Specialized Program Addresses Obesity

Health providers in Whitefish have established an obesity-specific program to address the nationwide epidemic

By Maggie Dresser
Health coach Vicki Berstein and Dr. Bayne French have a discussion at Glacier Medical Associates in Whitefish on March 5, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As a primary care physician, Dr. Bayne French has spent his career treating diseases, many of which are preventable and associated with obesity.

Preventable diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, have inspired him to obtain his American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) certification and establish an obesity-specific program with certified health coach Vicki Bernstein at Glacier Medical Associates in Whitefish.

“I like health and wellness much more than treating disease,” French said. “There’s so much that we can prevent — so much hardship and pain and misfortune by just addressing the underlying problems of disease. The biggest one, in my opinion, is weight gain.”

While obesity rates vary significantly from state to state, 26.9% of people in Montana are obese while Mississippi and West Virginia have the highest obesity rates at 39.5%, according to a 2019 Trust for America’s Health report.

French started the program with Bernstein roughly two years ago to address obesity, which he started planning after he became board certified in 2017.

While French remains a primary care doctor at Glacier Medical Associates, he says he’s carved out a part of his practice for obesity specialization. He says he does not overlap his primary patients with his obesity program patients.

French focuses his program on patient-specific plans while addressing the psychological aspect of the disease.

“I want people to know that the standard advice is not good, and they need to come to understand that there’s a new and better way of looking at this disease and that there’s nothing wrong with them,” he said. “We see so many people that are psychologically damaged.”

French and Bernstein call their program LW Med, or Lifestyle and Weight Medication, where they have created a platform focusing on food, exercise and medications.

Instead of incorporating the common method of cutting calories, French says it’s crucial to eliminate or moderate carbohydrates as much as possible and encourages consuming healthy fats.

“There’s no help for any meaningful weight loss if people are not willing to divorce themselves of carbohydrates as a staple,” French said.

As a certified health coach and personal trainer, Bernstein adapts patient-specific exercise regimens, ranging from Pilates to simply parking further away in the grocery store parking lot.

“If they don’t enjoy it, they won’t do it,” Bernstein said. “We try to make realistic goals for them.”

Bernstein also serves as support for the patients, who often call her for advice throughout the day. She helps them make good choices over the phone.

In addition to lifestyle changes, French also prescribes some of his patients weight-loss medications like phentermine, which acts on the central nervous system to decrease appetite.

“In primary care, we treat diseases aggressively medically, most of which are a direct result of the obesity to begin with,” French said. “We don’t bat an eye at hammering people medically for diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.”

Bernstein says there are currently about 25 active patients in the program, some of whom they have been seeing for more than two years, and it’s recommended to stay in the program for at least three months before seeing results.

New patients will receive consultation with French and Bernstein at their first appointment with evaluation from an InBody body composition machine, which measures fat and muscle mass. They also receive a packet of information explaining ways to modify what they eat and how they eat. French and Bernstein also provide an exercise regimen.

“They need some support and competent advice,” French said. “They need direction over the course of time and they need to be willing to do the work … We just want to help them do it.”

For more information, visit http://www.lifestyleandweightmed.com.


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