NEW ORLEANS In a landmark national study, people who lowered their calories, fat intake and increased physical activity were able to prevent the onset of diabetes better than with medicine.

Now experts have brought this free program, proven to change behavior, to southeast Louisiana.

LSU Health Sciences Center nurse Dodie Clement, 59, went through the program and now is 43 pounds lighter. And she's kept it off for two years.

'I was eating a lot of trail mix, a lot of salads, dressings, and a lot of starches,' said Clement. 'And then when I checked the label, I was astonished. I was surprised at the fat grams.'

Rosie Bourdeaux, 58, is only midway through the program and is already 85 pounds smaller.

'I always had a weight problem. My whole life has just been up and down, and after Katrina it got worse, sitting in a trailer not knowing what was going to happen, just putting on pounds until it got to a point where I really could not take myself any more,' said Bourdeaux.

Lydia Roberson, 60, just started the program five weeks ago and has already seen the scale go down 11 pounds.

'Well I've just enjoyed the program because it's support. When I say support, you know after struggling with weight for all your life, you just have someone else that's going through the same thing that you're going through,' said Roberson.

What these women are doing is scientifically tested and proven. It's safe, free and it works.

'We're having tremendous success. New Orleans is doing exceptionally well,' said Psychologist Dr. Valerie Myers.

Myers of the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge has taken a national program, proven to help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention, and started a similar program in Louisiana called TLC, The Lifestyle Change program.

'Small changes, modest changes have a huge impact on your overall health and how well you do,' Myers said.
In fact, the people in New Orleans have lost anywhere from double to five times more weight on the 16-week program than people in other areas.

'The sandwich creams are 525 calories, 21 grams of fat, and 77 grams of carbohydrates, so how does that add up? That's a half a stick of butter,' said LSU Health Sciences Center Diabetes Educator Pam Lyons to a class of people in the TLC program.

The program seems pretty simple to follow. Primary care doctors in the LSU Health Care System refer patients to the TLC program who are on their way to having health problems due to their weight. Once a week they meet in a free class that offers nutritional counseling and encourages physical activity.

It's never called diet and exercise. This lifestyle coach -- an expert and a registered dietitian -- gives the men and women tools to make small changes on their own.

'It was beginning at your one goal, just one goal every week. We would set small attainable goals and before you knew it, there was 50 pounds, 60 pounds (lost), you know by the end of the 16 weeks. It was amazing,' said Lyons.

For instance, there is a huge amount of sugar that will not go into your body if you just cut out one 12-ounce soft drink a week. And if you do eat lots of sugar, your blood will move very slowly compared to normal, swift moving blood. It's why diabetics are at high risk for heart disease. But this class is also about support and the emotional reasons for eating.

'About the eighth class is the most emotionally charged class, because people are losing weight. They're in the middle of the program. They've bonded with everyone else in the class, so they're very comfortable and for some reason about that time it's just a breakthrough,' explains Lyons.

Experts say this program, with a Mediterranean-style meal plan that keeps all fat to only 30 percent and intense behavioral therapy, really works.

'Time and time again attendance is key, and you attending these sessions is highly related to you being successful,' said Dr. Melinda Sothern, researcher and faculty in the LSUHSC School of Public Health. 'Time and time again the individuals who came more often, lose the most weight.'

'I think they are motivated by not only the group, but by the fact that somebody cares. I think it's the caring aspect that I care about you and I'm like you,' said East Jefferson General Hospital Fitness Expert Mackie Shilstone.

Dodie now looks forward to her workouts in the gym pool. Rosie is getting off of medication and doesn't need knee surgery now.

'I felt that I can get a new life. I'm just sick of walking with canes. I'm sick of sitting when you go on the bus or anywhere people leaning when you pass. That's embarrassing. That's not a life. You're just existing,' said Bourdeaux.

And Lydia, who raised her children and now finds herself a mother again to nieces and nephews, said a month ago she could not have walked even a block. Now it's her turn in life.

'I need to be in this class because it's something that I'm doing for Lydia,' said Roberson.

You have to be referred to the free program in New Orleans or Houma by an LSU doctor. To find out more, call the LSU Nutrition Department at 903-2006.

For more information on the national diabetes study, click here.

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