VA Maryland Health Care System
MOVE! and TeleMOVE! Weight Management Programs Help Veterans
Mark Kresel, a former Marine, lost 62 pounds with TeleMOVE!, but it wasn't easy. In fact, during his first 90-day cycle on the TeleMOVE! program, he lost nothing. Either the program didn't click with him, he lacked motivation, or changing his way of eating interfered with his work schedule, which included frequently entertaining clients at the finest restaurants as director of sales at Richlin Industries. "I've always been a heavy weight," Kresel says, recalling that the only time he was thinner than usual was during his service years. By the time he enrolled in the TeleMove program, at 5'9", he weighed in at 278 pounds, and the scale seemed stuck at that number. The VA's MOVE! Weight Management program is offered at six locations throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System, but the TeleMOVE! Weight Management program, designed for Veterans who are working or unable to come to the meetings in person, offers a one-to-one approach with a phone coach and the use of Telehealth technology.
Then there's Norma Harris, who successfully dropped several pounds with the MOVE! program, but who struggled to lose weight. Unlike Kresel, weight was never an issue for Harris until she started slowly gaining weight around her midsection in her 40s. Now 54, she's dropped 20 pounds from her 5'4" frame. She joined the MOVE! program about a year ago after her doctor warned her of the dangers of being overweight, particularly carrying extra belly fat, along with her family history of heart disease and diabetes. "My sister and brother both have high blood pressure and diabetes," said Harris. "My older sister has had four heart attacks and another sister has had three heart attacks. I didn't want to be next." This was enough to motivate her to join the MOVE! program.
For Kresel, a long-time friend suffered a stroke, convincing him to finally make a change for his own health. Something about seeing my buddy in that condition was a shock," Kresel says. "He and I used to do a lot of crazy things in the past.
We used to go on hikes for days at a time. We used to do bungee jumps and parachuted from airplanes. Back then, if I heard of something, we did it. I had been having some problems and in my head, all of them were related to age and all the crazy things I did in the past catching up to me. I felt good and was happy."
Reality set in after seeing his buddy post stroke. "Seeing him not able to talk properly, being helpless, looking like a 90-year old man was a wake-up call. I realized that the only way I was going to avoid the same situation was to change my life," says Kresel, now weighing in at 216 pounds and who is "still working it down."
And that's when he launched the hardest battle ever: saying no to pasta and bread. "Every day was an ongoing battle not to eat that bread. But the mind takes over where the body wants to give in," says Kresel, who credits his training as a Marine to "never run and never give up" when pursuing a goal or having to complete a mission. Stepping up to the task of mind over stomach, he broke the habit of getting a sweet fix and launched a new habit of being more active by adding regular exercise to his activities. "I'd go into a pastry shop and take in the smells for about 5 minutes and then that would be enough and I'd leave. The success I had achieved wouldn't allow me to buy a pastry," he says.
With the help and support of the TeleMOVE! program that required him to weigh in regularly, he turned his Triple-A personality's drive for success into changing his lifestyle to eliminate the risks for stroke.
A key to Harris' success was also a strong drive to succeed. And along with that, she had to completely change her habits.
Once a self-proclaimed picky eater, Harris struggled in the beginning to eat lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. She had to forgo munching on potato chips and pretzels and replace her favorite candy with fruit when she had a craving for something sweet. "I was so into candy," Harris stressed. "It took me about two months [to get over my cravings] and now I don't bring it in my house. I thought that would be the stopper for me, but it wasn't hard." She discovered that trying new healthy foods wasn't too difficult either. Harris used to only eat a few vegetables, like her favorite – collard greens, but after Kevin Grodnitzky, MS, RD, CDE, the VA Maryland Health Care System's MOVE! Program coordinator suggested trying just one new thing each meal, she now eats mostly vegetables at meal time and snacks on a much wider variety of fruit.
Although in the beginning the transformation quickly led to weight loss for Harris, she hit one major roadblock along the way. She had changed so much, eating new healthy foods and working out every day, but at 168 pounds for two months, the scale wouldn't budge. A closer inspection of her food journal revealed the problem was dinning out. "I used to eat out all the time, but now I almost always cook at home," Harris said. "I can't remember the last time I ate out."
Kresel also had to push himself to incorporate more plant-based foods in his diet and stay away from unhealthy convenience foods. "Before the program, I grabbed whatever was put in front of me without thinking about what it was," Kresel says.
"That TeleMOVE! machine [a device connecting Kresel's scale to a monitoring machine at the VA Maryland Health Care System] held me accountable," added Kresel. He also had to learn to push away cakes and other foods and replace them with vegetables. "When I had gained a pound, Andrea [my counselor] would call me and we'd go over what I could change, what went wrong, and how to continue to move forward toward the goal." For Kresel, the goal remains under 200 pounds, so he focused on portion control, on making the right choices when his work took him to fine restaurants, on not stopping at Rita's every night, and he concentrated on non-food activities such as his hobbies like crafting bird houses to raise money for charity.
Like Kresel, Harris is still working toward losing a little more weight. She said that despite what her final weight loss number is, she's very proud of herself for what she's already accomplished, which is also her motivation to continue. "I'm gonna keep going," she said. "I have to. It's a must. I just feel better and I feel good about myself."
Despite the challenges and struggle, Kressel found motivation in small successes and incremental weight loss. "Several weeks into the program, I lost 6 pounds. I felt proud of those 6 pounds," which then became 10 and 15 pounds, in ever increasing increments of success. His family, including his daughter who is a chef, proved supportive and positive about his lifestyle changes, and the scale inched downward as the weight loss added up. Harris achieved her success with the support of her daughter who worked out with her some weekends and encouraged her with compliments on her changing figure.
"People do a double take when they see me now. They don't recognize me," says Kresel, who has kept the weight off for a year and who enjoys buying suits and clothes off the rack without having to invest in alternations. "My news size is saving me money," says Kresel, whose new motivation is his first grandson, now six months old. "I want to do all those crazy things with my grandson. In short, I want to be around for a long time, long enough to play with him and to watch him grow."
Harris wants to share her new lifestyle with her family and encourage them to get healthy through healthy food choices and exercise. Harris knows what works for one doesn't necessarily work for everybody, but now she knows eating healthy and exercising are the basic components for anyone who wants to get more fit and lose weight. "I know anybody can do this if I can do it," she said. "Just try to eat right, and you'll be surprised how far it will get you." Her tips to success include taking water with her everywhere she goes, which keeps her hydrated, burning calories and feeling full. She also writes down her goals and reviews them often to stay motivated and on track. A go-getter attitude is also one of Harris' strengths. She went from never having set foot in a gym to now working out on the treadmill for an hour. Her once-limited diet now includes a variety of colorful fruits and veggies along with lean proteins. "I never said I can't do that. I would just get up and do things."
Harris had to put in the hard work, but she credits the root of her success to knowledge. "I had to understand everything first," she explained. MOVE! and TeleMOVE! participants learn the right portions of food to eat, what to eat, and information about proteins, carbohydrates and fat, along with getting group or one-on-one counseling. Kresel and Harris are just a few of the many who've successfully lost weight with the VA's MOVE! Weight Management program. The program aims to educate and motivate Veterans to lose weight, improve their health and feel better. To get involved with MOVE! or with TeleMOVE! if you are working, call 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7333 or check with your VA primary health care provider.