We recently had the opportunity to meet Sofia Spentzas, an extraordinary woman from the Chicago area whose life has been touched by diabetes in multiple ways. Her journey toward better health has led to opportunities she never could have dreamed of, even landing her on reality TV!
We could tell you more about Sofia’s efforts to Stop Diabetes®, but then you’d miss out on her humor and sparkling personality! She was kind enough to grant us this interview amid what has become a very busy personal schedule.
Let’s start with your family history of diabetes. Tell us about that.
Diabetes does run in my family. My mom died of complications from type 2 about a year and a half ago. She was only 60 years old.
My dad and I took care of her for about 17 years, through a kidney transplant and all sorts of other twists and turns. It was really hard watching her go through all that. Diabetes took everything out of her and took so much of our own physical and emotional energy.
We’re so sorry for your loss. How did that change your outlook on your own health?
After she died, I didn’t know what to do with myself or with my time. I was so used to being with her in the hospital and caring for her at home, you know?
Unfortunately, my mom’s passing was my wake-up call. My friends encouraged me to start taking care of myself. I’m a self-employed professional photographer, so I am always on the go. I was only eating one large meal per day and I rarely exercised. I knew I needed to lose some serious weight but never knew where to start — or how to do so without feeling the guilt of focusing on myself.
So you applied to be on a reality TV show?
I know it’s unconventional, but I thought it would be fun and worth a shot! My friend Anna Maria suggested I applied for ABC’s show “The Revolution.” New this season, this show seeks to transform viewers in all areas of life, including body, health, style, mind and environment. Each week, the series highlights one woman’s personal journey over the course of five months — and mine airs this week!
I actually missed the Chicago audition, so Anna Maria drove me to Michigan to catch them there! The process was essentially a several-months-long series of interviews, paperwork and testing, but it was so worth it. I’m flattered that they liked me and my story.
How has that experience changed your life?
Drastically! The show’s producers finally got my butt to a doctor – and that’s when I found out I had prediabetes. My A1C was 6.5 and she told me that she’d put me on medication if I didn’t lose weight. Well, I wasn’t about to repeat history, so I essentially set out to defy her.
I started living at the gym. I started eating five smaller, balanced meals a day. I really needed to relearn portion control. See, I come from a big Greek family, and I like to joke that we use bread in place of a fork.
After about five months of participating in the show, I have lost a significant amount of weight (you’ll have to tune in to find out exactly how much!). What’s more, I am ecstatic to announce that I no longer have prediabetes! I’m only 34, and I have so much more living to do.
“The Revolution” even flew me out to New York City to fulfill a longtime dream of mine . . . . But again, you’ll need to watch the show to find out what that is!
Speaking of your big Greek family, what do they think of all this?
They are very supportive and have even made their own changes — though not in front of national television! My aunt and uncle, who have type 2, have since improved their diabetes management. And my sisters and my brothers have lost a lot of weight on their own as well.
I’m convinced my mom is watching out for us, guiding us as we try to lead the healthier life that she couldn’t, that she didn’t have the chance to.
I feel so blessed to have been inspired to get healthy that I put a challenge out to my friends and extended family to inspire them. I’m so excited to say I had more than 80 members join my “Sofia’s Sexy Slim Down Challenge” on Facebook. After three months, the group has lost about 650 pounds!
What advice would you give other people who are facing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, like you were?
One doctor I met said something that really resonates with me: “Every time you have high blood glucose, it’s like punching your kidneys.”
Don’t underestimate diabetes! Don’t underestimate the power of the complications. You might not know it’s happening, but uncontrolled high blood glucose eats you up from inside. By the time you are diagnosed, it’s often too late. Within a year your health can go seriously downhill — like it did for my mother.
On the flip side, how many other diseases are so manageable, so controllable? Not too many. No matter your family history, you can actually change your future and not die from this disease. That is so amazing to me.
You CAN do something about it, and the first step is education. Believe it or not, despite our health history, my family was rather in the dark about diabetes until recently. But not anymore! I’m now a walking set of statistics and encouragement.
Do something, take it seriously. You can have an amazing life with diabetes. No one is telling you to never touch a slice of birthday cake again. Just plan for it, practice moderation. And get moving! My favorite exercise is dancing.
I’d also encourage people to become more involved with the American Diabetes Association. I was a casual fundraiser before; my favorite event was a local one called Bike the Drive. But now I am much more active with the Association, joining forces with my local office in Chicago. In fact, I recently held a dance-a-thon fundraiser — I danced for 12 hours straight! — and it was actually recorded for the show.
Also, at last month’s EXPO Chicago I spoke on a panel and got the chance to network with other people with diabetes. I loved it — what can I say, I am a people person!
Thank you for being such an inspiration! Your appearance on “The Revolution” will really help spread the critical Stop Diabetes message.
I do all this in honor of my mom . . . and for myself. I definitely see the value in that now.
Thanks so much to Sofia for taking the time to talk to us about her experience. Be sure to catch her inspiring transformation on ABC’s “The Revolution,” airing tomorrow, Wednesday, May 23, at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT!