Feb. 24, 2017 | “Who’s going to take care of me when I can’t take care of myself?”

Donnia Cox a patient in the UAMS Weight Control Clinic says she asked herself that question as she struggled to lose weight and get in shape.

“I was at a point in my life where I realized I had let myself go,” Cox said.

Cox works as a clinical services manager in the medical oncology/transplant division at UAMS. As an RN, she’s familiar with health issues related to obesity.

Donnia Cox wears a 20-pound vest while holding a 5-pound fat replica to demonstrate some of the weight she’s dropped. Cox lost 80 pounds through the UAMS Weight Loss and Metabolic Control program.

Part of the weight gain, Cox says, came with changing to a sedentary job and dealing with stress in her personal life including the passing of her father. Her husband was severely hurt in an accident and left with a spinal cord injury.

“I tried to lose weight on my own a couple of times but was unsuccessful,” Cox said. “I was just at the point of giving up.”

One of her coworkers lost weight successfully by going through the Weight Control Program. It encouraged Cox to consider checking it out. She was hesitant at first because the program uses low-calorie meal replacements.

“I wasn’t sure if I could give up real food,” she said. “But I told myself it’s worth a try.”

The 16-week program consists of classes taught by registered dietitians and is medically supervised by endocrinologists. The first half called “Foundations,” focuses primarily on behavior modification, identifying goals, support and barriers. Weeks 9-16, the “Building Blocks” classes, are focused on nutrition, and equips patients with the tools they need to make healthier choices.

“We see patients all the time who can very quickly reduce the amount of insulin they need or decrease their blood pressure medication,” said Betsy Day, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., clinical manager for the UAMS Weight Control Clinic. “It’s great to see them not only get motivated and excited about the weight loss, but about the long-term improvement of their health.”

There is an additional 12 weeks of maintenance classes that offer a unique hands-on perspective into keeping weight off long term. Sometimes participants take field trips with the dietitian to a grocery store where they learn what to look for while shopping, or they’ll take a spin or yoga class. For many of them it’s a first, and the support of the group gives them the courage to explore new ways to be healthy and active.

“It gives me accountability,” Cox said. “I’ve learned to keep records of what I’m taking in and learning how many calories are necessary for me to function. I’m making smarter choices.”

Cox says she was encouraged by her instructor, Brooklyn Pyburn, a registered dietitian who teaches classes in the Weight Control Program.

“When she presented during class, she was very open about her road to becoming a more fit and active person,” Cox said. “It let me see I could do it, too.”

Cox lost 80 pounds through the program. And it’s more than the weight loss that’s changed her life. She now has more energy to keep up with her seven grandchildren. One of them noticed their newly active grandmother and said it made them happy.

Challenges that would have once been considered excuses now prove to be minor obstacle for Cox. Her home is in Hope but during the week she stays in an apartment in Little Rock. She is meticulous about planning her weekly meals, which she says helps cut out temptation.

“My family is proud of me. They’ve been supportive. For Christmas, I received exercise clothes and my husband is paying for yoga for a year. I also bought a bicycle. I look for opportunities at work to be more active by taking the stairs or walking farther.”

Cox’s advice to anyone considering the program is to not wait. Waiting won’t get you any progress, she says. Make a plan. Get started.