How Susan VanAbs Balanced Her Diabetes, Lost Weight, and Became a Personal Trainer

Losing weight is something I know personally. Having been diagnosed with type one diabetes at 32 years old, I have struggled with my weight ever since. Insulin, the hormone that keeps me alive, is a blessing. Too much of it though, can cause excessive weight gain. Balancing food intake with insulin is an important part of my life.

When we first moved to the Upper Valley in 2009, I ballooned to 186 pounds by overeating, drinking and over-bolusing insulin (injecting too much at one time). I also discovered I was borderline hypothyroid. Before I moved, I was at a healthy weight, working with a NASM trainer. When I moved, I had to find a new Trainer, but sadly did not. I did workout but liked food more! Then I found Erin Buck. She put together workouts for me and helped me get back into shape. She inspired me to become a NASM trainer, which I did almost 2 years ago.


As a NASM certified Personal Trainer, my goal is to help others with chronic conditions to discover exercise as a way to help control their disease. Exercise is an integral part of my diabetes management. With exercise, my body uses the insulin I infuse into my body more efficiently. In turn, this requires less insulin to control my blood sugars, which, in turn, helps me to keep my weight down.

Here are some pointers everyone can use to help them get their weight down.

  1. Be consistent – Work to be consistent with exercise and food. Write your exercise into your calendar as an appointment. Eat consistently. At first, measure your food until you are good at eyeballing the serving size.
  2. Set short term and long term goals – A short term goal might be exercising consistently for a week or eating healthfully for a week. The long term version could be something like being down 2 clothing sizes in a year.
  3. Don’t do diets (or shakes – or diet pills)– Try to eat nutritious foods and think about food as fuel for your body. Diets are full of can’t and don’t eat. They are not long term solutions for weight control. Events like birthdays and holidays are a reality and tend to center around food. It is OK to eat food you enjoy occasionally.

Mostly eat foods from the source. Chicken, especially organic, or steak is not processed with numerous additives. Eat your veggies. Try to limit your consumption of baked goods.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up if you eat junk food – Pick yourself up and make a better choice the next time. It is OK to occasionally eat dessert as long as your “occasionally” is not every day.
  2. Check out the size of your dinner plates – The size of our dinnerware has doubled since the 1960s. Almost all sets have a salad plate. Use this for your meals. The average dinner plate is 12” in diameter, yielding approximately 1200 calories per meal! For some, that is near their total daily caloric intake. Conversely, don’t make the opposite mistake of eating too little by skipping meals. Your body will go into survival mode and hold on to calories, thus hampering weigh loss.
  3. Take advantage of free apps on your smart phone to log your food – MyFitnessPal is a great tool for determining calorie counts and overall nutrition information. You even get rewarded by logging your food in consistently with discounts on Under Armour gear!
  4. Don’t stress out about the number on the scale – It is very easy to obsess about your weight. The weight number is just one part of health. Get a Fitness Assessment, at Upper Valley Aquatic Center, we give you a segmental body composition analysis. We measure your body fat percentage, bone mass, muscle mass and hydration. Focus on your overall health and how you feel. How do your clothes fit?
  5. Move! – Get yourself into a class or physical activity you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you will continue doing it. Try to get in more steps by using your smart phone, or smart watch to track them. Regular exercise produces endorphins – those “feel good” hormones- which help with your sense of well-being.
  6. Reward yourself – Set a health goal, move towards it and then give yourself a reward. Maybe you want to go on a vacation to a destination like Hawaii, the Bahamas or go on a cruise. The rewards can be short term and long term.

My weight has fluctuated at times, but I have mostly been able to get back to where I need to be. So my message is, the journey to weight loss is not easy. It is not found in pills or shakes. My life is so much better now. It can be done! And who knew I would finally get my NASM certification?!

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