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Weight loss centers shift focus
Programs emphasize lifestyle changes and diets
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Weight Watchers participants Linda Banks, left, Maggie Flynt, center, and Linda Bonnette get to know each other during meeting at the Church of Christ on Highway 80. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

          Long before obesity became what some are calling a national epidemic, Mimi Gibbons was helping local residents shed unwanted pounds. Owner of the Healthy Weigh Diet Center on Zetterower Avenue, Gibbons remembers when she initially opened in downtown Statesboro near the courthouse.

            “I opened my Diet Center franchise in downtown more than 20 years ago,” Gibbons said. “Dieting wasn’t the huge business that it has become today, but business was good then as well. We live in an area of the country that lends itself to weight gain, and some people need help in trying to lose that unwanted weight.”

            Gibbons said she has seen a change in her clientele over the years as more men are coming into the weight loss center.

            “It is no secret that men and women approach some things differently, and weight loss is no exception,” she said. “Women tend to want to lose weight because of appearance. They want to look better. With men, it is usually health related. More often than not, the doctor has told them that they need to lose weight.”

            Gibbons said that people are always looking for the “diet of the month”, and research has shown that it is a lifestyle change, not a specific diet per se, that brings those wanted results.

            “I hate to say it, but as a country, we have a toxic food environment,” she said. “To begin with, portions are too large. You have to look at not only what you eat, but how much of it. Success involves education.”

            Whereas Gibbons’ operation works with clients on a one-on-one basis, the local chapter of Weight Watchers hosts six meetings a week working with as many as fifty people at each of its meetings. Theresa Proctor conducts Weight Watchers meetings on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings at the Statesboro Church of Christ on Highway 80 East.

            Proctor agrees with Gibbons assessment of the difficulties that many face in trying to maintain a healthy weight.

            “Many people come to Weight Watchers after trying diets that just didn’t work,” Proctor said. “We live in a society that makes weight loss very difficult, and it can’t just be a diet. It has to be a change in lifestyle and the way that you look at what you eat.”

            Proctor acknowledges that losing and keeping weight off is hard work, and feels that the support network provided by Weight Watchers can be a key component of success for many.

            “To be able to sit in a room with people just like you, struggling with their weight every day, and see that they have been successful is very encouraging,” she said. “Many people need to know that they are not alone, and the hard work is worth it in the end.”

            Laura McCullough has been going to Weight Watchers for the last several months. McCullough has met her goal weight, but continues to go to the meetings.

            “Weight Watchers has taught me in a ‘no nonsense’ way to eat healthier,” she said. “It isn’t only what you eat, but how much you eat. I had to learn how to eat in the real world. It sounds simple, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t been for many.”

            One local business that is trying to provide healthier choices is Applebee’s restaurant.

            “We actually have Weight Watcher’s meals on our menu with point counts provided,” said Dean Darreff, assistant general manager of the Statesboro restaurant. “We have seen that people are really making an effort to eat a healthier diet, and we are very sensitive to that. By providing healthy alternatives we hope to meet the expectations of our customers.”

            Gibbons said many people feel that cannot eat “out” if they are on a diet, and that simply is not the case.

            “As a diet center, we have to be realistic,” she said. “It would be impractical to ask people to give up their social life and avoid eating out. That makes the diet an ordeal and will not help people form those habits that they need to stay thin.”

            The Diet Center provides each client with a list of restaurants and suggested menu items in addition to tips on how to order.

            “This is the time of year that virtually everyone resolves to lose weight,” she said. “Just a few simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference. From changing what you order in a restaurant to walking around your neighborhood, the benefits can be tremendous and immediate. You have to begin to manage what you do and what you eat. Everybody can do this.”