For Mary-Helene Flick, ‘MH’ for short, the desire to lose weight was about more than just a lower number on the scale. After undergoing open heart surgery at just 29 years of age to repair a hole in her heart, MH had been under the care of a cardiologist for several years. At one of her follow-up appointments with Paoli Hospital-based Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist Donald Ferrari, DO, her blood work showed some surprising results.
“He told me I was pre-diabetic, I was overweight, and my blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol were high. I didn’t know what to do,” said MH, who had tried several other weight loss plans in the past, but hadn’t found long-term success.
Dr. Ferrari recommended the New Directions Weight Loss System, a program available at Main Line Health Exton Square. Flick was interested—it was a non-surgical alternative to weight loss—and assured Dr. Ferrari that she would look into it.
Although MH took time to review the materials that Dr. Ferrari had provided her, it was a winter snowstorm that finally convinced her she was ready to commit to a big change.
After carefully reviewing the materials with Dr. Ferrari had provided, she said to her boyfriend, Jim, "I just need to lose 100 pounds and keep it off.”
She provided him with an analogy of a snowstorm: “I could keep shoveling little by little, but I need a snow plow, I need something drastic to keep it off. This was my something drastic.”
New year, new direction
And so, at the start of a new year, MH enrolled in the New Directions program. After a thorough health assessment and interview with the nutrition and weight management team, she began following the Very Low-Calorie Diet (VLCD).
The VLCD track is recommended for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) over 30, or individuals with a BMI over 27 with other co-morbidities like high blood pressure and cholesterol. MH ate four high-protein New Direction meal replacements per day, and she began to notice the results immediately. She lost three pounds in her first week, and seven more shortly after.
“I kept with it, and I kept losing—all the way up to 30 pounds. My fiancée helped me with analogies. When I lost those 30 pounds, he said, 'That’s like the dog food bags we buy for the dogs. Imagine carrying one of those around all day? You must feel great.' Things like that were supportive and helped me visualize how much weight I had lost,” says MH.
Although MH was changing her way of life, she didn’t find it hard to give up many of the activities she had previously enjoyed, like dinners with friends and family.
“I didn’t let it impede my normal lifestyle. The first Sunday that I was on the program, I made pork, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes and invited people over for dinner—and I ate chocolate pudding, my meal replacement. It was actually surprisingly easy to do,” she recalls.
Finding time for fitness
Once MH had lost nearly 40 pounds, she decided to begin supplementing her diet with workouts.
“I was losing the weight, and I wanted to work out,” she said. “I didn’t just want to have extra skin left from my weight loss, I wanted to convert that fat to muscle.”
MH had been working out at the gym and was swimming a few laps a day. As her routine began to feel easier, she pushed herself further. Now, she’s graduated to swimming 24-30 laps in the pool every morning, Monday through Friday. MH also began working out with a trainer twice a week in preparation for her November 2016 wedding.
She was pleased to see that, with the addition of exercise, her weight loss results continued to improve. In just 10 months, she had lost 84 pounds. But it wasn’t just her weight loss that had her excited—it was her improved health, too.
“I’m not taking any blood pressure medications anymore, my cholesterol and triglycerides are at healthy levels, and my health has fully turned around,” says MH.
She’s also learned more about making healthy eating decisions once she transitions back to her regular eating patterns. As part of her participation in the New Directions program, MH and other participants attend weekly classes on topics like controlling cravings, emotional eating triggers, and staying hydrated to prevent hunger.
“The classes have been very helpful. I’ve learned so much from them, little tips I never would’ve known otherwise,” she says. “In one class, we learned about how restaurants will use bright colors to entice buyers to buy or eat their product. Now, when I see that on menus or packaging, I think to myself: Do I really want to eat that, or is it my mind playing tricks on me?”
MH’s care team has also been impressed with—and proud of—her progress as part of the program.
“When I first met MH, she was very motivated and eager to get started with her weight loss journey for personal and health related issues. In the last nine to 10 months since she began, she has continued to be extremely conscientious and disciplined and has seen excellent results,” says Mary Ann Martin, RDN, LDN, outpatient nutrition counselor with the Diabetes Management Program at Paoli Hospital.
Now that MH has lost the majority of her weight loss goal and gone down eight sizes, she’s transitioned to the Low-Calorie Diet track, which allows two meals per day, supplemented by two New Direction meal replacements. Eventually—once she’s reached her weight loss goal—MH will transition back into a full cycle of regular meals. One thing she’s not worried about? Slipping back into unhealthy habits.
“Being able to work with a nutritionist, nurse, and Dr. Marilyn Ryan has been very helpful. I’ve learned so many tips—things I had heard before, but now I’m following them and I understand them, thanks to the help of my team at New Directions,” says MH.