Diabetes Forecast

Sofia Spentzas: One Woman's "Revolution"

How a former caregiver started taking care of herself and her prediabetes

By Lindsey Wahowiak , ,

Caregiver Sofia Spentzas is taking care of herself and her prediabetes.

Photography by Callie Lipkin

Sofia Spentzas wants you to feel comfortable. It's evident even over the phone, when she trades stories about grandmothers who want to feed you and see you "meet a nice man." It's part of her personality, but it also stems from the nearly 17 years she acted as caregiver for her mother, who died in November 2010 from complications of type 2 diabetes.

But now, Spentzas, 35, of Bloomingdale, Ill., has turned to taking care of herself, thanks in part to appearing on television's The Revolution, a makeover-style daytime talk show on ABC. After a friend suggested auditioning for the show, Spentzas spent five months working out, revamping her diet, and reversing her prediabetes. And because she wants to help others, she's created a Facebook support group, Sofia's Sexy Slim-Down, to help other people accomplish their fitness goals.

Jennifer Ashton, MD, is a host on The Revolution and oversaw some of Spentzas's transformation. "Sofia's entire persona changed when she started taking care of herself," Ashton says. "As she became healthier, she became happier. And that happiness became contagious to those around her. It was a thrill to observe and be a small part of it."

Spentzas took some time away from her photography business to chat with Diabetes Forecast about her family history of diabetes, her experience on television, and how she stays confident and motivated in her workout routine (hint: famous dance partners certainly help!).

Tell us about diabetes in your family.

Here's the thing. Before my mom had it, we didn't know anything about it. The most I had heard about it was my grandmother got it at 80-something. My mom had [type 2] for a while without knowing about it. We didn't know that it eats you up on the inside if you're not taking care of it. It got progressively worse—she dealt with complications from it for 17 years.

Don't underestimate diabetes. In one year, you can go from looking good and feeling good to losing your eyesight and being hooked up to a [dialysis] machine three days a week. That was the reality of it. … With my mom, her brain was there, her wit, but her body was just shutting down. It was very sad to watch that.

And you were her main caregiver?

She needed constant care. My dad would watch her during the day, and I would watch her during the night. … I went to school, I started my own business … I just tried to find ways to make it work. You put yourself on hold when caring for someone else. Food was a big comfort for me, especially when she was in the hospital. The vending machine looks good at 2 a.m. I did realize it was a crutch for me, but I didn't care—you do what you do to get through. I kind of did neglect taking care of myself.

What Works?

Not everyone is able to prevent type 2 diabetes, but here's what studies show is effective if you have elevated blood glucose that's not yet high enough to diagnose as diabetes:

Losing weight. The Diabetes Prevention Program has shown that losing even 7 percent of your body weight can result in a 58 percent reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the next three years.

Making healthful food choices. Eating nonstarchy vegetables and fruits, whole grains, cooked dried beans, fish, lean meats, and low-fat dairy while avoiding excess calories is a healthful eating plan for avoiding diabetes—and a healthful way to eat for anyone.

Getting exercise. It takes only 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity along with weight loss to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

To learn more about reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes,
visit diabetes.org/prevention.

So what made you want to try out for The Revolution after your mother died? Did you know you had prediabetes then?

When she did pass, my friend [Anna Maria Addesso] told me I should try out for this show. They help you get your life on track. It wasn't until they made me get all the medical tests that I realized [I had prediabetes]. My doctor … said, "If you don't lose weight in a couple of months, I will start you on medicine." When I saw it on paper, I flipped out. I said there is no way I'm going to become diabetic. I've seen what a horrible disease it can become, and I'm not going to do it.

What did you change?

I went from eating one time a day to five times a day. I got a trainer. Now literally if I don't eat every three hours, I'm hungry. I still get to have my Greek foods; I'm just doing it better and in smaller portions. After three months I am no longer prediabetic. My A1C is 5.6. [Over five months] I lost 71 pounds.

I try to do weight training or resistance training two days a week, and cardio at least three to four days a week. Literally, I go out to a club and go dancing, or take Zumba or some kind of class. I like rowing on a row machine, and I'm excited to try it on [Lake Michigan] finally.

How did you keep motivated?

My mom is my inspiration, and the show really gave me the opportunity to use it. I really think this is my mom giving me a blessing and to say thank you for helping her. She's helping me get healthy. Where there's a will, there's a way. Everybody has an excuse, but if you're serious about getting healthy, you can find a way to make it happen. That's something my mom definitely taught us. The power of the mind is just unbelievable.

After three months, you showed off your results on an episode of The Revolution. What was it like for you to share your health journey on the show?

It was a very surreal experience. I got to dance with Tony Dovolani from Dancing With the Stars and learn the tango. That's two things on my bucket list! On the show I challenged my friends on Facebook [to join] Sofia's Sexy Slim-Down group. It's three months to see who's going to lose the most weight. People exchange recipes and tips, and it's still going.

One of the nicest things is that after the show, I received letters and e-mails and Facebook messages from people that literally made me want to cry. One was from a girl who said, "I just lost my mom 11 hours ago, and you've inspired me." It's been so beautiful and so overwhelming. It's so amazing and so cool that I could even have a slight impact on these people, and now they're inspiring me. I've got to keep it up! It's like, they're watching me now!



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