Best friends lose combined 146 pounds

Two women benefit from diabetes prevention program. After participating in free lifestyle change classes and making changes in watching what they ate and increasing their activity, they each lost more than 70 pounds.

Long-time friends Gayle Johnson of Brainerd and Phyllis Wikstrom of Baxter lost a combined 146 pounds while participating in the National Diabetes Prevention Program – a lifestyle change program. Submitted photo

A year ago, Gayle Johnson, 66, of Brainerd was struggling with her weight.

She was also facing a prediabetes diagnosis and had high blood pressure. After seeing an ad for the National Diabetes Prevention Program — a lifestyle change program — in the local paper, she decided it was time to act. She called her longtime friend Phyllis Wikstrom, 71, of Baxter and asked if she’d accompany her on a yearlong journey to better health.

The National Diabetes Prevention Program empowers participants to lose weight, be more active and ultimately prevent prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes raises blood sugar levels and can lead to serious health conditions, such as stroke and blindness. While both genetics and lifestyle contribute to your risk of getting this disease, adopting new healthy habits can significantly reduce your risk.

Crow Wing Energized, a grassroots movement backed by Essentia Health and Crow Wing County, supports the program in the Brainerd lakes area.

“We’re preventing problems before they happen,” says Kara Schaefer, community health educator for Crow Wing Energized, who also leads the program’s classes. “It’s a proven program that’s split into two sections — core classes for 16 consecutive weeks and then once a month for the remainder of the year. It goes beyond teaching healthy eating and exercise habits. You have a curriculum to encourage group talk and idea-sharing.”


Through Crow Wing Energized, the program is offered free for participants.

Classes include weigh-ins, where participants set incremental, individual goals. When Gayle started the class, she weighed 204 pounds. Throughout the last year, she lost 70 pounds, has cut her blood pressure in half and is no longer prediabetic. She’ll also tell you she’s gained confidence and has become more social, taking up group classes, such as line dancing and Zumba.

“I love it,” she said.

Phyllis weighed 217 pounds during her first weigh-in and is down 76 pounds. She explained she was eating healthy before, but was eating too much. Now, she’s tracking — counting calories and sodium with the MyFitnessPal smartphone app and doing 10 miles a day on her recumbent bike.

“It doesn’t take long to track,” Phyllis said. After losing weight, she also eliminated pain in one knee and is enjoying a new wardrobe. “It’s so fun getting back into clothes I haven’t been in forever.”

Reflecting on their experience, both Phyllis and Gayle are glad they signed up.

“The class taught us how to eat and have healthy lifestyles. You just need the mindset that you really want to do it,” Phyllis said. To anyone considering the program, Gayle added, “Just do it. It changes everything.”

Want to make a change for a healthier lifestyle?

Upcoming Lifestyle Change Classes


The following classes are starting in the New Year:

  • 10 a.m. every Wednesday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Brainerd, starting Jan. 15.
  • 9 a.m. every Thursday at the Brainerd Family YMCA, starting Jan. 16.
  • 11 a.m. every Wednesday at Essentia Health – St. Joseph’s Medical Center, starting Feb. 5
  • 7 a.m. every Thursday at Pequot Lakes City Hall, starting Feb. 6.

There is no charge for this class thanks to the work of Crow Wing Energized ($429 value).
To register for one of the classes, which are led by a volunteer trained lifestyle coach, go to

For more information, contact Kara Schaefer at or 218-454-5901.

Interested in becoming a volunteer lifestyle change trainer?

Become a certified lifestyle coach by taking a free two-day course so you can teach others how to create a healthier lifestyle and prevent diabetes in a 22-session diabetes prevention program.

Certified Lifestyle Coach Training

When: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Feb. 4-5.

Where: Crow Wing County Land Services Building.


Register: Training is free ($750 value), but registration is required.

For more information, contact Kara Schaefer at or 218-454-5901.

What To Read Next
Get Local