Wife, mother of three children, diabetes advocate, health activist and a substitute teacher, Jill Knapp leads more than a full life. But looking at her today, you’d have no idea the difficult times her life has seen and how she was able to overcome it all.
Jill recently spoke with Everyday Diabetes from her home in Boise, Idaho about her remarkable story, which includes losing over 100 pounds, and her hope to inspire others with the valuable life lessons she has learned on her journey.
When were you Diagnosed?
In 2005 I had Gestational Diabetes when I was pregnant with my last child at age 37. The Type 2 diagnosis did not come right away. The results of my glucose test at post 8 weeks was normal –and also normal at post 3 months.
My son however was quite ill and I myself didn’t feel well that first year after he was born. I had a few symptoms of diabetes, increased thirst, and I was usually exhausted, but I blamed the increased thirst on nursing and I thought the exhaustion was just from taking care of my sick child. I really never thought they were symptoms of diabetes.
For so long I was a mom and wife so, I put everyone else first and I forgot about me. My Doctor and diabetes educator really felt strongly that my diabetes was brought on by poor lifestyle choices.
My husband encouraged me to go to the Doctor. I finally made an appointment and went in. My Doctor decided to send me home with a diabetes monitor and taught me how to test my blood sugar. I tested 5 times a day and kept a log. I did not really understand the numbers, but was talking to my husband and telling him some were in the 300s. He said ‘oh no’, I’m pretty sure you have type 2 diabetes.
I met with the Doctor 2 weeks after I got the monitor and he confirmed that I had type 2.
When you were diagnosed, what was your reaction?
At first I was pretty devastated. I wondered how on earth I got there. I met with a diabetes educator who discussed lifestyle with me. For so long I was a mom and wife so, I put everyone else first and I forgot about me. My Doctor and diabetes educator really felt strongly that my diabetes was brought on by poor lifestyle choices. Also, because I had gestational diabetes, my chances were higher of getting type 2 .
You’ve overcome some tough obstacles in your life. I read about a particularly difficult period around the time you got married. Can you talk about that?
Sure. Getting married is supposed to be the best time of your life. Although I knew I was marrying the love of my life it was a very hard time due to the death of my mother just weeks before the wedding. That was so hard and I was so sad that she did not make it to see me get married. She had been sick for many many years and I was so upset that she ended up passing just before the wedding.
And then, my Uncle died the week before I got married and we attended his funeral the day before my wedding. Another person I loved was gone. Then, I got married. It was a happy day but also a sad on without my Mom there.
We went to Hawaii on our honeymoon. The grief of loss was sinking in and that was so hard. Not only on me but on my husband. The timing of these tragic events was painful. Two days after we got back from our honeymoon my dear friend Aaron died from a brain tumor. He was only 29.
For the first time really found out what depression felt like. It was just too much loss.
My entire life prior to marriage I never worried about my weight. I was a dancer since age 4 all the way into my early 20s. It kept me in great shape, but the loss and the depression wore on me and I learned to turn to food for comfort.
I slowly started gaining weight.
I became my own advocate and learned that my blood sugar did best when I ate small meals often, so I started eating 5 to 6 small meals a day. This upped my metabolism and the pounds started dropping off.
At one point, your weight had gotten up close to 240 pounds. Was there a particular moment when you just said to yourself “enough is enough?”
Through the years I had that feeling now and then. Having many miscarriages in between pregnancies I just felt depressed from loss after loss. My sweet mother in law passed away as well and depression crept back in. I exercised here and there but nothing that was enough to make a big difference. It’s really unfortunate but the diagnosis was my wake up call!
Losing so much weight is quite the journey. How did you do it?
I had a great relationship with God and turned to him. I learned to have patience with myself and learned that the weight did not come on over night and it was going to take some time to come off.
I started exercising 3 days a week and really started watching what I ate. I became my own advocate and learned that my blood sugar did best when I ate small meals often, so I started eating 5 to 6 small meals a day. This upped my metabolism and the pounds started dropping off.
I never aimed for a number, but I did want to get to a point where I was healthy and could get off medication for the diabetes if possible. I lost a total of 100 pounds and was able to stop taking all medication for my diabetes. That has been a big blessing. Changing my lifestyle really helped and putting myself first has helped me be a better wife and mother and has helped me have more energy to serve others.
Was there any points of self doubt, where you felt like you couldn’t keep going?
I think we all struggle some with self doubt I am for sure no exception but what I learned is to not let self doubt stop me. Even with the scale going a week or two without moving I still pressed forward. I kept positive sayings on my bathroom mirror and really prayed to keep positive thoughts in my head and those prayers were answered. Slowly and steadily the weight kept coming off and my soul was making a change too so the more I felt I can do this the more I was able to keep going.
I know many people struggle with it: when they mess up they give up!! YOU CAN”T GIVE UP!! We will all mess up, sure and I knew I would and I did. But, I did not wait for the next Monday to come I got back on track quickly and the next meal would be better. You just have to keep the negatives away and replace bad thoughts with good.
People we hang around can impact us as well. I was lucky that way and had a ton of support from my family and friends, but years down the road I too had to learn to let go of some bad relationships in order to keep positive in my life. Through the years I have helped other people let go and have been there for them while they were letting go of the bad and keeping the good.
You’ve become quite the celebrity and an inspiration for others. How’s that feel and what do you enjoy most about the role?
I feel really blessed!! Advocacy kind of fell in my lap and I feel so blessed that I have had so many opportunities come my way to share my journey. God has really opened all the doors and I have just been so blessed. I really enjoy helping others gain insight on how to live with Type 2 diabetes.
Changing my lifestyle really helped and putting myself first has helped me be a better wife and mother and has helped me have more energy to serve others.
Empowering others to become their own advocate and take their diabetes by the horns is what it’s all about. Helping others see that they too can live a long, healthy life is the most important thing I can do. Being in documentaries , on TV and in magazines has just been the way doors have opened so I can help others so I feel really blessed!
It’s not out yet, but I did 3 days of filming of my life with diabetes back in April. I will post it on my web site about how people can see the documentary. It will be on HealthiNation.com under “True Champions”. It really really shows how I live day to day. I am hoping it’s ready for release by the end of Sept.
Any advice for someone who is just starting on their journey to good health?
Start!! First, start eating healthy! Clean out your pantry. Really go through it and take out the junk food. Replace the bad food with healthy food. I did it all at once but other people I know have done it in steps. It’s up to you!
Start exercising! Get out and walk. Join a group fitness center! Take fun exercise classes –Zumba is a blast. Bodypump is a hard workout, but because you’re doing it with a group it makes it go by fast and it enjoyable. Find an exercise you love and do it. Some enjoy the gym. If you do join one, but don’t let your membership go to waste. Make a goal and get in there and get to work! Most of all, just know taking good care of you is important and until you really start doing it you won’t know how great it feels!!