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Physicians as Effective Role Models for Patients


My own triumph over being overweight demonstrated to patients that I could follow the advice I give and understand their difficulties.

I have the honor as serving as the primary-care physician for many of my friends and neighbors in my hometown in rural Virginia. As many of our patients struggle with combating diverse medical problems, I found myself struggling with one myself. I was overweight and very near the threshold of becoming obese. As my blood pressure rose and my energy level decreased, I knew it was time for me to make an effective change.

This change was very apparent as I counseled a patient one day regarding obesity. After reviewing several tips for calorie restriction and exercise, I reflected on myself during the encounter. I told this particular patient that I was battling the same problem and explained a lifestyle change that I was about to embark upon. Driving home from work that day, I told myself that in order to get my patients to be more successful with weight loss, I would have better success rates if the advice came from someone who followed the same advice.

I began by following the workout plan from the Insanity exercise plan. Day after day, as I finished my workout I would post my results to my Facebook page. As the weeks passed and my weight decreased, several patients would greet me in the exam room and say, "I have been following your progress Dr. Litton, and I am very proud of you!" In about two months I had decreased my BMI from 29 down to near 27. Weight loss was evident as my clothes began to fit properly, my blood pressure began to fall and my energy level increased dramatically.

As patient after patient came to the office, it was evident that they were truly inspired by their physician. I found that my success with weight loss was having a positive effect on the very patients that I was counseling regarding making the effective therapeutic lifestyle change. Patients would regularly post to my Facebook page that they were proud of my results and were cheering me on.

After two cycles of Insanity, I changed my workout routine to daily jogging. I had enjoyed jogging during medical school and found it to be a wonderful stress reliever. After three to four months of daily jogging, my BMI had finally decreased to just above 25 and I had finally reached my goal weight. Patients would come by the office and tell me that they saw me jogging on the highway during the weeks before and they were truly inspired. I began to further track my calorie intake and expenditure using online websites such as Map My Run and My Fitness Pal. I prepared education sheets for my patients with these websites and passed them out on a daily basis. I entered my first 5K competition and finished in second place in my age class. I had truly made the successful lifestyle change and my patients were proud of me.

Now after approximately one-and-a-half years following my lifestyle change, I am in maintenance mode. Patients inform me of their success with weight loss and calorie restriction and regularly inform me that they knew they could do it since I had crossed the same hurdle. Physicians must remember that in order to be effective role models and counselors for our patients, it is very important that we demonstrate to them that we are abiding by the same rules and can understand their difficulties.

I plan to continue my daily exercise and calorie restriction so that I can be healthier tomorrow. I am so proud of my patients that have made similar changes and continue to reinforce the importance to them in that they will have a healthier tomorrow as well.

Find out more about J. Scott Litton and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

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