Fight the Fat: Losing Weight For Your Health

Losing Weight in Hampton Roads

Losing weight for health's sake - surgery can help.


Pleasantly plump. Overweight. Obese. Whatever you call it, being fat is not just about how you look. Those extra pounds can send your blood pressure soaring, trigger diabetes, cause heart disease and create joint problems.

One in four children and adults in Hampton Roads is overweight. And many of us are in denial about it—83 percent of overweight kids surveyed described themselves as ‘just about the right weight’ or ‘slightly overweight,’ according to results of the first Virginia Childhood Obesity Survey commissioned by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. While Hampton Roads adults had the second lowest obesity rates in the state, children had the second highest rate.

We all know that to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise more. But some people struggle with diets and need additional help reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Even if you have 50 or 100 plus pounds to lose, you can get help in Hampton Roads—with a physician- supervised weight loss program or gastric bypass surgery.

Losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight leads to significant cardiac and other health benefits, studies show.

At Tidewater Bariatrics, patients come in with a goal of losing anywhere from 20 pounds to 50 pounds or more, says director Dr. Margaret Gaglione. In four years, 713 patients in this medically supervised program have lost 27,768 pounds and dropped 254 medications, she says. Some patients have come after having weight loss surgery and then gaining the weight back. Others come hoping to avoid surgery.

“Most of our patients are 50 pounds or more overweight,” Gaglione says. Many have tried well-known programs and haven’t been able to lose the pounds. Most have never worked with a physician. Tidewater Bariatrics is affiliated with the HMR weight loss program, founded in 1983.

Patients choose a program, with meals and shakes, to follow. The Decision Free ® Diet is just that—all meals and mealreplacement shakes and no decisions. “We make over 100 decisions a day about what to eat,” Gaglione says. “For some people, that’s a lot of decisions.” The Healthy Solutions diet is a combination of meals, shakes and five servings of fruits and vegetable each day.

Patients also attend weekly classes, meetings with Gaglione and follow an exercise program that averages to about 35 minutes a day, she says. As patients lose weight, the length and intensity of the exercise increases. “It’s very much a team effort— physicians, nurses and health care educators,” Gaglione says. “It’s very consistent. There’s a lot of accountability. Patients like the accountability and consistency.”

Most patients lose about 25 pounds in 13 weeks—some lose as much as 50 pounds, Gaglione says. “We see health benefits at 10 percent of body weight lost,” she says. “Most of our patients lose 20 percent.”
Even though the program costs about $55 a week, plus special meals of about $100 per week, many patients find they save money, Gaglione says. “The funny thing is, people don’t realize how much they’re spending on food,” she says. Once they complete the program, patients remain on maintenance for 18 months or longer to make sure new habits stick. “We never drop patients,” Gaglione says. “We never tell them they’re done. We recommend they come to maintenance for 18 months but they can come as long as they want. Obesity is both a behavior and a disease. We have to work on the behaviors and the lifestyle choices people make regarding food.”

For Daniel Cimo of Virginia Beach, weight loss surgery was the best option. He had the procedure done in 2007 at 17 in the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. Weight loss surgeon Dr. Stephen D. Wohlgemuth, medical director of Sentara Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery Center, performed the Roux-en-Y procedure in which the surgeon detaches the top part of the stomach from the rest of the stomach—creating a smaller stomach, bypasses the top part of the small intestine and connects the smaller stomach to the middle of the small intestine. “It’s essentially a healthy way of starving yourself,” Cimo says. “You have to be on top of your game as far as taking vitamins, drinking a lot of water. You have to relearn how to eat. We started off with clear liquids, then moved into soft foods and then into solid foods.”

Cimo has dropped from about 410 pounds to his current weight of 185, a loss of 225 pounds and more than half his size. “I grew up the chubby kid,” says Cimo, now a theater major at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “I was never athletic. I found a lot of comfort and solace in food and eating. It’s almost like a drug.” He’s grateful he didn’t have to endure the teasing that many fat people experience. His motivation to lose weight wasn’t based on vanity, but rather on his health. He already had sleep apnea and used a C-PAP machine to breathe at night.

“I knew I had to do something when the weight started affecting my movement, my knees, my back,” he says. “I couldn’t function normally because of the excessive weight. I remember stories about obese people who had to start walking with crutches or canes. That really scared me. I had tried diets and nothing worked. We decided as a family it was time.”

Weight loss surgery isn’t a decision to make lightly— you don’t decide on Monday and then go in the next week to get it down. Since he was just 17, the process was even more involved for Cimo. But Cimo’s mom had led the way, losing more than 100 pounds after her weight loss surgery. “It was a big commitment for me and the rest of the family,” Cimo says. “My entire junior year was dedicated to getting the psychiatric tests done, taking the medical and wellness classes, and getting everything in line for the summer surgery.”

When Cimo returned to high school for his senior year, he had already lost about 75 pounds. “It was unbelievable,” he says. “People were so proud, so glad for me.” Many doors have opened for Cimo that may have remained shut without the surgery. For one, he’s not sure he would have been accepted into VCU’s drama program. “I’ve been able to explore a variety of characters now,” he says. “With a larger body type, roles are limited to a few characters.” Cimo recently played Cousin Kevin the bully in The Who’s rock opera Tommy. The summer of his surgery, he was in Seussical. His role then: Horton the elephant.