Cape Breton clinic offers multi-faceted approach to weight loss


GLACE BAY, N.S. — In two months, Dorothy Lundrigan-Morris has lost 12 pounds in yet another weight loss program that she hopes will eventually negate future need for her Type 2 diabetes medication.

But there is something different about her current weight loss program that is giving her more optimism about achieving her goal and a more general sense of well-being.

“I’ve done the Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and all the other weight loss programs. This one is different. It is not a cookie-cutter program,” said the Sydney resident.

Lundrigan-Morris is now among the 100 patients taking part in a 12-week program being offered at the Obesity Care Clinic located inside the Sterling Mall in Glace Bay.

The clinic was born out of a pilot project in 2021 and is the only clinic of its kind in the province. For now, the service is offered to only those residents in Nova Scotia Health’s eastern zone which covers Cape Breton, along with Antigonish and Guysborough counties.

Patients are referred to the clinic by a physician or nurse practitioner and must be 18 or older. They must also be living with obesity and have another health concerns such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, heart disease, osteoarthritis, as examples.

The program is also available for those orthopedic surgical patients requiring weight-loss treatment prior to surgery. 

“I was just diagnosed with diabetes and my goal is to get off the medication. I want to be the poster girl for the success of this program,” said Lundrigan-Morris.

Since coming into the program, she said she feels better which is lending itself to a brighter outlook and her friends are noticing a difference.

“If you want help, you have to ask for it,” said Lundrigan-Morris, in offering encouragement to others to at least give the program a try.

“I am making the necessary changes. I am so impressed with this program.”

Such an endorsement puts a smile on the face of Lisa MacDonald, manager of rehabilitation services for eastern zone.

MacDonald explained the program treats obesity like the chronic disease that it is. The Canadian Medical Association made such a designation in 2015 while doctors in Nova Scotia also made such a designation earlier this year.

She said the clinic works with patients to discover and treat the root cause of their weight issue.

“Obesity is a complex, chronic disease that requires life-long management, similar to diabetes and high cholesterol,” said Dr. Faith Dodd, an orthopedic surgeon in Sydney, who spearheaded the pilot program that led to the opening of the clinic.

She said obesity is the result of multiple factors not just diet and exercise. 

“A person’s environment, genetics, emotional health, underlying medical conditions, how much they sleep or even medications they take can be factors.”

The clinic offers a multi-faceted approach with patients having access to a physician, nurse practitioner, registered nurse, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, dietitian, clinical social worker, counselling therapist along with administration staff. 

MacDonald said the clinic offers a 12-week group class, either in person or virtually, offering patients instruction on changing behaviours, the role of the brain in obesity, healthy eating and physical activity, and skill building, such as stress management, and improving sleep.

At the end of the 12 weeks, group meetings are offered quarterly along with individual appointments, as needed, for up to one year. After a year, patients are assessed for discharge from the clinic but can again be referred back to the clinic.

“To get to the root cause of obesity and treat it, you need to look at it from many angles and consider all factors. You also need to look at how you can provide long-term follow-up and support to the person,” said Dodd.

The clinic does not offer bariatric surgery (gastric bypass and other weight loss surgeries). Patients requiring such surgery will continue to be referred to the Halifax Obesity Network.

MacDonald said the clinic has also included special design features including extra wide seating and other features to help patients feel more relaxed and welcomed.

For dietitian Melissa Chisholm, the program starts with the basics of teaching patients about individual interactions and reactions when it comes to food.

She said patients learn what proteins are, what they are good for and what are the best sources, what roles salt and sugar play when it comes to healthy eating and why fibre is important. 

Chisholm said there is also an examination of the diet culture and how marketing schemes target individuals.

Family physician Tony Valente said gone are the days when weight issues were treated by simply saying “eat less and exercise more.”

“It is not only about weight loss but getting people healthier,” he said.


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