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Ask the Expert: Mary Washington Weight Loss Center

Dec 12, 2022 05:00AM ● By Emily Freehling

Medical approach to weight loss builds habits for a healthy life


Obesity affects more than 40%  of the American population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number has risen consistently in recent years, and it’s a growing concern because obesity-related medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death in the U.S.

Making the lifestyle and mindset changes necessary to losing weight and keeping it off can be hard for people to do alone, and repeated failures can build up to make the goal seem unreachable. This is why Mary Washington Healthcare established the Mary Washington Weight Loss Center in 2020. This is a comprehensive weight loss center staffed with the physicians, dietitians, behavioral specialists and support staff to take patients through a medically supported, safe journey not only to weight loss, but also to long-term healthier habits.

As our December Expert, Practice Manager Marty Heins, RN talks about how the medical approach to weight loss could prove to be the key to success for those who have tried and failed to keep the weight off through other programs.


Q: What is the Mary Washington Weight Loss Center?

The center launched in May 2020, led by Dr. Denis Halmi, MD, FACS, FASMBS, our medical director. Dr. Halmi is a bariatric surgeon. Bariatric surgery refers to a category of surgical procedures that help people lose weight by making changes to the digestive system. Bariatric surgery can be a solution when diet and exercise have not worked, or when weight is causing serious health issues. But surgery is only one piece of the much broader approach we take to weight loss. In addition to our surgical program, we launched the Moving Forward Medical Weight Management Program in May 2022. This program is for anybody who has a goal of losing weight. Our team includes Dr. Halmi, a physician’s assistant, registered dietitian and behavioral health coach/exercise physiologist.


Q: What is medical weight loss?

It is a comprehensive program that is focused on long-term lifestyle changes. This is not a diet. The Moving Forward program is a 12-week program supervised by medical professionals who specialize in weight loss. Program participants first meet with Dr. Halmi and are then seen by our physician’s assistant to monitor health indicators through tests like an electrocardiogram (EKG), blood workups and body composition analysis. Participants meet with a registered dietitian and behavioral health and exercise physiologist to establish eating and activity habits that will help them meet their goals.

But the magic of the program lies in the fact that we build a community around our participants, showing them that they are never alone on their journey. We highlight the successes that often go unseen that can help keep participants motivated to do this hard work. Participants have access to our weekly support group, and virtual meetings ensure that traffic and transportation constraints won’t get in the way of these valuable sessions. We also have monthly nutrition classes, a weekly walking group called Sole Mates, and many other educational and motivational tools. Our participants are huge cheerleaders for each other.


Q: Who is a candidate for Moving Forward, and who is a candidate for bariatric surgery?

A: Anybody who wants to lose weight is a candidate for Moving Forward. For surgery, a patient must have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher with other comorbidities. These include obesity-related conditions such as sleep apnea, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. With a BMI of 40 or greater, no comorbidities are needed to be a candidate for surgery, but at that point, it is likely that a patient will have developed some of these conditions.


Q: Why is the comprehensive approach so important?

A: Whether you are having surgery, or whether you are working through our medical weight loss program, your long-term success still depends on changing behaviors. Our approach is an educational program that helps you change your life and change your eating habits so that you can decrease your health problems. So many people who struggle with their weight are ruled by the reading on the scale. This can be problematic, because you can work hard for a week and not see the number you want to see—we don’t want that to set you back. We focus on helping patients see the “non-scale victories” that are happening as they proceed with making these changes. It could be something as simple as having more energy on your regular shopping trips or sitting more comfortably in an airplane seat. People need to come in and be willing to change their thinking, that is the key. And if they are willing to do that, we have the resources that can help them change their life and actually make their life longer.

Q: How did you become a member of the team at Mary Washington Weight Loss Center?

A: To be able to help people along this journey is truly fulfilling for me, because I have been there. I was a life-time member of Weight Watchers at 240 pounds, and while I was effective at losing weight, I could never keep it off. I had bariatric surgery with Dr. Halmi in 2017. When I had the surgery, I was wondering, ‘What was going to make this time different?’ I realized this couldn’t be a diet—it had to be a total lifestyle change, which involved getting rid of all of my old ideas and getting away from the scale being my higher power. I had to just follow the guidance of my dietitian and exercise coach, and I had to follow all the instructions—especially the ones I didn’t want to. I just had to make a decision that this was my new way of life. It was my commitment to myself. And the more support I had, the more I felt like I wasn’t the only person out there who struggled with this. It’s not a diet. It’s a way of living.

To learn more about the Moving Forward Medical Weight Loss Program, visit, or call 540-741-2955.



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