Millions of Americans have seen their waistlines expand over the past couple of years. A study published earlier this year in the journal “Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research and Reviews” found that the stress, disruption, and unhealthy habits brought on by the COVID-19 public health emergency resulted in nearly half of U.S. adults packing on excess pounds during the first 12 months of the pandemic.

Like so many of us, Barbara Deike experienced a double-digit weight gain during the first year of the pandemic, primarily due to reduced physical activity and unhealthy eating patterns that she attributes to quarantining and working from home. However, in February 2021, the Silver Creek, N.Y. resident decided it was time to make a change. She enrolled in a new digital healthy lifestyle program through Independent Health called Brook+ with the hopes of achieving a healthier weight and improving her overall health.

“I was very sedentary during that first year of the pandemic. I wasn’t getting up much to walk around or get any type of exercise. As a result, I put on some weight,” said Deike. “I didn’t like the fact that I had become so unhealthy. My doctor had mentioned prediabetes as a concern to me and diabetes runs in my family. I knew I had to make a change. Being 46 with an 8-year-old daughter, I wanted to start doing what was needed to live a long life. I then received a letter about Brook+ from my doctor. Talk about perfect timing!”

Brook+ is easy and convenient

Independent Health offers Brook+ as a way to help our members who may have prediabetes take charge of their health, achieve a healthy weight, and reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This year-long, CDC-recognized Diabetes Prevention Program is completely digital, meaning it can be accessed using a smartphone, tablet or computer, and no classrooms or clinic visits are necessary. Eligible participants are provided with the tools (i.e., a free digital scale and Fitbit*) and health coaching they need to help them make realistic and sustainable lifestyle changes. Plus, it’s available at a $0 member cost share.

For Deike, it was the simplicity of Brook+ that was particularly appealing to her.

“The goals of the program seemed very achievable and weren’t intimidating. They wanted me to lose 5% of my body weight and walk at least 5,000 steps a day,” said Deike. “Had they told me you need to do 60 minutes of fast-paced aerobics or join a gym, I probably wouldn’t have signed up. But walking is a fairly easy form of exercise. There’s little investment or equipment needed. I was already doing it every day, but I just needed to do more of it.”

Getting started and setting goals

Like all Brook+ participants, Deike had to first complete a brief online questionnaire to determine if she was eligible for the program. Upon receiving eligibility confirmation, she was then able to download the Brook+ mobile app. From there, she was assigned her own personal Brook+ Health Coach, who worked with her to set physical activity and nutritional goals that were manageable and fit her needs.

Since she was only taking about 2,000 steps a day prior to starting the program, she began slowly by just walking up and down her driveway for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times a day. By the end of week one, she reached 5,000 steps, and her confidence and stamina quickly grew. Thanks to encouragement from members of her Brook+ support group, she was walking six miles a day by the time the first month was over. Today, Deike averages seven miles of walking a day, despite the fact that she works a hybrid schedule that sees her commuting 70 miles per day, three times a week, to her job in downtown Buffalo.

“I’ve learned to break up my daily miles into several shorter walks – two miles before work, three miles during work on breaks and lunch, and two miles after dinner,” said Deike, who works for the New York State Department of Labor. “My 8-year-old daughter keeps me company by walking with me most nights, and my husband, Tom, gives me the time I need to take longer walks on the weekend. They both know how important it was to me to lose weight and have been cheering me on since day one.”

By participating in Brook+, Deike has also learned how to eat healthier while still being able to have the foods she truly enjoys. She was given a calorie goal to meet each day by her Health Coach but wasn’t put on a restrictive diet plan.

“A healthy diet and calorie counting can have a bigger impact on weight loss than exercise. The calories that Brook+ budgeted for me were pretty generous as compared to other programs I tried over the years,” said Deike. “I definitely now eat more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. However, every Friday, we still have pizza. I go out for ice cream, too. I just get a small cone instead of a big sundae. I haven’t given up chocolates either. So, I still get to eat all my favorite foods in moderation.”

According to Deike, the Brook+ app made it effortless for her to track her daily calorie intake. She simply had to scan a barcode or type in the name of the food to find it’s calorie information, rather than looking it up on her own or jotting it down in a food journal. Plus, the app provided her with feedback on certain nutritional trends, including her average calories consumed per week and a breakdown between fats, protein, and carbohydrates.

One-on-one guidance and support

In addition to the easy-to-use Brook+ app, Deike credits her Brook+ Health Coach, Jaclyn, for being instrumental in helping her build lasting healthy habits and keep her on track during her weight loss journey.

“I really believed that I was addicted to sweets and didn’t have the willpower to eat them in moderation. But Jaclyn taught me that willpower isn’t some magical power that you either have or don’t have. She helped me to understand that I can set myself up to succeed through preparation and habitual behaviors,” said Deike.

For instance, Deike now plan meals ahead of time, keeps a variety of healthy choices available, and reads online menus before she goes out to eat. In addition, she used to snack after putting her daughter to bed, but now brushes her teeth when her daughter does, which reduces her urge to eat at night.

“The idea that willpower isn’t necessary was so empowering to me. Jaclyn was there every step of the way to provide advice and make sure I consistently met my daily walking goals and nutritional goals,” said Deike. “I also took part in a variety of health and wellness seminars that Brook+ offered on a weekly basis. I was able to view them anytime during the week, which was very convenient. I learned how to overcome potential obstacles and the significant impact that stress, hydration, and sleep has on your weight. All of these resources made the process so much easier.”

An amazing transformation

Following a year of hard work and dedication, Deike completed the Brook+ program this past winter. In total, she lost an astonishing 80 pounds. Her A1C (blood sugar) levels went from 5.9 to 5.2, so she’s no longer in the prediabetes zone. And her resting heart rate decreased from 73 to 64, which is reflective of the increase in her cardiovascular fitness.

“Without a doubt, Brook+ far exceeded my expectations. Had I known I would have had this much success, I would have taken some better before photos of myself,” joked Deike. “There are so many benefits that come with losing 80 pounds. I have a lot more energy, which allows me to be more active with my daughter. I look better and feel more confident in public. I’m less achy, feel younger, and have a more positive mindset. It’s as if I’m a totally different person.”

Now that she’s taken control of her weight and health, Deike is determined to make sure the healthy habits she adopted with Brook+ will continue to be part of her daily routine moving forward.

“If you put your mind to it, it’s not that difficult to make lifestyle changes,” said Deike. “Thanks to Brook+, I found a way to make the changes I needed to and, as a result, made a better life for myself.  I’ve even inspired my husband to follow my lead and he’s lost around 20 pounds. At this point, I couldn’t ask for much more. I’m feeling great!”

More than 8,000 Western New Yorkers are currently participating in the Brook+ program. To see if you’re eligible, visit the Brook+ website.

*Digital scale mailed upon program signup; Fitbit voucher sent after 4 weeks of program participation.