Weighing In On The Subject New Business Takes Holistic Approach To The Matter Of Weight Management

Donne Marchetto says the difference between weight loss and weight management is much more than a case of semantics.
“Just about anyone can lose 10 pounds,” he explained. “But managing weight is a different story. It’s about losing weight, keeping it off, and thinking about weight in terms that go way behind diet.”

Marchetto will help clients learn the ins and outs of weight management, and its importance in controlling and possibly preventing medical problems, as program coordinator of the Center for Medical Nutrition (CMN), a new business that takes a holistic approach to controlling one’s weight. Created against the backdrop of the nation’s well-chronicled losing battle at the scales (see related story, page 45), CMN takes a team approach to its mission, using physicians, physician assistants, registered dieticians, exercise physiologists, psychologists, educators, and support group leaders.

CMN recognizes obesity and morbid obesity as diseases, said Heidi Szalai, ExP, an exercise physiologist. And by treating obese individuals medically, nutritionally, psychologically, with exercise, behavior modification, and/or surgery, CMI can help reduce and even cure many of the symptoms of the disease, including hypertension, type II diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and others.

Bruce Homstead, M.S., a licensed dietician and nutritionist who is part of the CMN team, said that in the wake of the nation’s emerging obesity problem there will no shortage of individuals and businesses looking to get rich quick offering miracle solutions to weight problems.

CMN doesn’t offer miracles, because there are none, he said. “Successful weight management is a comprehensive undertaking that requires commitment,” he explained. “You can’t solve a problem like this overnight.”

CMN’s partners hope that in time, their concept will be viewed as “the answer” to weight-management problems, said Hom-stead, who told BusinessWest that doctors will often tell a patient to lose weight but then not have any real suggestions about how to go about that mission.

“We want to be a resource,” he said, adding that in addition to referrals from doctors, he expects CMN to be a source of information and educational programs on nutrition and weight management for area businesses and schools.

From a business perspective, the partners in the venture hope that the Agawam facility will soon be one of many CMN sites in the Northeast and perhaps beyond. The business model the company has developed is unique, said Marchetto, and it can work in any large urban setting, and can even be taken on the road.
For now, though, the team members are anxious to sign on clients and show how their comprehensive program can address a problem they say is reaching epidemic proportions.

Food for Thought

When asked to describe just what CMN provides its clients, the team members offered a variety of terms, including structure, control, support, and lifestyle. And those terms hint at what separates the venture from other methods used to lose or control weight.

Marchetto said the reason many people struggle in their attempts to lose weight and keep it off is that for the most part, they try to go it alone. What CMN provides is a support network that can see them through the process and continually remind them that this isn’t something that people do for a few weeks or a few months — it is a lifestyle issue.

“People don’t need a fitness center; they need a support system,” said Homstead, who told BusinessWest that the more structure there is in a weight-management program, the more successful it will be.

While the company can help athletes who want to lose body fat or individuals who simply want to look better by shedding a few pounds, it is essentially for people considered obese or morbidly obese. And there are large numbers of people in both categories. Statistics now show that 60{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of Americans are considered obese (25 pounds or more overweight), and that number is projected to reach 90{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in 15 years, unless current patterns are reversed. Meanwhile, the number of morbidly obese individuals — those more than 100 pounds overweight — is climbing at a dangerous rate.

“It really is an epidemic,” said Homstead, “and it needs to be treated that way.”

Szalai stressed repeatedly that CMN’s programs are not designed to make people look better or fit into last year’s bathing suit — although these may be among the results — but instead to make people healthier.

She said that behind the gaudy statistics about how many Americans are overweight lie serious health concerns. Obesity is a disease, she stressed, and one that can have quality-of-life implications.

“We are looking to control medical problems and prevent medical problems,” she said. “We want to increase awareness of medical options for obesity, increase self-esteem, and decrease excess weight to increase quality of life.”

Marchetto said the process begins with an evaluation of the client, a data-gathering exercise designed to chart the individual’s health history, factors that contribute to obesity, and track record with diets and other weight-loss methods. This evaluation, or overview, will also identify a person’s goals or motivations.

And those goals vary, said Szalai. “Some people just want to look and feel better,” she said, “while one woman told us she wanted to live a normal life.”

After the evaluation, a program is developed to achieve those goals, she said, adding that such programs can have a number of components, from nutritional advice to exercise programs; educational workshops to information about surgical options, such as the increasingly popular yet still controversial procedure to staple the stomach to reduce eating.

The common denominator in each component is support, said Homstead, adding that clients will be surrounded by people — team members as well as others going through the process — who understand and actively deal with weight-management issues.

Such support is important, he said, citing statistics showing how many people drop their health club membership every year or gain back the weight they lost in a fad diet. “It’s hard to do this alone.”

Digesting the Subject Matter

One of the central themes of any weight-management program is the subject of food, and CMN will address that matter in a number of ways, said Marchetto. For starters, there will be educational programs about nutrition and which foods are appropriate, he said, and there will also be counseling sessions designed to show people how they can still eat some of their favorite foods and manage their weight at the same time.

“We know that people cheat … we just don’t want to call it cheating,” he explained. “We want people to have an understanding of how to incorporate their snacks into their lifestyle. They don’t have to deprive themselves of these things — they just have to compensate somewhere else, with exercise or food substitutions elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, for the many individuals who suffer from compulsive eating disorders, CMI will treat such people as if they have a disease — which they do — rather than as weak individuals who don’t want to control their eating, said Szalai.

“Society tends to look upon these people, some of whom simply can’t stop eating once they’ve started, as merely being weak,” she said. “They’re not weak; they just can’t control their behavior, just like an alcoholic can’t control his drinking.”

Using teams of counselors and other supporters, those with compulsive eating disorders can gain control over their affliction, she said, adding that the process begins with an understanding of their condition.

The cost of various CMN programs will vary with the individual, said Szalai, but in general, membership in the program costs $350 and usually about $160 per month for as long as one is in it.

When considering those costs, she said, individuals must weigh them against other weight-loss programs they might become involved with, including health clubs, special diets, and medication. Often, those costs are higher, she said, and the programs don’t always produce results.

Some insurance plans will cover the cost of the CMN program, said Szalai, who told BusinessWest that one of the group’s challenges is to educate insurers about the need to cover such costs as a way to prevent far more costly medical bills down the road.

“We need to get them to understand weight management as opposed to weight loss,” she explained. “This isn’t about aesthetics; it’s about making people healthier.”
For the future, CMN plans to develop programs for children, who are becoming obese at alarming rates. Such programs will focus as much on prevention as they do on treatment, said Szalai, who told Business-West that solid nutritional and exercise habits developed when people are young often stay with those individuals into adulthood.

Meanwhile, based on the success of the Springfield-area center, the partners will explore expansion options. Marchetto expects entrepreneurial individuals to develop programs similar in nature to CMN’s, but he believes the company will have a solid leg up on potential competition.

Gut Feeling

The partners who created CMN are understandably optimistic about their pros-pects as a business.

The statistics on obesity show there is a serious problem developing in this country, one that cries out for imaginative, comprehensive solutions.

They believe they’ve found one in the team-oriented approach to weight management, and they’re confident they can achieve results on a grand scale.