Serving, motivating through Salud y Vida keeps Martinez healthy

Alma Martinez stands in front of a packed room at a local clinic teaching a diabetes self-management class. She’s speaking to folks struggling to be healthier, many facing some of the same barriers Martinez has overcome.

In her role as an educator for the Salud y Vida program, she informs, motivates and supports individuals who have uncontrolled diabetes, many of whom are hardworking, poor and uninsured. In the Rio Grande Valley, this applies to a lot of our population.

After all, one in three adults have diabetes, and over 65 percent of adults have no health coverage or health insurance which means their access to healthcare is very limited and even paying for basic medication to help control diabetes is often impossible. The Salud y Vida program is managed by the University of Texas, School of Public Health, Brownsville Regional Campus and its many community partners and organizations. Salud y Vida is a cost-effective way to help prevent higher cost complications of diabetes, reduce the use of hospital emergency rooms for regular healthcare, and reduce the rates of disability, missed work, and costs of medication and treatment for untreated, uncontrolled diabetes, such as dialysis, wound care and amputation.

It really does make financial sense for us to invest in these types of programs at the front end to reduce the cost to all of us when families are left without access, treatment, or information. Salud y Vida has served almost 5,000 people in Cameron and Hidalgo counties and includes partnerships with hospitals, mental health agencies, clinics and community based organizations.

This coordinated effort helps folks gain control of their diabetes through lifestyle changes, connections to services, resources and perhaps most importantly, education around lifestyle changes. That’s where Martinez comes in.

She teaches classes all over the county, in convenient settings like schools, churches and clinics. She works with folks to make healthy changes to their diet and exercise, and to monitor their glucose. She really listens to their barriers and shares practical tips and her own story to motivate them. They are also visited by Community Health Workers in their homes to provide some additional support.

After the class, Martinez shares that this job helps her stay on track with her own health challenges.

“My life now is consumed with helping others lose weight and learn to self-manage diabetes.

I thank God every day for giving me the strength and will to reach my goal, and for placing the special people in my path that helped me get there.”

I asked her to share a little more about her journey:

“For years my weight kept climbing and my health continued to deteriorate. I had very poor eating habits and a family history of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. My doctor couldn’t emphasize to me enough how my weight was a huge factor in my health. At that time, I was well aware that I was overweight, but I’m not sure I really knew what that meant for my health.

I began my weight loss journey at age 47, when I couldn’t stand how I felt and looked anymore. I looked in the mirror of my future. I did not want to be plagued with the heath complications aggravated by obesity and the genetically inherited family diseases. I became more and more worried. With height of 4’11, weight of 204 pounds and a BMI of 40, I got to thinking that I was going to have to change my lifestyle if I wanted to have a better quality of life.

I started with changing my mindset. I knew that if I wanted to lose a significant amount of weight, I had to be serious about it so I started educating myself on health and fitness.

The first couple of months were the toughest. The most and much needed change I made was incorporating exercise into my sedentary lifestyle. I had to push through those old habits of wanting to lie on the couch and watch TV because I was too tired. Then I had to change my eating habits slowly, even though I wanted results quickly. I had to honestly face what I was putting into my mouth. I had to change the very way that I thought about food, I hardly ever ate vegetables so there was a huge learning curve for me. I learned new ways to sneak vegetables into my diet (cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash) and worked to increase my fruit intake instead of brownies and cookies. I cleaned up my diet by eating well-balanced and healthy meals, not by going on some fad diet! I had to involve my whole family. We were all going to commit to this together. Never would I have imagined just how much this would change my life. Now I have so much energy. I can breathe, move, and I want to move, and can get down on the floor and play with my grandson. I no longer just exist to get through each day. I am now living my life.

I maintain my focus on health and nutrition. I changed my whole outlook, my whole attitude and my whole self! I make sure I am eating nutritious foods and I come up with fun and tasty ways to help others eat healthy. I make sure my entire self is healthy which includes my body, mind and my attitude. Food is fuel, so I make sure I eat healthy. But food is also social, so I don’t beat myself up if I eat something indulgent. I just don’t do it all the time. Indulgent food tastes so much better when you don’t eat it all the time!

A small piece of cheesecake eaten slowly tastes so much better than scarfing down half a cheesecake every week. I have lost over 100 pounds and it has stayed off. My success extends beyond my weight loss. My diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure health are under control without medication. I feel better than I have in years.

Helping others is one thing that keeps me motivated. People see me now and want me to help them achieve similar results. I did it without surgery, magic pills or short-term fad diets. My commitment to keeping it off is helping them to see they can do it too. The people I meet in Salud y Vida keep me motivated because they see me as a role model.”

I asked Martinez what advice she has for others who are trying to make lifestyle changes.

“Be patient and be kind to yourself. It takes time, but be proud of your efforts, big or small. You are embarking on a journey that will change you on the inside and out. Get moving! Even if you’re simply walking around the block, just get moving, stay moving and make goals to move more and become a healthier you.”

Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!