Encouraging Your Patient to make a Healthy Lifestyle Change

In my last entry I addressed how the physical therapist might initiate conversation about weight loss with their patient. However a plan to see your patient make a successful healthy lifestyle change that would facilitate weight loss and improved health must include information and behavioral strategies. In order to positively impact your patient and enable them to make changes that would improve their health, information alone is not enough. Research has demonstrated knowledge alone will not change behavior. Using behavioral strategies can boost the success of your patient.

APTA holds as ethically binding the principle that PTs “shall endeavor to address the health needs of society.”

It is important that the patient understands the benefits related to a healthy lifestyle change to avoid obesity related diseases and many other health issues. Equally important is for your patient to have a vision of the life that they want, activities that they would like to participate, things they have always wanted to do, but have been unable because of their weight or joint problems. Helping your patient set some goals that are important to them is one such behavioral strategy. Ask your patient to write down 4 to 5 specific things that are very important to them in regards to weight loss and improved health. Ask them to write them down on a small card that they can put in their pocketbook or wallet, and tell them to pull them out a couple times a day and read aloud.

While exercise is important dietary intakes are more important when it comes to weight loss. Simply counting calories has not been shown to be effective for long-term weight loss. However it is important that your patient is directed toward making good food choices. As physical therapists we can encourage increased fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts to make up a large portion of their food intakes, and the avoidance of added sugars and refined carbohydrates. Research suggests this approach to food choices will facilitate weight loss and will decrease inflammation in the body. In order to be aware of their daily intakes, ask your patient to keep a food log over a seven day period, writing down everything that they eat and drink, then review their log with them and ask them how they might improve upon the choices that they’ve made.

APTA envisions that by 2020 consumers “will have direct access to physical therapists in all environments for patient/client management, prevention, and wellness services.”

While we can provide information to our patient, which is important, research has shown knowledge alone will not change behavior. Suggest to your client to preplan their meals and do not bring foods in the home that are processed with added sugars and refined carbohydrates. When eating out suggest they choose a restaurant that has plenty of healthy choices and to avoid fast-food restaurants that sell the typical burgers and fries.

Knowledge alone will not change behavior.

Sadly, even as the health of our nation crumbles because of the explosion of chronic diseases related to obesity, there are many who are not willing to make the effort or take a stand to help those who need some direction and appropriate input with education and behavioral interventions promoting wellness. Health professionals seem to be pointing fingers at one another saying it’s not my job it’s someone else’s responsibility.

One of the questions that all physical therapists must ask themselves is how will they fulfill the responsibility of achieving the goals set forth by their association (APTA). The APTA holds as ethically binding the principle that PTs “shall endeavor to address the health needs of society.”

As we move forward our profession must be prepared to address our patient’s health needs by not only addressing their rehab needs related to function for diagnoses such as low back pain, knee osteoarthritis or a sprained ankle, but be ready to address the ‘whole’ person in terms of their health, fitness and wellness. The APTA envisions that by 2020 consumers “will have direct access to physical therapists in all environments for patient/client management, prevention, and wellness services.” Plan to be a beacon of hope for your patient who is often overwhelmed by obesity, disease and despair.

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Jeff Gilliam, PT, PhD, OCS

Jeff Gilliam PT PhD: is a weight loss specialist, who has studied extensively in the areas of health behavior, exercise physiology and nutritional biochemistry at the University of Florida. Jeff has taught a course at the University of Florida called ’Research Applications to Obesity and Weight Loss’. He has also taught courses for the DPT program at UF in Health Promotion and Wellness’ and ‘Evidence Based Practice III’. His PhD research was in the area of effective behavioral interventions for obesity and its associated diseases. He is founder of Physicians’ Choice for Weight Loss a successful lifestyle/weight loss program, which can be found in over 40 clinics in the southeastern US. He currently is clinical director of ReQuest Physical Therapy (Gainesville, Florida) and incorporates his lifestyle/weight loss program into his patients’ physical therapy to help them achieve their healthiest body weight.

Jeff Gilliam is an Orthopedic Certified Specialist through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.

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