Feature

On a Mission to LOSE

Sentara Starr Hill Health Center Helps Keep Patients on Track With Weight Loss

Dalisha Ragland knows the key to weight-loss success comes from within. “You have to really, really want it,” says the 25-year-old Charlottesville resident. “You can say you want to lose weight all you want, but if you don’t have it in your mind, it won’t happen.”

Ragland found that motivation, and then she got the tools and encouragement she needed to follow through from Sentara Starr Hill Health Center. The clinic, which opened four years ago in the Jefferson School City Center in downtown Charlottesville, provides free wellness services for people in Central Virginia and is one of many community programs Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital offers throughout the local area.

“Sentara Martha Jefferson wanted to help the community,” says the clinic’s nurse practitioner, Miranda Trent, FNP-C, MSN. “One thing we wanted to do was try to combat obesity, because there are so many negative health issues associated with it.”

Initial plans for a children’s clinic eventually expanded to include adult patients like Ragland. A self-described “tall girl,” she gained almost 100 pounds in recent years, in part due to a birth control implant. “I just became really uncomfortable,” she recalls. “I could feel the change in my body, and I was always out of breath. I couldn’t buy any clothes at my favorite stores, and I had to go to the plus-size section. Plus, it’s really uncomfortable being overweight in the heat and humidity during summertime.”

So Ragland got serious and made a New Year’s resolution in January 2015. She started out on her own by doing 9Round, a kickboxing program, and then found out about Starr Hill a month later. She dropped 60 pounds in the first three months of working with Trent. After that, she added Zumba and other classes at ACAC Fitness to keep her momentum going.

Keys to Weight Loss

As with most people who try to lose weight, Ragland needed to make some drastic lifestyle changes, and Trent was there with the information and support she needed.

“Before, I always just ate whatever I wanted, including a lot of fast food. Miranda taught me how to read food labels and keep a journal of what I eat,” Ragland says. The journal helps her pay close attention to the foods she consumes.

When patients come in to see Trent about weight loss, she first typically conducts a health history and talks with patients about their eating habits. Each person then receives a personalized plan that includes information on healthy foods, recipes, phone apps and more. Trent stresses the following keys for successful weight loss:

•     Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

•     Get at least seven hours of sleep a night.

•     Drink 64 fl. oz. of water a day.

•     Cut out sodas and other sugary drinks.

•     Exercise at least one hour a day, even if it’s in 10-minute increments at first.

She also advises her clients to sit less and move more. “No more sitting in front of the computer, unless it’s your job, and never eat in front of the television,” Trent says. “Focus on what you’re eating and taste the food.”

Finding the Motivation to Lose

For patients working with Trent, much of their success comes from the ongoing appointments and the accountability they provide. Patients record what they eat each day and return to the Sentara Starr Hill Health Center for weekly weigh-ins and critiques. The weigh-ins provide plenty of motivation, according to Ragland. “Knowing I had a weekly visit with Miranda made me push to hit my goal weight. You want to see how much you can lose in a week,” she says.

For Ragland, meal preparation ahead of time also made a big difference. She didn’t cook much before trying to lose weight, and she used to eat a lot of fast food. Now she cooks food for the week each Sunday. “I have everything in containers, divided by proper serving size,” she says. “Now I just heat up my lunch instead of going out to eat.”

Ragland’s favorite meals include baked chicken breast or baked tilapia with cabbage and another vegetable on the side. “I wasn’t big on vegetables at all before, but I’ve learned that if you use a little bit of seasoning, they taste good,” she says. In the summer, she even gets free local fresh fruits and vegetables at Starr Hill Health Center. The food program was started in 2015 with seed funding from the Centers for Disease Control through the Virginia Department of Health. This year’s program is supported by grants from the United Way–Thomas Jefferson Area, the Bama Works Fund of Dave Matthews Band, and the Dominion Foundation.

YouTube videos gave Ragland inspiration as well. She would watch videos to see how people prep their meals and lose weight, and she specifically sought out women with her body type. A weight-loss app for her phone also provided her with tips, motivational quotes and helpful reminders to drink plenty of water.

In all, Ragland has lost 90 pounds so far on her weight-loss journey, and she’s just one of many Starr Hill Center patients who have made big changes in their lives as a result of the program. One woman lost 135 pounds, which allowed her to stop taking her diabetes and cholesterol medications, says Trent. “By decreasing weight, people are often also able to decrease their medications and feel better,” she says. “It’s really a lifestyle change.”

All-Around Success

In terms of the number of people served, the program is an overwhelming success, according to Trent. In a typical month, she’ll have as many as 140 follow-up appointments. She recently started a trial for a six-week support group that allows her to see up to 12 patients in one sitting. Combining regular visits into a support group allows her to see more clients per week, and if it goes well, she hopes to make the group sessions a regular program.

“I’ve recommended Miranda to a lot of people,” Ragland says. “Some of my friends go to her, and I posted a flyer about the program at my job. People will see me and ask what I did, and I’ll recommend her. They see that it actually works.”

Ragland says she has hit a bit of a plateau with her weight loss and hasn’t had time to focus on it lately, because she’s busy with classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College and working a full-time job. She does plan to refocus on weight loss soon and hopes to lose another 20-30 pounds.

“You need to get the mindset that you really want to lose the weight,” Ragland adds. “Once you get it into your mind, it’s easier to fight temptation and start making progress. I’d tell people to do their research and see what works best for their body type and weight. Seeing what other people had done to achieve weight-loss success really motivated me.”

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