Yvonne West was tired of being overweight.
At 274 pounds, the mother of four couldn’t keep up with her youngest, a 4-year-old boy. When flying on business in her job as an insurance company manager, she struggled to buckle her seatbelt and always was uncomfortable. She also slept poorly, waking up six or seven times a night to turn over. “I just hated the way I felt and looked,” says West, 45.
Having tried different diets unsuccessfully, she finally decided to have weight-loss surgery. She contacted Alexian Brothers Advanced Weight Solutions and attended a seminar required for all patients considering such surgery. She learned that to qualify for the surgery, she had to undergo physical and psychological evaluations and had to consult with a nutritionist. The first appointment she made was with the nutritionist, who helped her develop a list of nutritional changes. “A week later, I had lost five pounds,” West says.
When she appeared for her medical evaluation, she told the doctor about the weight loss, and he asked her if she ever had tried a medically supervised weight management program. She said she hadn’t, and he went on to explain that some people enjoy great success with the program.
“He asked me if I’d like to try it,” West says. “He said in the worst case, I would lose weight before my surgery, and I’d be better off when I had the surgery. I said, `Sure.’ It never had occurred to me I could do it without surgery.”
Working with an Alexian Brothers doctor, psychologist and dietitian, she began taking an appetite suppressant, counting calories, eating more fruits and vegetables, walking daily and adjusting her attitude toward food. After eight months, she had lost 85 pounds.
Her physical appearance changed so much that her father did not recognize her when she got together with her parents at Christmas after not seeing them for several months. “He was almost speechless for a few minutes,” West says.
She credits her progress to the holistic approach of the Alexian Brothers medical weight management program. “The program made a world of difference for me because it helped me address everything,” she says. “It wasn’t just dealing with the food. It was dealing with the nutritional side of it and the emotional side – my attitude toward food and how it was affecting my life.”
The motto of Alexian Brothers Advanced Weight Solutions -- “It’s not about the pounds. It’s about the person.” – reflects the program’s customized, holistic approach to care, says Ruth Davis, Director, Bariatric Service Line, at Alexian Brothers Advanced Weight Solutions.
Patients like West who opt for medical weight management receive “lifestyle coaching,” Davis says. The program’s multidisciplinary team “looks for what the barriers are for each individual and structures a program around what they need,” Davis says. “Some might have more of a food issue. Others might have activity issues. Most people need to change how they think about things. We help people walk that path, providing input and structure for that behavioral change.”
Working with an Alexian Brothers psychologist, West came to accept that she was a food addict. She learned that “every day you have to face your addiction and walk away from it, and that it is an addiction and not just my metabolism,” she says. “I just couldn’t say no to food.”
She also affirmed her belief that she was an emotional eater who ate if something was not going right. Now, instead of eating in such situations, she’ll talk with a friend. “I tell myself, `Eating is not going to solve anything.’ I do that a lot,” she says. “If I’m totally stressed…I will go for a walk.”
Her Alexian Brothers team also encouraged her to adopt a new attitude toward losing weight. They emphasized “there was nothing I couldn’t have,” she says. “It wasn’t about not having cookies or cake, but about understanding how much food I was eating. If I have a piece of cake, I have to adjust somewhere else. Knowing there was nothing I couldn’t have made it a lot easier for me.” At the same time, she learned that she didn’t necessarily have to eat every time she became hungry.
Another key to her progress was accepting that losing weight would be an ongoing issue, and “it’s OK to stray off the path,” West says. “There’s no success or failure, because with failure comes guilt, and guilt can lead to eating, especially if you’re an emotional eater….Just get back on your plan.”
Under the program, West had to visit her doctor monthly, which helped her stick to her nutritional and exercise regimen. “I knew I was going to have to get on the scale every month and own up to what I had done,” she says. “I was going to be accountable. It would have been a huge waste of money to not be getting anywhere.”
West wrote down everything she ate and counted calories diligently, cutting her daily caloric intake to 1,200 to 1,500 calories from 2,500 or more. While the appetite suppressant kept her from thinking about food as much, she turned her thoughts increasingly to exercise.
“I walked all the time,” she says. Wearing a pedometer, she started with a goal of 7,500 steps a day and kept increasing it until she hit 14,000. At that point, she decided to scale back to 10,000 because the higher goal was getting in the way of living her life. Still, she remained committed to meeting the goal each day, sometimes hitting the treadmill late at night. “It became a game to see where I could find those extra steps,” says West, who started parking at the far corner of the parking lot at work and adopted a dog to have another reason to walk. “It has come to the point where it’s just a part of my life. It is what I do.”
After coming this far, she intends never to go back. “I never want to feel that way again, ever,” she says. “I have a goal weight in mind, and I would like eventually to get there. Right now, my biggest concern is maintenance and not slipping back.”
People today tell her they’ve never seen her smile so much. She sleeps better, has more energy and feels more confident. Food “doesn’t talk to me anymore,” she says, noting that she has learned to walk away from food temptations at birthday and holiday parties. When she flies, she can buckle her seatbelt comfortably – and can pull it tighter. “It’s a silly little thing,” she says. “But it’s huge in my world.” As for her youngest child, now 5, “I’m pretty good at catching him now,” she says.