WILMINGTON — Laura Knisley is the kind of person who has a shelf of empty cans, bottles and boxes of food in her office.
But it’s for a good purpose — she uses the food packages, which are clean, to teach “basically how to eat with diabetes.”
A dietician, she teaches a newly created class about diabetes at the Clinton County Health Department.
“Food is so important in our lives,” Knisley said. “We celebrate everything with food. We get together at weddings, after funerals, all of those things.”
She says people call her and say, “Just tell me what to eat.”
“That is not really the best way to go about life,” Knisley said. “So my idea is to give people the tools they need to make their life work with diabetes.”
Diabetes afflicts one in 10 adults, according to estimates by the Ohio Department of Health, and seven percent of adults have indicators of pre-diabetes.
Dawn Kenney didn’t take Knisley’s class at the CCHD, but did benefit from a similar curriculum taught by Knisley.
She was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago. She was so surprised, she told her doctors they had the wrong charts.
“I was scared, of course, and angry at the same time that I did not know (I had diabetes), and I did not know where to turn,” Kenney said.
Under Knisley’s curriculum, Kenney learned how to count carbs, check blood sugar, keep a record of what she ate that day, control portions and adjust her diet to fit in the foods she loved.
“You really think, when you’re diabetic, that you can’t have those (foods you love),” she said. “I still eat the things that I like and love; I just have to adjust it into my daily meals.”
Kenney urged others who may be diagnosed to consider Knisley’s diabetes class.
“Before I really felt that the diabetes controlled me,” Kenney said. “Now I have control of it, and it’s such a relief.”
Students in Knisley’s classes learn about nutrition, cooking, grocery shopping and other nutrition-based ways to live with diabetes.
Knisley teaches these lessons in a hands-on fashion. Students create fake, model plates of food and learn how to read labels and shop for groceries.
“I really hate the way that everything is focused on fear and all of the complications of diabetes,” Knisley said. “Everybody knows that diabetes has complications. You can Google that anywhere.”
Instead, Knisley said she focuses on living with diabetes.
“It’s not a death sentence,” she said. “It can be managed. I want people to understand how to manage it.”
For instance, every class discusses nutrition, and she doesn’t recommend switching from sugar-free foods.
“I don’t recommend sugar-free food for diabetics” because they often have more carbohydrates, sodium and fat than the regular product,” she said. “That’s a real eye-opener for some people.”
Knisley recently had two students graduate from her class in June.
Those two are more confident, regularly checking blood sugar, reading labels and, as avid cooks, found the right way to prepare food to manage their diabetes, according to Knisley.
HealthFirst for Clinton County funded the class with a $10,000 grant. HealthFirst is a nonprofit that supports social service, pharmaceutical and transportation needs of area residents with documented need.
Clinton County Health Commissioner Pamela Walker-Bauer, who also sits on HealthFirst’s board, said the grant will fund the program for a year. CCHD continues to seek funds to support the program, possibly through grant opportunities or billing insurance companies.
CCHD further offers in-kind support in the form of office space, office support and maintenance of the program’s financial records.
“At the CCHD, we work to prevent illness, protect public health, and promote wellness,” said Walker-Bauer. “This diabetic education program naturally fits within that mission.”
Walker-Bauer said Knisley, who is both a registered nurse and a licensed dietician, is “a perfect fit for this role.”
While Walker-Bauer hopes to find more funding for the program, Knisley, who calls it all “an evolving project” hopes the program will grow in the future.
She’s already talking about creating a pre-diabetes class to urge prevention, as well as a diabetes support group.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.