Clinic course tackles behavioral issues for lasting weight loss

by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

11/24/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- A new course designed by the Diabetes Prevention Support Center helps people alter their lifestyles for the better, forever.

The Group Lifestyle Balance course is a 12-week course taught by Dr. Ardis Cecil, behavioral health consultant at the Maxwell Clinic.

The course is available for clinic beneficiaries, particularly those at high risk of diabetes and heart disease - for example, those suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight or pre-diabetes conditions.

Participants' weight loss goal ranges from seven to 10 percent, said Dr. Cecil, and the resulting weight loss "rate is pretty slow... Over time, we see this downward trend."

By the last class, there is "a lot of significant weight loss. ... The weight loss (produced by the course) is more lifelong."

Because of the lifestyle change, participants often continue to lose weight after the course ends. Though participants do regain some weight, they never go back to their original weight, Dr. Cecil noted.

Dr. Cecil held the first class in May and starts another Tuesday. Participants don't necessarily have to come to every course; however "the magic works best when they come every time," she said.

Lynne Laton of Prattville, the spouse of a retired servicemember, found the help she needed tackling her health problems at the Group Lifestyle Balance course.

"I knew I was overweight and couldn't control it," she said. She also had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She joined the inaugural class in May and has lost 26 pounds.

From the very first class, she knew the course would provide the change she needed.
"I was excited about it the whole time," Mrs. Laton said. "What I like is it's baby steps. It gives you a chance to incorporate it into your daily schedule. You don't feel overwhelmed."

The course incorporates "little increments of change," Dr. Cecil said. Rather than inundating participants with a lot of lifestyle alternations right off the bat, the course focuses on one aspect of a healthy lifestyle per week. For instance, students focus on aspects of nutrition for the first three weeks, not incorporating exercise until week four.

"If you try to do too much at one time, it's not smart, not attainable. You need to be pretty focused on something for 12 weeks for it to stick," Dr. Cecil explained.

Students get a personalized calorie and fat limit. Day by day, participants track what they eat and put the data in a food diary, which they must turn in every week. The course arms participants with information and support to help them achieve their goals, including a book that lists fat and calorie information for popular restaurant chains.

Mrs. Laton found one particular lesson alarming.

"One of the big wakeup classes is when we covered the fat in foods," she said.

Dr. Cecil brought test tubes of fat to class to illustrate the point. Three test tubes of fat equal the amount of fat in a cheeseburger, with the cheese alone accounting for one test tube.

"That definitely opened my eyes. That's something you don't think about," noted Mrs. Laton. "I definitely changed what I eat."

She advised potential participants that this is not a diet.

"You have to remember that it's a lifestyle change," she said. "There's no going back if I'm going to stay healthy. But don't beat yourself up if you slip up and fall off a little bit. Go back to what you need to be doing."

The course has inspired instructors and students alike. Dr. Cecil incorporated the course's tenets into her lifestyle, and as a result, lost about 25 pounds.

"I'm doing much better personally. It helps to walk the walk," she said.

The weight loss has changed more than the numbers Mrs. Laton sees when she steps on the scale. She went hiking in the mountains while visiting her daughter and son-in-law in Virginia.

"A year ago, I couldn't have done what I did this time. I don't have the aches and pains I used to," she said. "Besides just feeling better about myself, I have more energy. It's a lot more fun to go clothes shopping now."

A new 12-week course begins Tuesday and will be held every Tuesday from 12-12:50 p.m. or 4:30-5:20 p.m. For more information, contact Dr. Cecil at 953-8815.