Posted June 30, 2009

A "fresh start" to summer

Perhaps the only thing harder than sticking to a weight loss plan is starting a new one after yet another failed diet attempt. Physicians Sharon Herring and Stephanie Ward recognize such “diet fatigue” in their patients and their own families. Now, they’re offering a “fresh start” to the diet weary.

Temple’s “Fresh Start to a Healthy Weight,” is designed to promote healthy behaviors — such as physical activity and better food choices — and prevent and treat adult obesity through one-on-one counseling. An extension of the General Internal Medicine Practices at Temple, the program opens in July.

“We know that when patients engage with providers who are solely focused on weight loss issues, they lose weight — so that’s what we plan to do,” said Herring, assistant professor of medicine and public health  at Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education.

Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg/Temple University

Physicians Sharon Herring (left) and Stephanie Ward will counsel “Fresh Start” participants on nutrition, portion sizes and how to make healthy foods taste just as good as less nutritious choices, which are typically high in calories and fat.

Herring and Ward are committed to getting to know each patient’s clinical status and concerns and will create an individualized care plan through a combination of:

  • Behavior modification – focusing on caloric restriction and physical activity
  • Cognitive therapy – identifying and modifying distorted thinking about food, activity, and body image
  • Weight loss medications as an adjunct to participant efforts

Ward, a practicing general internist at Temple University Hospital, predominantly serves minorities of lower socioeconomic status, a population disproportionately affected by obesity. Study after study confirms that weight related diseases, like diabetes and hypertension, can be prevented or delayed with aggressive weight management, even if the weight loss is modest.

“You don’t have to be a size zero to start seeing the benefits of losing weight,” said Ward, assistant professor of medicine and public health at the School of Medicine. “You may have diabetes or arthritis, but if you lose weight, you may be able to reduce the effects of those diseases. Even losing just 5 to 10 percent of body weight improves your health and quality of life.”

The challenge is getting patients to change their behavior and feel satisfied with less. While exercise is important, Herring and Ward say diet and calories trump that when it comes to weight loss. Many of their patients know the calorie-rich foods they eat or sodas they drink aren’t good for them, but they admit they enjoy the taste. In this program, physicians will teach them how to make healthy food just as delicious and opt for the produce aisle at the grocery store instead of the drive-thru lane at a fast food restaurant.

“We may even take patients to the market to look at food labels, increase their awareness of what’s in processed foods and how to shop for truly healthy foods,” said Herring.

Both physicians agree that one-on-one interventions are missing during primary care visits, just as behavior change to address obesity is absent from medical school curriculum. They hope this program will change that by eventually offering fourth-year medical students a chance to earn elective rotation credits, while facilitating training about obesity prevention and management for all residents.

“We empathize with the struggle, and while we may not have all the answers, we will help our patients to come up with solutions that work,” say both Herring and Ward.

“Fresh Start to a Healthy Weight” opens July 6 in the ground floor of Jones Hall, 1316 W. Ontario Street (in the Internal Medicine Faculty Practice).  Appointments can be made by calling 215-707-1800.