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Patient Stories

Learning How to Maintain a Healthy Weight
By Healthy Life 2010 Spring

For most people on the run, making healthy food choices and maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge. This is no different for Salem resident Jackie O’Donnell, 62, who has struggled throughout her life to keep unwanted pounds off.

In 1995, she enrolled in NSMC’s LEARN program, a comprehensive non-surgical weight management program, and lost 70 pounds. But with a busy lifestyle and hectic schedule, she found herself going astray and gaining some of the weight back. Fifteen months ago, she came back to the LEARN program with the determination to make concrete changes to her lifestyle to achieve lifetime results.

“What I like about this program is that I can still enjoy food. It’s all about balance,” said O’Donnell. “I know if I’m going out to dinner and want dessert, I plan for it and eat a little healthier during the day. I get the dessert. I enjoy every bite, but I don’t overdo it. The next day, I am back at the gym. I don’t beat myself up about food anymore. I am finally in control.”

Created at Yale University, the LEARN program is a lifestyle plan designed to help participants achieve permanent results by focusing on five key areas that are essential to successful weight loss: Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships and Nutrition (LEARN).

“To be healthy, see changes and achieve lifelong success, participants must be ready to make permanent lifestyle changes,” said Patricia Moore, R.D., a registered dietitian and program director for LEARN, who focuses on the right way to choose food, read nutrition labels, control portion sizes and incorporate exercise into a daily routine.

“Before the program I didn’t think about anything I ate and never read food labels,” said O’Donnell, who recalls being shocked when she learned the right portion of breakfast cereal was not even half of what she was eating. An essential part of the program is a food journal, where participants keep a daily log of what they’re eating and how much, so they can determine what helps them lose or maintain their weight and what doesn’t. “The program does not ban any type of foods,” said Moore. “It’s through healthy choices and portion control that they achieve results.”

Armed with this knowledge, O’Donnell now reads every label and measures out all food. “What amazes me is that I don’t miss the extra food I was eating. I am consuming just want my body needs,” she said. This time through the program, O’Donnell is building on the basics that she learned during her first program by focusing more on diet and exercise. She is also relying on the support the group atmosphere provides. “We are all on the journey to becoming healthier people together and we are all there to help one another,” said O’Donnell. During these group sessions, participants have a confidential weigh-in and they share struggles and success stories as well as exercises and healthy recipes they have tried. “It’s typical for many program graduates to return for a second or a third session,” said Moore. “They’re very supportive of each other and when they complete the program they miss that support.”

O’Donnell has committed to working out with a trainer three days a week for an hour each time. “I feel so energized after I work out. The support I get from the other group members in LEARN and the support from a trainer really keeps me going,” said O’Donnell. “Sometimes it is a challenge to get to the gym, but I am in this for the long run and the more active I stay, the better I feel.”

Though exercise is a component of the program, joining a health club is not a requirement. For those seeking a less intimidating and medically supervised environment, participants can enroll in the gym at the NSMC Wellness and Integrative Medicine Center in Salem, which has a variety of gym equipment and numerous exercise classes such as yoga and strength training classes.

Since January 2009, O’Donnell has shed 62 pounds and is continuing her journey to a healthier life. “This program has taught me so much. Living a healthy lifestyle is hard work, but I now know how to make informed decisions about food and how important exercise is. I know I can do this. I am not just lighter, I am healthier,” said O’Donnell.