John Brackle, physical therapist at Overland Park Regional Medical Center. Photo by Linda Friedel/Nursing News Photo

by Linda Friedel | Reprinted courtesy of KC Nursing News

Nurses are challengers in a spring weight-loss program that promotes fitness and health.

John Brackle, physical therapist at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, part of HCA Midwest Health System, launched OPRMC Biggest Loser in February for hospital employees. He modeled the 11-week program after television’s Biggest Loser weight-loss program and adapted it for hospital employees. The program is farther-reaching than the loss of weight, he said.

“I didn’t want to have a program simply on weight loss,” Brackle said. “I wanted an educational piece.”

Brackle, who helps people recover from surgery and accidents, said co-workers have turned to him for advice on health, fitness, and nutrition through the years. They showed interest in a hospital-wide program, so he put the idea to work. Brackle developed a health and wellness program that has an educational component in addition to a spirit of competition. The program aims at managing stress, as well, he said.

“People feel comfortable going through a process with peers,” he said.

The Biggest Loser program enrolled 138 employees and has 39 teams with three to five members on each. Angela Busch, RN, BSN, staff nurse in the surgery unit and Tonya Ely, RN, CNOR, scheduler and charge nurse, also in surgery, are members of the all-nurse Hot Tomales team. Busch gained 30 pounds after several years of using steroids to treat a skin condition. She was ready to shed the weight, she said. Her recent engagement and pending wedding sealed the deal, she said. Ely said she joined the Biggest Losers to move the scales to her ideal weight.

“I lost 70 pounds the year before,” Ely said. “I gained 20 back. I thought it would come off quicker. Get to my ideal weight and stay there forever.”

Both nurses said joining a hospital-wide program offered them an excellent incentive. Team members hold one another accountable, they said. Busch said she likes the competitive spirit of the Biggest Loser. There are prizes. Winning team members will receive an iPod Shuffle and the individual who loses the most weight will be awarded a health and beauty package which includes a free massage. Everyone who participates and completes the required classes earns a $100 credit in their wellness credit account.

“I want to win,” Busch said.

Busch said before she committed to the Biggest Loser program, she watched her elliptical machine collect dust. She hated to exercise, she said. These days, however, Busch puts the pedal to the elliptical metal, clocking in 30 minutes per work-out, two to three times a day in addition to her weekly yoga classes. Busch likes her new-found energy and the way her clothes fit, she said. She sleeps better, too.

“I’m accountable,” she said. “The (team) captain and accountability is what I needed.”

To date, Busch has participated in several of the mandatory workshops. She values hearing from her peers, she said, where co-workers share stories of their battles and victories. She has picked up on helpful tips from participants and advice from the experts. Busch has learned to be more patient with herself, she said.

“I liked the emotional (component),” she said. “Don’t beat yourself up for your failures. Celebrate your small victories.”

Before she started the program, Busch was hard-pressed to exercise, she said. Now she is hooked. In addition to working out, she taps into several tools, including a Fitbit App on her iPhone. The App tracks data such as her starting weight, physical activities, daily goals and a food log. Busch says she has a new mantra.

“Nothing tastes as good as thin feels,” Busch said. “That’s my personal mantra.”

Nurses work to fix medical problems, Busch said, whether is it is obesity or a medical issue, she said. Many of the obese patients she sees in surgery say they regret they did not take better care of themselves, she said. As a nurse, Busch wants to lead by doing, she said.

“That sets a better example of myself,” she said.

Ely said she has changed her diet and began walking to shed the pounds. She works out three times a week at the hospital’s fitness center and started yoga classes this month. Her knees and back do not ache as they once did, Ely said. Clothes fit better, too, she said.

“It makes you feel more fit,” Ely said.

To walk the talk, Brackle joined Team Huskers of the Biggest Losers. He runs miles as a distance runner and regularly works out in the hospital’s fitness center, but admits he could improve his eating habits. Brackle said employees can manage stress through exercise and healthy diets. He cautions participants or anyone who wants to make a lifestyle change to choose something that is sustainable.

“It’s got to be something to be attainable,” he said. “Don’t set goals so high you can’t attain it.”

To entice employees to the hospital’s fitness center, Brackle added new equipment to the facility’s fitness center, including a treadmill, elliptical machine, hula hoops, bosu balance ball, pull up bars, flex weights and a punching bag. Brackle incorporated experts from OPRMC to lead workshops for members of the teams. A dietitian presented on healthy eating and diet myths. A physician led a session on emotional stress and its impact on weight gain. Hy-Vee grocery demonstrated cooking classes and gave store tours to raise awareness on the importance of reading labels and how to shop heart healthy or on a budget. One workshop included a trainer.

“It’s more than one component,” Brackle said. “You have to put all the pieces together.”

The Biggest Loser is the beginning of a program that Brackle plans to continue. He will launch another round of fitness in the fall with a focus on body fat and waist circumference. He laid a foundation for the program this spring and plans to build on the concept, he said. By March 29, participants in Biggest Losers had lost a total of 700 pounds, he said. The program ends on April 22 with a final weigh-in.

“If one person comes out losing one pound, it’s a success,” he said. “It will build from there.”

Katie Aldis, director of the OPRMC laboratory, is the team leader for Katie’s Crusaders. Aldis said at one time she weighed 215 pounds, but lost 65 pounds through Weight Watchers. She began walking to keep fit, then began to run. She competes year-around in marathons, triathlons and running competitions. She is currently training for an Ironman competition this fall. Aldis said her goal is to keep team members motivated to work out and attend the workshops.

“Keep them active,” she said. “I want to support my guys to do it. If one has success, we’re going to feel like we have success.”