Three years ago, Douglas Belfiore decided to make major lifestyle changes to improve his overall health. At 305 pounds, Belfiore’s physician told the Trumbull resident he would develop diabetes in five years if he didn’t lose weight.

Around the same time, Amy Arnone, a front desk clerk at the Lakewood-Trumbull YMCA where Belfiore regularly exercised, handed him a pamphlet about a new diabetes prevention program. Through their casual conversations, Arnone knew he was concerned about his health.

This disease is “personal” for Arnone because her mother is diabetic, she said.

“If I could do anything to help another person, I certainly would,” Arnone said.

Belfiore joined the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program and in the past 18 months lost 50 pounds.

“By the charts, I’m still considered obese,” Belfiore said. “However, I have met the goals of the program. I tell people when they congratulate me that this is a work in progress. I am not done yet.”

Kelly Vaughan, program coordinator for the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, said 79 million people in the United States, or one out of three, are diagnosed as pre-diabetic. However, many people do not realize that they’re at risk for Type 2 diabetes and it could be prevented.

“It’s not genetic,” Vaughan said.

Research by the National Institutes of Health recently revealed there is a “window of opportunity” for pre-diabetics to reverse their risk for acquiring diabetes.

By making lifestyle changes and meeting the program’s goals, seniors 65 and older can reduce their risk for type two diabetes by 71% and those under the age of 65 by 58%, according to Vaughan.

Type 2 diabetes is typically brought on by obesity and lack of physical activity.

“It’s not about how much sugar you consume, as many people think,” Vaughan said. “Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes but sugar can cause weight gain.”

During the 16-week program, professional lifestyle coaches provide information about healthy eating and becoming more physically active. Members meet monthly for a year to follow-up on their progress.

“We spend time finding out what’s going to work for you,” Vaughan said. “As a group we problem-solve and make individual goals. We then meet back a week later and talk about what works. Members support each other.”

Belfiore credits the group dynamic to contributing to his success.

“You were asked in a comfortable way to make commitments,” he explained. “We set goals and put them in writing. There was follow-up and gentle guidance offered.”

Although some people, such as Belfiore, chose to exercise at YMCA facilities in Trumbull and Westport, near to his worksite, this is not a program requirement. Brisk activities, such as raking the leaves, mowing the lawn and walking the dog are also beneficial, Vaughan said.

“We want people to do whatever kind of physical activity they enjoy,” she added. “As long as you’re moving, it’s all good.”

The program’s facilitators also do not endorse a specific diet to follow. They do, however, discuss the importance of portion control and limiting fat- and sugar-filled foods. Belfiore said he has learned how to eat healthy, wholesome foods and to limit indulgences in foods containing fat and sugar.

“The main thing going into this for me was that there is not going to be sacrifice,” Belfiore said. “Moderation, of course, is a key for us.”

Before he was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, Belfiore worried about having a heart attack. At the age of 52, his father died from a massive heart attack.

Additionally, Belfiore underwent an ablation to treat atrial fibrillation in 2007. Two years ago his cardiologist prescribed statins to combat Belfiore’s elevated cholesterol levels.

“He told me the cholesterol was now under control but that I needed to do something for him,” Belfiore said. “‘If you keep overeating, you’re going to get diabetes,’ he told me. This was another smack in the face.”

Both his cardiologist and primary physician are, of course, pleased with Belfiore’s improved health.

“For people who are looking for the solution, this works,” Belfiore said.

For more information about the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program, call Kelly Vaughan at 203-375-5844, ext. 32 and email kvaughan@cccymca.org. Financial assistance is available to those who qualify.