The first thing you notice when talking to Jenn Giachetti is her smile. She smiles with her whole face, eyes sparkling. Next is her genuine caring attitude that is evident in her manner; when you’re with Jenn, you feel like you’re the only person in the world that matters to her at that moment.
She’s Mom to a 23-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. Jenn is fiercely dedicated to her family, being healthy for them, and providing a great example for what a healthy, happy life can look like. They are her proudest accomplishment! She homeschools her daughter, teaches 9 exercise classes per week, and attends an additional 2-4 classes to keep up her teaching skills. Her motivation for teaching exercise is to lead by example and show people that they can get healthy and have fun doing it.
Here’s what Jenn had to say when we sat down for a chat. (Answers have been edited for clarity.)
Tell me your diabetes story:
I was diagnosed in 2009 with an A1c of about 12. My daughter was about a year old and we were all living in Germany while my husband was stationed there in the Army. I went to the doctor because I had a yeast infection. I’d never had one before. It didn’t go away with treatment, so the doctor ordered some tests and found out that I have diabetes. My doctor prescribed metformin and I went away from the appointment thinking the diabetes was no big deal. I thought, “Give me medicine and that will fix me.” I was fat and thought diabetes was just part of that. I pretty much just accepted it for the first couple years.
I had been overweight my whole life and I continued to gain weight as I tried different medications, none of which did much to bring my blood sugar down.
One of our family’s moves with the military brought me to a town that had an obesity specialist. The diabetes doctors didn’t seem to be making things much better and I thought maybe losing weight was the way to go. The obesity specialist was the first doctor to tell me that food and exercise can actually work like medicine!
I started going to the gym a lot and changed the way I eat a little. Eventually I went on insulin because my blood sugar still wasn’t under control. The insulin screwed me up BAD. I didn’t feel good, my exercise was derailed, my weight loss was derailed, and my weight started going UP. I went to get life insurance and was denied because I didn’t pass the life insurance physical. That was a wake-up call that something had to change!
I realized that my daughter was watching everything I did. When I was growing up, I was always a number: I was a number on the scale, the number of friends I had, my GPA; I didn’t want that for her. She was going to follow that if I didn’t change something. You’re a parent and that’s what they do; they follow you. She’s not going to follow me down that road and be a number. I’m not going to let her; I can’t do that to her. So I tried harder.
Starting MixxedFit Classes was the beginning of the turn around. It was fun and got me off the couch. And I started to lose weight and I thought “Wow. It’s doing something, so let’s keep going. And it’s fun.” It took a couple months for my blood sugars to start coming down slowly. I didn’t have the diet down. I was still in the mindset that “I’m exercising so I can cheat with food.” But I can’t. You just have to switch your thinking. You’re not being deprived. You’re just making other choices. You can still have yummy stuff. Just stick it out and give yourself the time. It becomes easy. Easier than being unhealthy.
Diabetes is just another challenge for me. I think the thing that is the driving force for me is my daughter. I don’t want her to ever feel like I did. I want her to be healthy and have a healthy self-image. I just takes one time of standing on the scale and having that be a defining moment to ruin the self-esteem you’ve built up. I don’t want that for her. We’re not numbers. The numbers don’t make you who you are.
What is MixxedFit?
Dance Fitness with Boot Camp toning. It’s a chance to dance and be sexy and have fun and sweat. We do about 5 miles in an hour of class. I turn off the lights in my classes and turn on disco lights. I want everyone to feel comfortable. It’s uncomfortable and scary, feeling like everyone’s going to be watching you. I’ve been there. Nobody’s REALLY paying attention to anyone else because they’re too busy trying to do their own thing and not fall down. But it doesn’t feel like that. I want my students to have fun and come back. I know what happens when you keep going and I want that for my students.
What do you want other people with diabetes to know?
You can make the changes to be healthier. You can just start and do it now. Change your diet and exercise and 3 months later you’ll turn around and say “Wow! Why didn’t I do this sooner?” The changes are easy. There are substitutions for the unhealthy stuff you’re putting in your body and the substitutions usually taste better. Food is just food.
It’s also important to make sure you change for the people you love. You don’t want your kids to have to bury you early because you didn’t change your diet.
What would you tell someone who is newly diagnosed with diabetes?
Embrace it and you can fix it. It’s scary to be in the doctor and them telling you that something’s wrong. What’s even scarier is to not do anything about it and then to have them tell you that now something’s wrong that can’t be fixed [complications of diabetes]. So don’t let it get to that point.
Tips on interacting with medical providers
If I had to do it over again, I would have said “no” to medicine and asked for other options. I didn’t know there were options to try before medication. The obesity specialist was the person who finally told me that we could do other things besides medicine. Sometimes we non-doctors forget that EVERYONE is always learning, including the doctors. It’s ok to speak up and ask questions.
Most importantly: Don’t give up! Diabetes doesn’t make you who you are!
How is life different for you now compared to 5 years ago?
I’m continuing to lose weight and get healthier and more toned. I continue to see the obesity specialist every other month to keep accountable. I have an active lifestyle and love to do stuff outside like hiking and finding adventures with my daughter.
My most recent A1c was a healthy 5.5 and I don’t take any medication.
P.S. Jenn would like you to know that she’s the biggest kid you’ll ever meet. Funny is where it’s at. She loves to laugh and thinks that everyone needs to lighten up. Make a choice to be happy. You’re not going to get the time back so you may as well be happy.