the program. That means I will have made this a permanent part of the way I live my life.”

In addition to swimming, Zorn, who is a retired teacher from Anna Local School, has gets exercise each day by walking her dog.

“In 2010, I lost my dog and I wasn’t walking like I used to do,” she said. “I got a new dog last year, so now we walk three to four miles a day. I also come to the pool two to three times a week and I swim about a half to three-fourths of a mile each time.”

Because of her success with the program, Zorn was asked to join the community advisory board for the program.

“It’s a really good program,” said Zorn. “There’s no pressure if you don’t lose weight. We’ve learned to make better nutritional choices, to lose weight and to get healthier.”

Bensman said the program has been a learning experience for her and the class participants.

“I have enjoyed coaching participants in the program and hearing about the lifestyle changes they are making,” said Bensman. “Participants achieve greater success when they attend classes and track their food and physical activity on a regular basis. Their efforts between classes usually show on the scale at the weekly weigh in although this program is much more than a weight loss program. I often hear participants tell me that what they learn affects their whole family and has helped their spouse lower their cholesterol, enjoy more activity or lose weight, etc. They are learning about how much to eat, ways to gradually increase physical activity and make it a part of their life, how to modify recipes, make healthier choices when dining out, manage stress, how to handle social situations, and putting into practice what works best for them on an individual level.

“Some have reported surprise regarding the importance of weight loss and physical activity to prevent or delay onset of type 2 diabetes verses solely cutting out carbs. Others report having a fat gram goal and learning about the hidden sources of fat has been a useful approach. I like to keep things in perspective that a modest 7 percent weight loss is beneficial to health and can be more manageable to keep off long term. The 7 percent weight loss is one on the goals of the program ideally to be achieved in the first 6 months however I can also report that some individuals have made it to the monthly sessions still achieving weight loss, sometimes beyond 10 percent,” she said.

Bensman said as a teacher and coach, she’s enjoyed motivating and guiding the class participants.

“I have learned that weight loss is often unpredictable which makes it important to not get discouraged when the scale doesn’t reflect efforts but to also tune into goals achieved (related to changing habits), the way clothes fit, and to keep moving forward. I provide some tools/suggestions along with the weekly topics but we all learn from each other. It’s so important to build a support network when changing habits. Lifestyle change is hard and no one should have to do it alone,” Bensman said.

A new class starts in September. Registration is underway for the program. For more information, contact Bensman, 937-492-9134, or by email, [email protected]

“My hope is to change the current approach for many of don’t fix it until its broken but instead to invest in your health today and make small changes now to improve health and prevent disease. Fortunately, other organizations also see the importance of preventing disease as we have had some supportive funding from Cargill and Wilson Memorial Hospital to allow us to offer the program at a lower cost,” said Bensman.

Zorn attacks risk factors for diabetes through YMCA program

By Melanie Speicher

[email protected]

Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook,

Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook,