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Physician Shares Personal Struggle with Weight Loss

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Laura DeMattia before and after photosWhen Laure DeMattia, DO, tells her patients she understands what they’re going through, she means it.

“The first time I saw a specialist about my growth and weight I was in the third grade,” Dr. DeMattia said.  “I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was 13. I followed their diet exactly as they wanted me to, and I actually gained weight.”

Despite being a three-sport varsity athlete in high school, and eating a strict diet, DeMattia continued to be overweight. 

“There was a lot of shame involved. As a young woman there was a lot of pressure to look a certain way, so that was really hard to deal with,” Dr. DeMattia said.

Struggles Continue

Dr. DeMattia’s struggles continued in college, even as a member of the women’s basketball team.

“Starting in college I stopped being so restrictive in how I was eating, so I started to gain more seriously. Medical school brought increased stress which led to further weight gain. I was still playing basketball, doing cardio workouts and following a healthy approach to eating, but it didn’t help me lose weight.”

By the time Dr. DeMattia was finishing medical school, she’d gained about 60 lbs. While working alongside experienced physicians, she quickly realized many of them didn’t fully understand just how difficult it is for most people to lose significant weight. The doctors kept giving out the same advice: Eat less, move more.

“Most of the patients had already done that. That was over 20 years ago, and the physicians really didn’t have any other suggestions,” Dr. DeMattia said.

Around that same time, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released updated guidelines for adult obesity treatment. Dr. DeMattia saw those guidelines as a turning point and a new option for people like her who had done everything right but still couldn’t lose weight.  

“I called them and said ‘I want to work with you.’”

They directed her to the author of those guidelines, Dr. Robert Kushner, who happened to be working in Chicago, just like her at the time. Dr. DeMattia spent several months training at Northwestern’s combined medical/surgical program and she was hooked. She focused her career on medical weight loss and later received her board certification in obesity medicine.

While her field has come a long way, Dr. DeMattia said some physicians are still using that same limited treatment approach as she heard during her residency: Eat less, move more.

“The disease of obesity needs more treatment options,” Dr. DeMattia said. “Diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and cancer all are impacted by diet and activity, but no physician limits the treatment to diet and activity for those diseases.”

Changing the Conversation

Dr. DeMattia said we have to change the conversation about obesity.

“In some ways, it’s like a ‘blame the patient for their disease mentality.’ There are physiologic paths that are driving hunger, fullness and level of activity,” she said.

Dr. DeMattia said her patients have a hard time believing it too.

“They hear it but they don’t feel it. There’s the culture saying ‘you should be able to choose the number that you weigh if you eat differently and exercise differently. You just need to try harder,’” she said.

Dr. DeMattia knew that wasn’t true. She had tried harder over and over again. At one point she hired a personal trainer, worked out twice a day and followed a strict diet. She improved her body fat percentage, but the scale didn’t move. Her trainer even accused her of cheating on her diet.

Weight loss surgery

“I started thinking about bariatric surgery when I was working with Dr. Kushner, but at that time I didn’t qualify because you have to have another medical issue if your BMI is below 35. I hadn’t had those yet, but I knew it was coming,” she said.

With a history of heart disease in her family, Dr. DeMattia wanted to avoid being the third generation to undergo open heart surgery. So in March of 2019, the time was finally right. Dr. DeMattia had vertical sleeve surgery performed by one of her colleagues at Journey Clinic. The surgery reduces the size of your stomach helping you feel fuller than before. The surgery also removes the part of your stomach that makes a hormone that helps regulate hunger.

Surgery went well, but two weeks post-op  – when most surgery patients are seeing significant weight loss, Dr. DeMattia’s scale wasn’t moving. It coincided with a resurgence of intense back pain she’d been dealing with for several years. Thankfully, after the pain evaporated, the weight began to as well.

Dr. DeMattia said her journey has been fascinating.

“I feel like I have more food freedom than I’ve ever had in my life. I have a more balanced approach to my eating. Before surgery when I was doing all these different diets, I was always so hungry. Now, when I eat just a small portion of food, I am so full. That’s mindblowing to me,” she said.  

Dr. DeMattia believes her battle with weight loss has made her a better doctor.

“Not only am I in the same boat as my patients, but I have experienced a lot of the same things they’ve experienced. It’s not just do what I say, it’s let’s do this together.”

If you are struggling with your weight, Journey Clinic can help. Call 405-515-2049 to learn more.