Doctoring weight loss: When the gym is not enough

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published January 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 2, 2013 at 10:59 a.m.
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In the annual tradition of New Year’s resolutions, few things are promised more than losing weight and getting in shape.

But for many, deciding on a gym to join or switching to diet drinks as January kicks off just won’t be enough to make a lasting impact.

“It’s the New Year’s trap they fall into,” said Lydia Sartian, registered dietician and diabetes program coordinator at Baptist Health Medical Center in Heber Springs. “They say they’re going to change this, this, this and this and after two weeks, they realize it’s very difficult.”

Though she admits a bias since she’s a dietician herself, Sartian recommends those looking to shed pounds don’t head directly to the gym or start cutting calories without support and advice from professionals. At Baptist Health in Heber Springs, medical nutritional therapy is offered as an outpatient service to patients looking to lose weight who are referred to Sartian by their primary care physician.

“It’s a service that isn’t utilized enough,” Sartian said.

While many patients naturally think of doctors and nurses as the ones to provide counseling for diabetic patients, most hospitals offer programs, classes and counseling for weight loss as well. But patients don’t always think to turn to their doctor’s office to get the dieting help they need.

“People look for the quick fix or the easy fix,” said Amanda Castillo, a personal trainer with the Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center. “Then you go get a gym membership and you don’t know what to do with it.”

Castillo has seen several patients lose more than 100 pounds through the Weight Management Support Group help at the center. The group, which meets at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesdays and 12:15 p.m. on Thursdays, helps guide and motivate participants through group discussions and weekly, confidential weigh-ins.

“One really important thing with weight management is accountability,” Castillo said. “You’ve got someone waiting on you each week.”

When Sartian works with patients on weight loss, she focuses on multiple ideas, including meal planning, portion control and cooking methods.

“I have to talk with a lot of patients about portion sizes and especially drinks,” Sartian said. “People don’t realize how many calories are in these drinks. I like to show people a 32-ounce sweet tea or a 12-ounce Dr. Pepper and show how many sugar packets that is.”

When people make their yearly resolutions to lose weight, Sartian gets nervous when she overhears people talk about cutting back too much too soon.

“It needs to be a lifestyle change,” Sartian said. “They expect a change overnight, but you have to make it one step at a time.”

Sartian encourages patients

to start small, with things like simply reading food labels to realize how many calories are in a snack or drink.

Those who work in the fitness, nutrition and medical industries have long seen big increases in people interested in losing weight at the end of the year. And that’s great, Castillo said, as long as they’re tackling it the right way, with the right support.

“People try to do too much at once,” Castillo said. “You say, ‘I’ll exercise five days a week and change my diet.’ But people need to set small, realistic goals. I’m a huge advocate of people attending some type of weight management class before they start.”

While any attempt to get in shape is encouraged by dieticians, doctors and trainers, Sartian and Castillo both caution against starting a new plan without consulting a professional.

“It’s great to make those resolutions, if they only knew how to do it the right way,” Sartian said.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or

Associate Features Editor Emily Van Zandt can be reached at .

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