West Virginia is in the midst of a health crisis. How do we solve it? One bite at a time. Here’s how some of our fellow West Virginians are losing weight and living a more healthy lifestyle.


It’s no secret. We are fat. West Virginia has the highest adult obesity rate in the nation, and it just keeps climbing. According to Better Policies for a Healthier America, West Virginia’s adult obesity rate was 23.9 percent in 2000. Today that percentage has climbed to 38.1 percent.

We know we need to lose weight, get in shape, and live a healthy lifestyle because, as a nation, we spend $66 billion a year supporting the ever-growing weight loss industry. There’s never been more resources for weight loss—we have apps, books galore, support groups—and yet, the numbers keep climbing.

Excess weight can have devastating consequences. Dr. Lawrence Tabone, Director of Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery WVU Medicine, explains that it is a complex issue. “Excess weight has a significant impact on one’s health and is much more complicated than just diet alone. It is a serious multifaceted metabolic disorder. Obesity is a medical illness. We know that we have identified 45 genes that put you at risk for obesity.” Having a body mass index above 40 puts people at high risk for disease. “We know that someone with a BMI above 40 reduces life span by five to 20 years,” says Tabone. “People with excess weight are at high risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure—which are leading causes of heart disease—polycystic ovary syndrome, joint issues, sleep apnea, and cancer. We know that people with a BMI over 40 are two to three times more likely to develop breast or colon cancer, and they are eight times more likely to develop esophageal cancer and 10 times more likely to have endometrial cancer.”

But losing weight is hard. Very hard. We’ve all tried—we lose it, gain it, lose it, and gain it again. It feels like a constant battle. And there’s always a new trendy diet to follow. With all of the solutions available, the options seem to be endless. Research has shown what works for one person may not work for another—yet almost every diet claims that their research proves their solution is best.

Tabone is not a fan of commercial diets. He believes that some of the more drastic ones are not sustainable and cause more long-term damage. “When we lose and gain, lose and gain, we cause damage to our metabolism. We need to focus on improving diet with quality food in a sustainable way.”

Tabone acknowledges that the rise of the outside weight loss industry has filled a void because the medical community wasn’t treating excess weight as a medical condition. “We traditionally believed that excess calories caused you to gain weight, but we now know it is much more complicated. That’s not to discount the importance of exercise and a healthy diet,” Tabone says. “We now know that hormones are at play and that regulates metabolism. Even when you lose weight, you still have an underlying metabolic disorder. It is a chronic illness. Like other illnesses, it requires a lifelong treatment plan. We encourage people not to turn to commercial services, but instead seek medical advice. There are so many different components that play into weight management—behavioral, psychological, counseling, medication evaluation, dietary changes, exercise, and for some surgical options—that need to be investigated. I encourage everyone to seek advice from a primary care physician before turning to a commercial diet program.”

After talking with doctors, weight loss specialists, and our readers, we are highlighting a few programs that have come most highly recommended, but please talk it over with your doctor first before launching into a radical lifestyle change.

Forks Over Knives

Forks Over Knives is a must-watch documentary. The major storyline traces the personal journeys of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist from Cornell University, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former top surgeon at Cleveland Clinic. They conclude that chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes can be prevented and reversed by eliminating animal-based and processed foods. Since 2011, Forks Over Knives has spawned several books, a mobile recipe app, and a website with recipes and other meal planning tools. forksoverknives.com

Highlights
✓ Eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes
✓ No counting calories or portion control
✓ Minimize dairy, meat, poultry, and seafood
✓ No refined sugars

“Forks Over Knives documentary and the accompanying recipe app have changed the way I eat. It’s not some ‘program’ that you have to buy. It uses actual data sets to prove the health benefits of a whole food plant-based way of eating. It sets the tone for actually changing the way you think about food as opposed to selling some diet program to only lose weight. Now that I follow the FOK basics, my cholesterol levels are within normal range. When I make food choices now, it’s not about ‘dieting.’ It is all about asking, ‘Is what I am about to eat truly healthy for me?’” – Chris Nichols

Cost
App $4.99
Meal Planner Subscription $19.99 a month

Leslie Gallian, lost 66 pounds, Ideal Protein

The Ideal Protein

The Ideal Protein Ketogenic Weight Loss Protocol is a medically developed four-phase system that focuses on weight loss by eating select vegetables, lean protein, and a combination of Ideal Protein food products. An important aspect of the program is healthier lifestyle education to sustain weight loss and one-on-one coaching. idealprotein.com

Highlights
✓ 4 phases that include weight loss, education, proper reintroduction of foods, and maintenance
✓ 8 ounces of protein daily
✓ Greatly reduces sugar and sweeteners
✓ 4 cups of select vegetables daily
✓ 3 Ideal Protein foods
✓ Online tools and ongoing support to maximize your success
✓ Lifestyle education, coaching, and guidance to help sustain your Ideal Weight

Cost
$400 initial fee
$75-$120 a week for food and vitamins

“Ideal Protein totally changed my life, and now I’m helping others as a coach change their lives too! I like that it’s scientific—it’s all about hormones and metabolism. It’s low fat, low carb, and moderate protein. There is coaching support and a transitional phase the first year after weight loss, with a maintenance plan also. Many programs either don’t have a maintenance plan or don’t emphasize that one is necessary, but it’s essential to keep the weight off. I have dieters who have lost over 100 pounds and maintained for nine to 12 months so far. The ones who follow the advice of maintenance are able to keep their weight off, or at least within 5 percent of their goal. Improved health outcomes for the long haul is what it’s all about.” – Laurie Jones, APRN, BC-FNP, Certified Ideal Protein coach and clinic coordinator at Ideal Image Weight Loss offered at Thrush and Clark Allergists

Laurie Jones, lost 50 pounds, Ideal Protein diet

The Keto Diet

Keto seems to be the buzzword these days, and given the response to our inquiry to readers on what diet has worked best for them, it was neck and neck with Weight Watchers. The premise of this diet is to eat protein and fat while severely limiting carbs, and by doing so force your body to use more fats for fuel instead of using carbs. People on very low-carb diets reach a state called ketosis. Numerous people claim that low-carb Keto diet is extremely helpful for weight loss, but health professionals often state that it is not a healthy way to lose weight or maintain weight loss. However, studies have shown that low-carb diets help lower blood triglycerides, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, insulin levels, and blood pressure. One thing is for sure, low-carb diets are not for everyone. Some people may experience an increase in “bad” LDL cholesterol, and in rare cases, very low-carb diets can cause a serious condition called ketoacidosis.

Highlights
✓ Low carb and high fat diet
✓ Eat cheese, eggs, meat, fish, and low carb vegetables
✓ Avoid sugar, grains, fruits, legumes, root vegetables, sugar-free diet foods
✓ No alcohol

“I have been eating ketogenic for four years now. I was DX borderline Type II Diabetic, due to being obese, and I was making poor food choices. At one point in my career I was a dialysis nurse, and most of my patients’ renal failure was directly and indirectly related to diabetes, so I knew I had to change my lifestyle. I began researching weight loss solutions, and ketogenic made sense to me. I made a lifestyle change, and now four years later I am down 75 pounds, but most importantly I am healthy! All my blood work is good, and I feel wonderful. No Type II Diabetes, no longer suffer from plantar fasciitis, dry eyes, back pain, fatigue, or bloating. Feeling good in my skin is only an added bonus.”– Stacey Jeffries, lost 75 pounds, and husband Dean Jeffries, lost 80 pounds

“I’ve lost 102 pounds on Keto in six months, and I haven’t looked back. Keto has helped me enjoy life more by being healthier and more mobile. I can perform at a higher level without feeling sluggish and gasping for air. Playing with my children easier and living a healthier lifestyle is what is important. Keto is a lifestyle change, not a diet.” – Larry Flowers, lost 102 pounds

“Because of Keto, I have altered my diet. I eat 20 or less net carbs a day, intermittent fasting everyday, drink my weight in ounces of water everyday, and eat little to no sugar or processed foods! I’ve been on it since April of 2018, and I’ve lost 95 pounds! I have energy like never before, sleep better, my whole body (muscles, joints, skin, hair, nails) feels better! My mood is better. No more brain fog! No more bloating or feeling swollen. I have cheated on my diet, and when I have, it’s always been miserable afterwards. I feel like a whale. You can instantly feel the bloating and headache. For me this is a lifestyle change. I’ll never go back. It’s worked for me when everything else has failed. It’s simple and has become second nature for me. I’m eating healthy natural foods, and my children watch and learn from what goes in my mouth every single day!”– Angela Johnson, lost 95 pounds

 

Stacey Jeffries, lost 75 pounds, Keto Diet  /  Dean Jeffries, lost 80 pounds, Keto Diet

The Mediterranean Diet

This diet is a favorite among doctors and nutritionists because it is the most sustainable. The Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, pasta, and rice, and research has shown that it reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, as well as help shed unwanted pounds.

 

Highlights
✓ Eat primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes,
and nuts
✓ Use olive oil instead of butter and margarine
✓ Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
✓ Limit red meat to no more than a few times a month
✓ Eat fish and poultry
✓ Drink red wine in moderation
✓ Get plenty of exercise

“I’ve been on a strict Mediterranean diet for a year, from my birthday to my birthday, and I’ve lost 110 pounds. I eat a lot of watermelon, eggs, nuts, lemon water, cayenne pepper, meat, fruits, and all the veggies one can handle.”– Chad Freeman, lost 110 pounds

Weight Watchers

There’s a reason why Weight Watchers has long been heralded as one of the most successful weight loss programs. It has churned out many success stories. Weight Watchers recently rebranded itself to WW with the tagline Wellness that Works.

The program is based on SmartPoints—points assigned to foods based on calories, saturated fat, protein, and sugar—which you add up to reach your daily allotment. Wellness Workshops, formerly known as meetings, and a savvy and easy to use app have made it easier than ever to stay motivated.  weightwatchers.com

“Making sure your weight is within reasonable range is vital to your health. Your healthy blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and no-longer-aching joints will thank you. In WW, we set a goal of losing your first 10 percent, which improves said issues. I was a WW leader, and the program has become ingrained. I’ve tried every diet under the sun and always go back to WW. It’s doable for my lifestyle and helps you make good choices. One of my favorite tools of the program is emotional rehearsal. I’ve used this many times for special events that can trigger overeating. Family reunion? Buffet line? Wedding reception? Envision yourself there, socializing, feeling good in your skin (and maybe your new dress, a reward for your new figure—even a few pounds off makes such a difference) and focusing on the people, the music, and the memories instead of the food. It always helps to set your goals early. And finally, dieting well, or I should say healthy living, should be a mindset first. That’s always the hardest part for me, getting re-started!”- Sarah Blizzard Robinson, lost 30 pounds

“I’ve been on more diets than I can remember. The only one that works is Weight Watchers because it is NOT a diet. It is truly a lifestyle change. I’ve lost 53 pounds and I’m 75 years old. Keeping it off takes an attitude adjustment. Grateful I’ve finally learned that.”– Mary Carol Nettles, lost 53 pounds

Cost
With purchase of subscription plan
Digital —$3.07 a week
Studio —$6.92 a week
Coaching—$12.69 a week

Whole30

If you have digestive issues, Whole30, created by Melissa Hartwig, is a popular choice. For 30 days you completely eliminate foods that are known to be inflammatory or craving-inducing, such as sugar, dairy, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and grains. You mostly eat veggies and protein, and then slowly introduce them back into your diet. The premise is that it is life-changing—and anyone can do anything for 30 days, right? Start by reading Hartwig’s book Whole30. whole30.com

Highlights
✓ Eat real, unprocessed foods
✓ No grain products, alcohol, sugar or artificial sugar, or dairy
✓ Don’t step on the scale for 30 days

“The Whole30 was a great way as a core lifestyle change to reset and reduce inflammation issues for those that battle food allergies—gluten, dairy, etc. It was most helpful to jump-start my self-health focus and the most successful focus I’ve had. I lost 50-plus pounds and, paired with a great trainer at the time, it created a much greater quality of health. It’s not always fun, as you give up dairy, all grains, sugars, legumes, and alcoholic beverages. The transition is a challenge but improves over time. Since then, I have gotten back on it, which is helping me stay focused. This program is helpful, but afterward transitioning can be challenging. It is great for people with autoimmune or inflammation matters.”– Paul Daugherty, lost 50+ pounds

Surgical Solutions

Diet and exercise are the best ways to lose weight, but some people struggling with severe obesity might need extra help.

“For many people with excess weight exceeding 100 pounds above their ideal body weight, diet and exercise alone do not adequately treat or prevent weight-related illnesses. For those individuals, surgery, in combination with changes in diet, increased activity, and lifestyle changes, has been proven in multiple medical studies to be the most effective treatment,” says Dr. Lawrence Tabone, director of metabolic and weight loss surgery at WVU Medicine.

Weight loss surgery can take several forms, but each procedure has the same goal—to reduce caloric intake by reducing the size of the stomach. Sometimes this involves placing a band around the stomach, while other times surgeons remove a portion of the stomach. Still other procedures create a small pouch within the stomach and bypass sections of the small intestine, reducing caloric and nutrient absorption.

WVU Medicine offers the largest multidisciplinary weight management program in the state of West Virginia. If you are interested in bariatric surgery, call 304.293.1728 or visit wvumedicine.org/bariatrics.

Nikki Bowman
Written by Nikki Bowman
Nikki Bowman, a West Virginia native, is the founder and owner of New South Media, Inc., which publishes the critically acclaimed WV Living, WV Weddings, West Virginia Focus, Explore, and Morgantown magazines. In January 2015, her company also took over the editorial and design of Wonderful West Virginia magazine. She graduated from West Virginia University and received her master’s degree in Writing from DePaul University in Chicago.