For some people, strict diets and elaborate weight-loss programs can feel like taking a shot in the dark rather than a plan for actual personal improvement. They can be expensive, time-consuming, impersonal and ultimately ineffective.
But one organization is reshaping Massachusetts with a more holistic approach to weight loss. Dr. Wayne Altman and dietitian Kerri Hawkins of the nonprofit the Wellness Campaign have created a program in which forming good habits and establishing accountability are the keys to sustainable weight loss.
Participants in the program are assigned to groups that meet 15 times throughout a 20-week period. During this time, participants learn first-hand from doctors and dietitians how to change their dietary and lifestyle habits; set challenges and goals; ensure group members are accountable for their goals and support each others' progress.
Josh Bernoff, CEO of the Wellness Campaign and an early success story for the program, moderates the campaign’s web page and delivers keynote speeches for the program. In his opinion, the program is different because of its potential long-term impact.
“This is a sustainable program because we’ve taught people new habits,” Bernoff says. “We have given them the tools to interact with food, exercise and health in real life situations, not just for that short time period that they’re with us.”
The average participant can lose upwards of 20 pounds, but Bernoff emphasizes initial weight loss is not the objective. The problem with many diets and weight-loss programs is that people tend to gain back the weight they lost, he says. With the Wellness Campaign’s program, participants are recruited by their local doctors and dietitians, so the organization is able to track participants for years after they’ve completed the program. Bernoff says a consistent two-thirds to three-quarters of participants keep off the weight they lost during the program.
As for the future of the Wellness Campaign, Bernoff and company are always looking for ways to expand. While Altman and Hawkins do hands-on work in Arlington, Massachusetts, they’ve trained doctor-dietitian duos across the state, and several programs are being run simultaneously.
With the aid of a grant from the Cummings Foundation, an innovative program is being tested in Woburn, Massachusetts. The goal is for participants, once they've completed the program, to run their own groups. Along with expanding online activity and training more doctors, the Wellness Campaign has the potential to greatly expand its reach.
Bernoff says the greatest challenge of the Wellness Campaign is trying to scale up. The prospect of pairing with an insurance company or partnering with another nonprofit has been a goal for the campaign moving forward.
“With appropriate levels of partnership or funding, we could reach many more hundreds of people, thousands of people with this program,” Bernoff says. “It’s proven to succeed, it’s based on common sense stuff, it doesn’t adhere to any special diet, and it’s pretty well-suited to the lifestyles that people have. But we can only reach so many people.”
Bernoff is confident the program is not the latest fad or trend for weight loss. To him, learning to create and maintain effective personal habits is key in creating wellness that is sustainable.
“It’s really up to people to take from the program what is most valuable for them,” Bernoff says. “Since each individual has their own unique situation, each individual is going to be taking lessons from what they hear and applying it to whatever works best for them.”