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The circle of wellness

Ditch the diet: Program teaches how to manage your health


Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Paleo, Atkins, South Beach, even cabbage soup. Patti Friend has tried them all. Some diets worked better than others, but eventually the 56-year-old regained any weight she initially lost.

Friend, the public relations manager for Novant Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, realized she needed something that would stick. “I had to learn how to eat in the real world,” she said.

While making her rounds at Forsyth Medical Center, she learned about a comprehensive, 10-week program called “Weigh for You” that promotes weight management through proper diet, exercise, stress management and a small group experience. She enrolled in the April session.   

“The goal of the program is to teach participants how to adopt and maintain a healthier lifestyle that reduces the risks associated with being overweight,” said Alice Smith, a dietician with the program. Those risks can include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other disease.

Participants begin the program with a wellness screening that measures blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference and body mass index. They also complete a health questionnaire with lifestyle questions. Based on the results, each individual is given a tailored report showing his or her personal risk for chronic disease, test results, calorie goals and recommended lifestyle changes. The individualized “wellness profile” runs 14 pages and is very specific, according to Smith.

What is unique about the program is the team of registered dieticians, nutritionists, counselors, exercise specialists and certified wellness coaches that provides information and support every step of the way – and even after the program is over.

"Everyone is assigned a wellness coach that each participant can contact whenever they have a concern and they’re available to the person even six months after the program ends to help with stress, sleep, nutrition and exercise concerns,” said Karen Sigmon-Smith, manager of community partnerships and of the wellness coaches.     

There are lectures on nutrition, exercise and behavior modification, practical knowledge on interpreting labels and even a grocery store tour. Included in the $150 fee for non-Novant Health participants is access to the local YMCA. For Novant Health staff, the cost of the program is $100.

“Everyone initially wants to lose weight, but after the health screenings, we find that the focus changes to improving health,” Sigmon-Smith said. “This is not a quick fix; it’s a lifestyle change.”

The weekly weigh-in provides an accountability factor for participants and gives people a chance to connect with one another and discuss concerns and gain support, she added. Participants track their progress in a journal of what they eat and how they feel.     

Because the program isn’t a quick fix, some people are repeat customers. Sigmon-Smith said about 40 percent of patients will come back for another session.

Kendra Davis is on her second go-around. The 38-year-old teacher at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said she’s been on a diet her entire life, “starting back in elementary school.” She likes the holistic approach of the Weigh for You program.  During this session, she’s lost 23 pounds so far.

Davis’s goal is to reach 200 pounds by her 40th birthday. She started the program weighing in at 357 pounds.

Those aren’t the only numbers Davis has seen drop. Her blood glucose numbers were in the prediabetes range at 6.0 and her readings are now 5.7. Before she joined the program, her blood pressure readings were 140/89 and now her top number, or systolic pressure, is 124.

Davis said her first session was paid for by the Novant Health Foundation Forsyth Medical Center. The scholarship allowed her to pay for her second session on her own. “It gave me a jump-start on my wellness journey,” Davis said.   

Friend said her “wellness profile” results were a wake-up call. Her blood sugar numbers revealed she had prediabetes. “That was really motivating to me because diabetes runs in my family,” she said. “The diet wasn’t just about looking good in jeans.”

She’d already started losing weight on her own, and now through the program, she has lost 20 pounds. Much of the weight gain had come during the time of her previous job in corporate communications for a fast food company where, according to Friend, they provided “endless free food and sweet tea.”

“It was hard to resist so I started gaining weight quickly and I felt terrible,” she said.

During a check-in, Smith suggested she try a sugar detoxification where she would cut all refined sugars for 10 days. No cookies, no chocolate. It’s been a month and she’s had no sugar. “Somehow, I’ve lost the desire to have something sweet every day,” she said.

More importantly, her blood sugar levels and blood pressure are now normal. And strangely enough, she’s regained her hearing in left ear.  Friend had seen an ear, nose and throat specialist about her hearing loss and he said was due to collapse of a Eustachian tube. Though he said there was no scientific proof, he suggested she lose 20 pounds to see whether that would help her condition.

It has.  “For the first time in two years, I can hear clearly in my left ear,” she said.

Since enrolling in Weigh for You, Friend said she is “feeling a lot better.” Where she really sees the difference is when she plays with her grandson Hendrix, an active toddler. “Last time I was with him, I was able to carry him around, run around the yard and keep up with him,” she said.

For more information about Weigh for You and long-term weight management resources, call 336-277-1880.        





Published: 6/19/2015