LI-YU MITCHEL, Health Wise

That extra slice of pie, tall glass of soda, big piece of fresh-baked bread or supersized order of crispy fries are sometimes irresistible.

We are all guilty of overindulging in sweets and high carb foods. But according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 86 million Americans - more than 1 out of 3 - currently have prediabetes. Nine out of 10 people who have prediabetes aren’t even aware they have it.

What is prediabetes? Prediabetes means your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not quite at the range of full-blown diabetes. Diabetes is a serious disease in which your body does not process sugar effectively. As a result, diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and it is the leading cause of limb amputations in this country. As a family physician and wound care specialist I see daily the ravages this deadly disease can take on my patients, if they are not well controlled.

The fact is Type 2 diabetes disease can be delayed - or even prevented in people with prediabetes - if you choose to make long-term lifestyle changes. Just eating healthy and being more active can cut your risk for getting Type 2 diabetes in half. But without weight loss and moderate physical activity, nearly a third of people with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes in five years.

We are fortunate in Tyler to have a wealth of free resources to help people get active and motivate them toward successful lifestyle changes.

The Northeast Public Health District Center for Healthy Living offers free six-week classes to the public on diabetes education and prevention. Classes cover meal planning and food preparation, exercise and stress management.

Fit City Tyler coalition has been involved in programs with the mission of making Tyler a fit city “one step, one bite, one health-conscious decision at a time.”

Fit City soon will be providing new labels at a variety of restaurants in town designating menu items which are healthier choices. Fit City is also continuing with their Lighten Up East Texas program, which has been a successful, free weight-loss challenge. There is still time to join with a weigh-in by Feb. 28. There are more than 70 weigh-in sites available, so check lightenupeasttexas.com to see where to weigh in.

Tyler Parks and Recreation is slated to create more free hiking/biking trails in South Tyler, connecting Rose Rudman, South Tyler Trail all the way up to Faulkner Park.

Local physicians with the Smith County Medical Society offer free weekly health talks and walks in the fall and spring at Rose Rudman with the program Walk With a Doc. The medical society also has launched a new free monthly Cook With a Doc program, with medical society physician chefs demonstrating healthy, tasty meals, which can be prepared in less than an hour. The next demonstration is Feb. 16 at Natural Grocers.

Free to the public, UT Health Northeast is launching its first of four weekly Empower Diabetes classes beginning Feb. 3. East Texas Medical Center Olympic Center is launching a “passport” exercise-incentive program, which is also free to the public. Participants will take a “virtual tour around the world … and learn how to incorporate fitness and nutrition into your life.” Christus Trinity Mother Frances is teaming up with Fresh by Brookshires to begin Cooking Heart to Heart, a free cooking class led by Christus Trinity Mother Frances’ executive chef and a registered dietitian on the first Thursday of every month beginning Feb. 2 in the lobby of the Louis and Peaches Owen Heart Hospital.

Free healthy lifestyle programming and demonstrations also are held regularly at local grocers in town.

So what does this all mean? Bottom line is you need to know if you are at risk and then do something about it by eating better and getting more active. The CDC has a good screening test you can take at home at www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/pdf/prediabetestest.pdf to see if you are at risk.

With all the free programs we are fortunate to have in town, there is no reason why we all can’t learn a lot and get healthier.

Sure, it takes a lot to give up that daily sugary soda. But if it means I never meet you at the wound healing center to try to save a gangrenous toe, it’s probably a good trade off.

Li-Yu Mitchell, MD, is a mother of 3, family physician and wound care specialist at the ETMC Wound Healing Center, President of the Smith County Medical Society, board member of the NETPHD, delegate for the Rose Chapter of Texas Academy of Family Physicians.

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