My life turned upside down about two years ago when I received a startling diagnosis from my doctor – I was at serious risk for type 2 diabetes. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised, after all for over a decade I had placed my health on the back burner and had developed some seriously bad habits.

I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I had all but given up on myself and surpassed the 200-pound mark. I didn’t know which way to turn, what to do to improve my situation, or even if I could!

This is a scary reality for many of us, we are so busy with our lives, and how often do we say “I’ll start tomorrow”? This was a serious wake up call for me.

Fortunately, there is help available for those of us who find themselves in this all too common situation. At the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Diabetes Prevention Research Group created the Small Steps for Big Changes program to address this very issue. This team is now bringing their program to the community through a partnership with the YMCA of Okanagan. Available at the Kelowna Family Y and the Downtown Kelowna Y, the program is designed to help you develop the tools to make lasting dietary and exercise changes to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Find more info here.

My doctor recommended this UBC program to me and I quickly came to realize that I needed outside help to get better both physically and mentally, and by making these life changes on my own simply couldn’t and wouldn’t happen. I reached out to the Small Steps team and quietly joined the program.

The beginning was difficult and scary – I was in tears after my first meeting with the Small Steps for Big Changes team at the Downtown YMCA, as they were taking my vital stats, measuring, weighing, and recording personal details only my doctor knew.

After about an hour of filling out questionnaires and chatting with the program coordinators, I was armed with a counselling schedule, homework, and spectacular resources like the Mio Slice and Healthwatch 360 app.

Attending counselling sessions was a real eye-opener for me, as I was beginning to take a hard look at my poor health. The reality hit me like a bucket of ice water – I was wearing size 18, weighing 204 pounds, and only buying stretchy clothing from Costco. I was so ashamed of my physique that I had to turn off the lights in my bathroom when taking a shower – anything to avoid looking at myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors covering our 8x8 walls.

Counselling sessions also equipped me with the knowledge that I wasn’t even aware I was lacking. Unbeknownst to me, I had a very limited understanding of a healthy diet, as I only ever paid attention to calories on food labels, ignoring sugar quantities and other critical information.

The marvelous teams from UBC's Small Steps for Big Changes at the Downtown YMCA motivated me and provided me with the necessary encouragement to make me believe in myself again, and continue with the program so that I could get better. All throughout this program, I continued receiving excellent support in personal work-out sessions, regular body measuring and endless inspiration from trainers, program counsellors, doctors and instructors – all of whom get deeply involved with the health and progress of their clients.

My weight loss was gradual and carefully calculated by my team of counsellors – I shed about one pound each week, as I was working hard on the interval training, learning proper eating habits, and paying more attention to my wellbeing. After about four months as a program participant, my husband suggested it was time for me to get out of stretchy Costco clothing, which led us to an exciting trip to Seattle. I distinctly remember that getaway, as it marked the moment when I realized I had a waist again! For the first time in 10 years, I was able to comfortably fit into size 12 jeans and was finally back to feeling attractive.

Fast-forward to today, and I have firmly embraced my new lifestyle. I’ve had lots of time to reflect on my progress since I have “graduated” and became an alumna of Small Steps for Big Changes. Now I spend a lot of time analyzing nutritional information on food labels, consistently do my interval training, and enjoy drop-in classes at the Downtown YMCA. I have also discovered a new-found love for walking. I think my dog believes I am a goddess, as I take her on 15+ km walks every week.

The most rewarding part of the experience was my ability to become the catalyst in change for myself and others. Because of the success I had with the program, I am truly passionate about spreading the word about the results of hard work, dedication and support from the Small Steps for Big Changes team. I stay connected with new program participants, as well as other alumni – we meet for our weekly hikes, followed by a coffee and chat about our challenges and successes. I am hopeful we will become stronger together and support each other through this life-changing experience.

The free program is now offered monthly at the Downtown Kelowna Y and the Kelowna Family Y in Rutland. To see if you qualify or to learn more about the program and how it works visit the Small Steps website, email small.steps@ubc.ca or call 250.807.8419.

In addition to offering UBC's Small Steps for Big Changes program, the YMCA of Okanagan offers a vast array of Specialty Health programs for people with particular health and wellness needs. While there are numerous programs available, a few to mention are Healthy Hips and Knees for those who are awaiting total hip or knee replacement surgery, or those who have recently had surgery; Healthy Hearts which is ideal for anyone who wants to prevent or recover from a cardiac event; YMCA Healthy Aging; to Mingle Mondays, a monthly social for older adults to meet new people, make friends and socialize with others while enjoying a light snack.