How many calories have I consumed and how many calories have I burned?
These are two questions many people will ask themselves when trying to achieve a certain “goal weight.” Unfortunately, the questions reduce the complexity of weight loss and wellness management down to a simple addition and subtraction, caloric intake versus exercise.
However, the road to weight loss and, more importantly, maintaining that loss, requires much more than counting calories, according to Dr. Bayne French and Assistant Health Coach Vicki Bernstein, who have formed LWmed, a comprehensive medical weight-loss program. Both are based at Glacier Medical Associates in Whitefish, where French is a partner.
The program requires a complete change in one’s lifestyle.
“Patients lots of times think they are going to have to eat carrot sticks and jump on a treadmill, but it really just comes down to just humans eating human foods at the right time with the right mindset,” French said.
French and Bernstein have fine-tuned a health and wellness program that looks beyond what to eat and what not to eat and tackles other issues that influence the body’s metabolic system, such as unhealthy relationships, stressful work environments and poor sleep hygiene.
The plan addresses preconceived notions about health and wellness that they say actually aid in weight loss. For instance, the notion that all fats in food contribute to weight gain and one should exercise vigorously in order to lose weight. Instead, they focus heavily on educating patients at length — teaching them the intricacies behind their weight gain and weight loss at all different stages in life.
But the program, which lasts a minimum of three months, is rigorous.
“It’s a very rare individual that can change their lifestyle in a dramatic way and we tell people right off the bat that if they’re not willing to completely reinvent themselves, then this program is not for you,” French said. “The people who come to us are really ready for change.”
French, who is certified by the Board of Obesity Medicine, said many patients come in seeking immediate gratification, wanting to lose weight and lose it as quickly as possible. But the program pushes the importance of developing long-term wellness after the weight is lost.
“We see the rest of their lives and a slow leaning-out process,” French said. “We try to encourage the concept of longevity and independence in your own home when you’re old. Being able to play with your grandchildren, right?”
Along with the desire to see immediate results, many patients bring with them their own insecurities about weight loss.
“The folks we see have been through so much and they’ve lost and regained weight sometimes numerous times and they have this sense of demoralization,” French said. “‘What’s wrong with me?’ they think, and we tell them to shuck that like a cloak. You gotta start new.”
At the start of the program, patients meet with French and Bernstein to discuss individual needs and concerns, and they relay to them the rigorousness of the program, especially in the first month when new healthy habits are taking shape.
After the initial meeting, the program is then adjusted to fit the individual needs of each patient.
“Once we determine what’s medically and nutritionally necessary we find a way to get them to adhere to their plan,” Bernstein said. “We’ll make small goals, large goals, whatever their needs are we will meet them where they are.”
Patients are allowed unlimited access to Bernstein and meet with French regularly so they are able to address questions and concerns as they arise. Providing the time necessary to build intimate relations with their patients is something French and Bernstein consider instrumental and unique to their program.
Since Glacier Medical Associates is an independent health-care provider, they’ve been able to grow and curate the program based on their own guidelines, from the Food and Drug Administration-approved weight-loss medication they use to the extensive guidelines of how to build healthy eating habits.
However, obesity medicine and care is not yet covered by insurance companies, so patients pay for the program out-of-pocket. But French said this does allow them certain flexibility with their plan since they do not have to adhere to specific guidelines set forth either by a company or an insurance provider.
“We have autonomy and can build our own plan,” French said. “We can adjust the plan however we see fit.”
And one of the most important program goals the team wishes to impart on their patients is this: you must drastically change your relationship with food if you want to benefit your health.
The “relationship’ includes knowing what to shop for, foods to increase and decrease portion-wise and how to cook — all things French said some patients have limited experience with.
“It’s a complete lifestyle change; he [French] told me when I first visited, ‘I don’t want you to think this is a diet,’” said Brandy Wetzler, one of French and Bernstein’s patients. “I went in very determined to follow through with it.”
Wetzler, who started the program about four months ago, has lost 50 pounds and notes big changes in her energy levels, overall mood and sleep patterns. She said the first month of the program proved to be the most challenging, but Bernstein, who she refers to as her “life coach,” was available every step of the way.
According to Bernstein, the underlying message throughout the whole program is total support and total kindness to oneself as they navigate the program.
“Take it one day at a time. If you do something that you’re not happy with just say ‘OK, I need to do this differently next time,’” Wetzler said.
Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.