United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Scaling Back the Weight with MOVE!
MOVE! participants at Sioux Falls VA celebrate their collective weight loss, equal to the weight of two VW Bugs
MOVE! participants at Sioux Falls VA celebrate their collective weight loss, equal to the weight of two VW Bugs

Veterans at the Sioux Falls, SD, Medical Center recently celebrated a collective weight loss equivalent to the mass of two Volkswagen Bugs: 4,000 pounds. The participants accomplished this massive feat with the help of VA's national weight management program, MOVE!, and a team of dieticians, psychologists, physical therapists, pharmacists, and social workers.

Rodney Merfeld, a Persian Gulf War Veteran, lost nearly 50 pounds. "He represents a typical person who's been struggling with weight for a long time," said April Ahrendt, a Sioux Falls VA MOVE! dietician. "He says, 'If I can do it, you can do it.' This is not a diet. It's a change in the way you live." Ahrendt said the Veterans' success lies in the supportive environment. "There's a strong bond with people who have served," she said. "They all encourage each other."

Veterans across the U.S. are losing weight with the MOVE! program. In Omaha, Veteran Don Conley weighed 453 pounds in 2007. His weight caused him to suffer from a dangerous condition called sleep apnea and forced him to take strong doses of diabetes medication. Conley had trouble walking and breathing, and his legs, feet, and back constantly ached; he knew he had to take drastic action. In April of that year, he found MOVE!. "I got tired of not being able to do anything," said Conley. "I woke up one day and said, 'I want to live.'"

He started attending weekly group sessions and consulting with MOVE! staff. By reducing his portion sizes, increasing his activity, and taking weight management medication, Conley's weight started dropping off. "I walk 12-16 blocks once or twice a day," said Conley. "I mow my yard and my neighbor's. I'm getting faster in my walking without losing my breath." He's successfully taken off about 130 pounds.

One of the toughest challenges of Conley's weight loss journey was his participation in an intensive weight management program (IWMP) within MOVE!. He was on an 800-calorie daily liquid formula diet for 10 weeks, followed by a six-week gradual reintroduction of "real" food into his diet and monthly support group meetings. "The goal of our IWMP level is not only weight loss, but also to break food-behavior associations [similar to Pavlov's dog experiment]," said Adam Losey, Omaha VA MOVE! coordinator and clinical dietician. The IWMP team involved Losey, a nurse practitioner, and a psychologist.

As Conley started losing weight, he stopped relying on assistance aids. At the beginning of his treatment, Conley used a wheelchair for mobility. Soon, he was only using a walker, then simply a cane to keep his balance. "Don has not only improved his life, but has also helped to improve the lives of the other Vets in the classes that he has attended," said Losey, citing Conley as an inspiration to his fellow support group members.

Veteran Charlie Trumble teaches healthy eating habits to a community weight loss group
Veteran Charlie Trumble teaches healthy eating habits to a community weight loss group

Charlie Trumble, a Syracuse, NY-area Veteran, is a trucker who lost his bad eating habits along with the weight once he began participating in the MOVE! program. Not only has Trumble met his goal weight, he's taken MOVE!'s message out into his community. "We have a [health] epidemic in the country," Trumble said. Using MOVE! handouts and materials, Trumble created a similar program at his church. He's been leading the group of 30 for three years. "I prepare a meal and take it in for them to show that eating healthy can also taste good," he said. He thinks he must have found the secret to success; even the pastor has lost weight.

Trumble's wife, Phyllis, co-owns a restaurant, The Hometown Diner, in Pulaski, NY. "After I started this health kick, I started cooking different ways at home," said Trumble. "I said, 'You know what? Why don't you try this out at the diner? People might think it tastes good.'" So Phyllis Trumble added healthier options like egg-white omelettes, tuna-stuffed roasted peppers, orange-glazed broiled fish, and veggie burgers. "Business started doubling the next day," said Trumble.

He said he encourages other Veterans to participate in the MOVE! program. By following guidelines and changing his habits, Trumble brought down his cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure levels to a healthy range without medication. "You can change things around," said Trumble. "[MOVE!] gave me my life back."

Link: http://www.move.va.gov/

By Stephanie Strauss, VA Staff Writer