It's a new year, and that means -- resolution time! By far, the number one goal for Americans is to lose weight. In Louisiana, where obesity rates are at the top of the charts, it's more than just about looking good – it's about survival.
According to the Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention & Management, Louisiana is currently ranked fifth highest in obesity nationwide. Almost 65 percent of our adults are overweight or obese (defined as having a body mass index of 30 or greater). Statistics show that 47 percent of the state's children ages 2-19 are overweight, and nearly 29 percent are obese. In the past two decades, obesity costs related to child obesity-associated illnesses skyrocketed from $35-127 million.
Rebounders can attest that fad diets are not the answer to losing weight and keeping it off. Instead, the proven method of sustaining and maintaining a healthy weight is lifestyle change. This usually involves a combination of balanced diet and regular exercise. Of course, the safest way to tackle obesity is physician-monitored weight loss.
Sweeping across south Louisiana is Weight Wise, operated by Dr. Kathy Tracy, a general practitioner specializing in bariatrics. A graduate of LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans, Tracy did her internship in internal medicine, followed by a year and a half in anesthesia. But, the Winnfield, La. native always had a special interest in bariatrics, which she has practiced since 1999. "It's just such a growing problem in this country," she observed. "I think it affects so many aspects of health – diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease are all related to obesity."
Tracy continues to take about 30 hours a year of continuing education in bariatrics, and is a member of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. Recently, she attended the ASBP conference in New Orleans, where she learned a startling statistic – "one in three children in the U.S. will either develop diabetes in childhood or adulthood," she related.
In 2003, Tracy launched her own clinic, Weight Wise, in Moss Bluff, La. "I just wanted to be able to implement some of the ideas and practices that I felt strongly about to try to help people with their weight loss," she explained. "It just never made sense to me that people perceived drugs as a chemical that affects your body and food as chemicals that don't affect your body when, in my opinion, they all have an impact on your body." Her personalized weight loss approach quickly caught on, spawning two more locations in De Ridder and Lake Charles later that year. From there, she expanded to Kinder in 2005, then Jennings and Scott. Currently, Weight Wise has locations in Moss Bluff, Lake Charles, Scott and Oakdale. Tracy also to travels to De Ridder one day per week. Currently, Weight Wise is in the process of combining the two Calcasieu Parish locations into a larger facility in Lake Charles.
Weight Wise customizes nutritional programs to patients' needs, teaching them how to eat in accordance with their lifestyles. "So many people have special needs – they are working offshore, or they are busy moms that are rushing their kids around all day, or they are working moms," Tracy observed. "You have to realize that everybody's not going to be home cooking three meals a day. So, you have to be able to come up with easy alternatives – things that they can pick up on the run, or things that are made at the grocery store that fit within the criteria that we want them to use for their diet."
Tracy's program focuses primarily on nutrition. The key factor is carbohydrate restriction, with moderation in calories, fats and proteins. "With every dietary approach, no matter what it is, you've got to reduce the white sugar, white flour-type refined carbohydrates," she said. "No doubt about it." For adults, her recommendation is 30 grams of protein per meal and fewer carbohydrates. "You have to have an adequate amount of protein so that you don't lose muscle," she cautioned. "And then, you have to lower carbohydrates so that you get your blood sugars and insulin levels in line to keep from storing more fat."
Weight Wise is not about diet, but lifestyle. "We don't like for patients to view it as a diet – we like for them to view it as a lifestyle change," Tracy explained. "We like to teach them as much as we can about the physiology behind the way that the foods are used, so that they know why they are trying to make these changes, and why it's important to make lasting changes."
To begin, a patient schedules an appointment for one of the nutritional classes, consisting of four to eight participants. A dietary counselor meets with the group for about an hour and explains the program. Afterward, patients are weighed on a body composition scale, which determines percentages of fat versus lean body weight and vital signs are taken.
Later, Tracy performs a physical examination and discusses the patient's medications. "We discuss medications that they are on that may be causing weight gain, and medications that we might be able to use to help them lose weight a little bit more quickly," she explained. Following the initial consultation, patients return weekly for weighing and monitoring, and monthly for scheduled doctor's appointments. "We set a goal at each appointment on the amount of weight I want them to try to lose, and what they think is realistic," she said. "We talk about things that are going on in their lives that might affect their ability to follow the program, and make adaptations that we need to do that."
On average, Tracy sees participants for six to eight months, but has followed some for a couple of years. She sees about 150 patients per week.
With all of the weight loss clinics out there, Tracy believes that Weight Wise offers a unique approach. "I think there a lot of places where people can get appetite suppressants, but I don't think there are a lot of programs where they actively try to teach the patients how to eat to change their lifestyles," she said. "That's what we hear regularly from patients, is that they've gone to other programs and done other things, but they haven't learned as much about how to make the changes last and how to eat to keep it going."