Hospital's weight loss program helps individuals change focus of eating

June 08, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Before Greg Pfeiffer and his daughter, Sarah, enrolled in Howard County General Hospital's Individual Weight Loss Counseling program, they rarely exercised and ate whatever tasted good.

Now, they regularly visit the gym and roller skate. And when they stop by Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers, they order a grilled chicken sandwich and side salad instead of a hamburger, fries and shake.

"It was wonderful," the Columbia resident said of the eight-week course he and his 11-year-old daughter completed last month.

Emphasizing nutrition and portion control, the program offers school-aged children and adults one-on-one counseling by a registered dietitian.

Participants meet weekly with dietitian Kathy Ahrens. During the first meeting, which lasts 45 minutes, Ms. Ahrens analyzes her clients' percentage of body fat and lean body mass. She also discusses their lifestyles and eating habits.

Participants are required to keep a daily food log and meet the dietitian for seven 15-minute follow-up sessions. The last session includes a second body composition analysis.

Ms. Ahrens said she encourages her clients to change their eating habits rather than their weight. She advises them to snack on vegetables, fruits and low-fat foods instead of cookies, candy, and ice cream.

"I try to refocus them from weight loss to healthier eating," Ms. Ahrens said, adding "their weight will come into line."

Mr. Pfeiffer lost 11 pounds, and Sarah lost 14 pounds, more than 10 percent of her body weight.

"I never thought I could but I did," said Sarah, whose long-term goal is losing five to six more pounds.

Participants said they chose the program because of its customized nature.

"We didn't want to be in a group," Mr. Pfeiffer said. "We wanted something that was geared to our weight problem."

Brenda Bloom of Ellicott City enjoyed the program so much that she is re-enrolling to learn how to prepare low-fat and nonfat meals for her family.

"I'm trying to develop a library of low-fat and nonfat recipes that I can draw from," said Ms. Bloom, who spent the first eight weeks learning about nutrition.

Ms. Bloom said she has tried other diets but quickly regained the weight because she didn't know how to reduce the fat in her diet.

"I've tried every other weight loss plan," she said. But "I gained the weight back, plus some."

Now she orders out at restaurants, eating what everyone else eats.

"I don't have to cook and eat separately from my children or husband," Ms. Bloom said.

Ms. Ahrens said the most difficult part of the program -- especially for children -- is sticking with it.

"Kids have to have more self-motivation because they can get bored with eating healthy," Ms. Ahrens said. "They may feel left out when their friends are having sweets."

Sarah said the hardest part for her was "going down each week and seeing how much I weighed."

But it wasn't as difficult as she thought it would be.

She switched from low-fat milk and fatty American cheese to nonfat milk and cheese. She also learned that Oscar Mayer Lunchables contain 27 grams of fat.

"I don't eat those anymore."

Ms. Ahrens also encourages her clients to exercise regularly.

Mr. Pfeiffer said the program broadened his concept of exercise.

"Exercise is more than sit-ups," he said. "We go walking and bicycling. Sarah goes roller skating three or four times a month."

Appointments are available on Wednesday or Thursday evenings at the hospital's Health Education Center. The cost is $165 and includes two body composition analyses. For more information, call 740-7600.

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