Program teams students, dietitians with Lowcountry residents for weight loss strategies
Every January offers a fresh start to those eager and willing to tackle a New Year’s resolution, confident that this year they will better budget expenditures, exercise more and, of course, eat healthier. But even with the best of intentions, if they’re anything like the 80 percent of people whose resolutions failed in February last year, then it’s essentially the same old song and dance: make a resolution and abandon it soon thereafter.
But there is good news. MUSC’s LEAN for Life, which stands for lifestyle, education, activity and nutrition, is helping lower-income Charlestonians achieve a healthier weight and combat the odds that may work against even the best laid weight loss plan.
LEAN for Life was developed and is run by the student organization Improved Access to Weight Management. The group evolved from the MUSC Weight Management Center (WMC) in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The curriculum was initiated with a strong desire to reach those in the community and teach them healthy yet simple ways to manage their weight. Now, students from all six colleges at MUSC have the opportunity to be involved.
According to Sarah Hales, Ph.D., who supervises the program, outstanding collaboration between key players was the foundation for the program. “Many MUSC Weight Management Center clinicians were responsible for devising the original video modules to educate the students. They, in turn, are able to lead the classes.”
Hales explained that she, along with Tonya Turner, associate director for clinical services, and Emily Young, a College of Medicine student and president of Improved Access to Weight Management, work with students from across campus to guide them through various topics working with patients who are overweight.
Hales detailed their approach. “Aside from a general protocol, students are encouraged to tailor our content and add additional content from their research disciplines, as long as WMC staff can ensure it is evidence-based and safe to include in the program. We absolutely encourage students to lead the classes that cover topics that fit their interests.”
While program participants look to the students and supervisors for their expertise, it seems they also have a great deal to contribute. Hales explained. “It was very interesting to learn about the common obstacles that community members face when trying to change their diets and activity habits, especially when it comes to the social environment, for example, relationships, interactions and events with family and friends.”
In that same vein, Hales shared an experience about a retired woman who lived alone. “She told us she considered other participants in the program to be part of her social network. The program was really great for her. She always showed up to the weekly meetings with sheer accountability for herself and her peers.”
Hales laughed as she recalled a time when the woman got to class just a few minutes late, and as she opened the door, announced, “Y'all,” she said to everyone, “I didn't think I was going to make it today. But I’m here, and I’m ready. Let's get to it!”
Hales explained they give each patient a binder to help keep track of the information they receive while involved in the program. So when that same participant came to a meeting with additional tips on portion control, the supervisors and participants were ecstatic. Hales said she began rattling off ways to aid in healthier portion control by using smaller plates, bowls and Tupperware.
“She was a pleasure to work with, and I’m sure others in the class would have emphatically agreed,” said Hales.
Shannon Blair, a College of Medicine student involved in LEAN for Life, said she, too, had much to learn from participants.
“The group we had last spring was especially impressive in their commitment to holding one another accountable for coming to class and reinforcing the positive effects of social support for weight management,” Blair said. “It was cool to see them all exchanging contact information, even as the program concluded.”
The program promotes ways for the participants to live healthier lives so that in addition to losing weight, they can better manage chronic health issues such as diabetes and hypertension. During the classes, they learn effective exercises they can do at home without extra equipment and how to make their favorite recipes healthier.
Blair expressed how grateful she is to be an integral part of such a dynamic program. “This environment provides a unique opportunity to apply basic science principles learned in class, nutrition guidelines, as well as risk factors for disease and pathology, in very tangible ways for participants. It’s rewarding to directly see them work to achieve their goals.”
She’s also been able to utilize techniques and strategies taught in LEAN for Life to make recommendations to family members and friends who have an interest in making healthier choices. She is committed to making a difference in the lives of those who need this resource.
“Access to accurate health information and health care services in general are huge barriers to health that unfortunately plague a lot of the country. Charleston is no exception, but LEAN for Life is trying to help fill some of those gaps.”Hales said that LEAN for Life provides an opportunity for Charleston residents to participate in free transformative classes that run eight to 10 weeks. If clinicians or practitioners have patients who would be interested, Hales hopes they will share the program’s information with them or contact her at 843-792-CARE. Participants must be 18 years of age or older, qualify as low income and have a body mass index greater than or equal to 25.