Behaviorist a key element in weight loss success

When she saw the brochure on Erlanger’s Pro-Fit weight loss program, Debora Karstens knew she had found the answer.

What caught her eye were two key components: here was a program specifically designed for those who wanted to lose 25 pounds in 12 weeks, with no requirement to buy outside “products.” Most importantly, Pro-Fit included regular sessions with both a behaviorist and a dietitian. “That’s what sold me,” she said.

Like many facing middle-aged spread, the 51-year-old physician’s assistant had been “carrying around excess weight,” and was determined to lose at least 20 pounds. Sabotaging her repeated attempts to keep pounds off, however, was the fact that she was a breast cancer survivor. “I would go on a diet, lose a few pounds, then wonder if the weight loss was because I had a recurrence of cancer – and quickly put the weight back on,” she explains.

Knowing this stumbling block was “something I had to overcome in my head,” she knew a behaviorist could make the difference in her efforts to lose weight.

If you do this, you will lose weight

After enrolling in the Erlanger program and meeting with longtime Pro-Fit behaviorist, Jean Cates, Ed.D., Ms. Karstens was finally able to overcome her negative self-talk issues. “I needed to know that if I did X, Y and Z, I should lose weight, and this was the way the program worked,” she said.

As predicted, Ms. Karstens proved to be another Pro-Fit success story. She began her 12-week program in late August, which meant she would have to overcome eating challenges during the holiday season.  Challenges she passed with flying colors, thanks to the weekly sessions with her coaching team and class participants, and a physical fitness component overseen by an exercise physiologist.

“The group kept me on task,” reported Ms. Karstens, who explained that during weekly meetings, class participants would discuss how their week went, if they encountered stress, or if they had been sick. “One week it would be the dietitian who would troubleshoot, the next it would be our behaviorist.”  Confronting self-sabotage issues was a common discussion topic. “We would discuss the evil things we say to ourselves like “You’re so stupid for eating that half bag of cookies,” Mrs. Karstens recounted.

Because this 12-week program was in full swing during the holidays, the Pro-Fit team also “helped us navigate through Thanksgiving,” said Ms. Karstens. “Basically I got my family on board with my meal plan. I cooked Thanksgiving dinner and told everyone we were going to have a healthy meal – meaning no high fat,” she said. Pumpkin pie, for instance, was made with skim milk and in her case, eaten without the crust.

Soup’s a key

Another key to her success was including more soup in her diet. “The biggest help I got was buying a book that had soups in it I would actually eat – and were easy to make,” said Ms. Karstens, who noted that the Pro-Fit nutritionist routinely discussed recipes that could be customized to suit one’s tastes. “She would bring in a soup recipe and say ‘if you like this (sour cream), you can substitute this (yogurt),” explained Ms. Karstens.

Adding beans and turkey to soups were also encouraged, as was drinking water throughout the day. Among her biggest take-aways from this disciplined approach to eating was “learning how little food I really need to eat,” she says, acknowledging there was some anxiety about that in the beginning of the program. Today she continues to use measuring cups, even with her cereal, and counts the number of almonds or berries she uses.

Submitting to cravings is still permissible, but in smaller quantities. If her son orders a Blizzard, for example, Ms. Karstens is able to satisfy her sweet tooth by having two or three teaspoons. Another favorite indulgence? Two pieces of dark chocolate every day.

At the end of her 12-week program in December, Ms. Karstens had dropped 20.7 pounds, and was so pleased with her progress that she immediately joined the Chattanooga Lifestyle Center’s maintenance program.

What has the Pro-Fit grad learned from her experience? “I can’t believe how much lighter I feel,” she says, without hesitation.

“I can look at myself in a photograph now – and I’m definitely more comfortable in a bathing suit,” she reports. “And I am happier.”