Losing weight successfully

Motivation is just part of the equation

For Joyce Chambers, the moment that changed her life came when she was on vacation in Bend, Ore. “I was staying at a house with a lot of stairs, and I couldn’t walk up the stairs because my knees were hurting so badly. They wouldn’t support my weight.”

But those stairs turned out to be the motivation she needed to start again.  Chambers recommitted to the program and has lost 50 pounds. Her knees are pain free and she’s within 25 pounds of her final goal.

After returning home, she went to see Tim Whiteley, MD, her doctor at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers Everett clinic. When she was weighed, she couldn’t believe what the scale said. “I’d never weighed that much in my life,” she says. A year before, Chambers had participated in the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) with the goal of losing weight. She had lost a few pounds, but the program encouraged lifestyle changes that she wasn’t ready to make. So she dropped out.

What motivates people to lose weight varies greatly, says Paula Lozano, MD, assistant medical director for Preventive Care and a researcher on obesity at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. It may be that you want to feel as fit and vigorous as you did when you were 25. Or that you don’t want to worry about developing a chronic disease. Or that you’re unhappy with your appearance or the way your clothes fit.

For many people it’s a health event, such as a visit to the doctor where they discover their blood pressure is very high or they’re at risk for developing diabetes.

But losing weight isn’t only about motivation. In fact, it’s just half of the equation. “Many people are desperate to lose weight but they haven’t figured out how to do it,” says Dr. Lozano. And along with losing weight, a strategy for keeping it off is just as important. That usually involves lifestyle and behavior changes.

Change can begin with a conversation

Figuring out how to lose weight sometimes starts with a conversation in the doctor’s office, says Charles Mayer, MD, a family physician at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers downtown Seattle location. “If a patient wants to lose weight, it’s important to understand where they are in the process,” he says. They may only be ready to start thinking about losing weight. They may have obstacles at home. Or they may need help developing a strategy. “It’s important not to tell them what to do, but to help them figure out what will work best for them,” Dr. Mayer says.

Both Drs. Lozano and Mayer agree that a weight loss program can be a big help in losing weight—and keeping it off, something that’s difficult for many people. A national research study showed that the DPP can be effective, and Weight Watchers® is another proven option. They both require that participants make lifestyle changes and learn to eat differently.

“It’s hard to switch to thinking that this isn’t a short-term diet—it’s a lifestyle change,” says Dr. Mayer. “It helps when people recognize that they need to modify their lives so they can eat in a way they’re happy with. For example, making the change to eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean protein is more likely to be successful if you eat a big treat once a week. It can make long-term changes more satisfying.”

When she reaches her weight loss goal, she plans to reward herself with a special sapphire necklace that has a meaningful story behind it. While on a family vacation in 2013, Chambers visited a Montana mine that invites visitors to search for the gems. She came home with a bagful of rough sapphires. Over the last year, each time she reached a small goal in her weight loss journey, she sent one of the gems off to be cut and polished. “When I reach my goal, I’m going to have them made into a beautiful piece of jewelry,” she says. With her goal getting closer, she’ll be wearing that necklace soon.

Weight loss success stories

Melissa Stevens: A new eating plan results in disappearing pounds

Being a full-time working mother with a demanding job left little time for Melissa Stevens to pay attention to herself. So over 20 years, little by little, about 50 pounds crept onto her frame. “I tried losing weight sporadically and had a little success, but nothing sustained,” she says.

About a year ago, she decided she needed to make a change. She wanted to look better, and also improve her health. “My BMI said I was borderline obese,” she says. “I didn’t want to deal with ongoing health issues as I got older.” Her doctor had noted that her cholesterol and blood sugar were on the high side, and weight loss would help.

Once she committed to losing weight, she joined Weight Watchers to help her find ways to drop the extra pounds and keep them off. Meetings were offered at her workplace, which made it easier to participate.

“It never felt too hard. The program made me much more conscious of the kind of food I eat. I used to eat a lot of processed foods. Now, fresh fruits and veggies are included in everything I cook,” Stevens says, succinctly adding: “I’ve changed the way I eat.”

Each Sunday night, she sits down and plans her family’s menu for the week and uses it to create a shopping list. And each morning she plans what she’ll eat that day. “I plan so I am sure I will have healthy choices so I don’t fail.” She’s also increased her activity level. By burning calories through exercise, she can indulge in some things she hasn’t wanted to give up—like enjoying a glass of wine with dinner.

Stevens says that being able to make her own choices about what she eats—rather than having to follow a prescribed “diet” menu—is a big reason that she’s been successful. “I’m sure I eat differently than other people who are also successful. But I get to make my own choices and decide what I’m going to compromise on. Because of that, I know I can keep the weight off.” She also understands much more about what it takes to lose weight and keep it off. “I know that even if I were to slide—I know how to get back on the right eating program. I’ll never go back to where I was before.”

Her advice to others is this: “Don’t be afraid to get started. Don’t allow yourself to think next month it’ll be easier, or a year from now. I look at where I am now and wonder why I waited so long. I wish I had done this 10 years ago.”

Ted and Dianna Burzynski: Reading labels, planning meals help the Burzynskis shed pounds

Not long ago, Ted and Dianna Burzynski’s cupboards were filled with processed foods high in sugar, fat, salt—and calories. The Kaiser Permanente members didn’t realize this since they seldom read food labels, rarely planned meals or went grocery shopping with a list, and didn’t think much about what they ate as snacks.

Both were overweight and Ted was at risk for developing diabetes. “We’re getting older. We have to take care of ourselves,” he says. So they were receptive when a member of their medical team suggested that they enroll in the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). At weekly meetings, they got the tips and support—not preaching—that helped Ted to drop 45 pounds, and Dianna to lose 40 pounds. In the process, they’ve made permanent changes in the way they shop, eat, and think about food.

“Now we make almost all our own food and we buy only what we need,” says Dianna. No more stocking shelves with impulsive food purchases that aren’t part of their meal plan. “When we go to the grocery store, we read everything on labels,” she says. They now know the fat, sugar, and calorie counts of everything they buy. They make up a menu before shopping, and mix it up each week to keep meals from becoming boring. They’ve learned to flavor their food with herbs and spices.

They say that planning their meals and snacks is one of the most important things they’ve changed. They even portion out snacks ahead of time, placing single servings in individual containers. Portion control at meals is another key to their success. “We didn’t give up anything we liked,” says Ted. “We found we can eat anything—but in moderation.”

When they eat out, they take along a small paperback book called The Calorie King: Calorie, Fat, and Carbohydrate Counter.  It includes information on the foods served at many national chains, along with information about other foods. They frequently refer to the book, which they say has been a tremendously helpful resource.

Ted and Dianna are convinced the changes they’ve made will stick, because they are the ones making choices about what they eat. “The class didn’t have a cookie-cutter approach. It recognized that each person has different challenges and obstacles,” says Ted. And each person has different priorities and approaches to how and what they eat.

“Once we changed our lifestyle, we haven’t had a problem with keeping the weight off. We know exactly what dishes to cook. We know what bowl holds one cup of cereal,” says Dianna. In addition to the weight loss, both Ted and Dianna have seen improvements in other health measures, including their cholesterol and blood pressure.

The one change Dianna would still like to make is getting more active. With bad knees, hiking the hills—something that Ted enjoys—is difficult for Dianna. Her doctor has advised her to stick to flat surfaces, so she and Ted now walk in a mall a couple of times a week.