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Published in CenterView on September 24, 2012
Dr. LaDonna Northington, right, receives the “Biggest Loser” trophy from Josie Bidwell after the final weigh-in of the summer competition Sept. 11 at the School of Nursing. Other participants included, front row from left, Martha Flowerday, Wanda Fischer and Dr. Renee Williams, (second row from left, Dr. Lishia Lee and Ginger Thomas, and back row from left. Clint McHann, Dr. Marcia Rachel and Dr. Carl Mangum.
Dr. LaDonna Northington, right, receives the “Biggest Loser” trophy from Josie Bidwell after the final weigh-in of the summer competition Sept. 11 at the School of Nursing. Other participants included, front row from left, Martha Flowerday, Wanda Fischer and Dr. Renee Williams, (second row from left, Dr. Lishia Lee and Ginger Thomas, and back row from left. Clint McHann, Dr. Marcia Rachel and Dr. Carl Mangum.

Fitness program spurs nursing faculty to take ‘biggest loser’ challenge

By Matt Westerfield

One night in the middle of summer, Dr. LaDonna Northington found herself indulging in a brownie-ice cream combo when she turned to her Facebook friends for an impromptu intervention.

For Josie Bidwell, a fellow School of Nursing faculty member, the plea for help sparked an idea.

Bidwell recently had helped write a Healthy Living Program workbook for Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Southern Remedy radio show. She offered to help Northington work through the eight-week Healthy Living Program, learning how to eat healthier and exercise regularly.

The Facebook thread rapidly gained attention from other friends, and before she knew it, Bidwell had 17 School of Nursing faculty members signed up for a summer “biggest loser” competition.

Although one of those participants subsequently bowed out, the remaining 16 went on to lose 144 pounds collectively by Sept. 11, after two months of weekly weigh-ins, group meetings and online nutrition and exercise discussions.

Northington freely admits she has a sweet tooth and, worse, that she’s very good at convincing herself whatever she’s snacking on is lower in calories than it actually is.

“Retrospectively, I was probably consuming 2,500-3,000 calories per day just thinking what I was eating was a small amount,” said Northington, professor of nursing and director of the Traditional BSN Program. Northington had to limit her calories to 1,400-1,600 per day for Healthy Living.

“Some of it was a mental change,” she said. “Meeting and talking about how to control those urges also makes a difference.

“Just to hear that other people are going through it and eventually it does get to be OK.”

“I thought I’d have four or five people,” said Bidwell, an assistant professor of nursing. “To have 17 people initially, that’s fantastic.

“Some of us have really started exercising a lot. I started training for a 5K.”

Bidwell joined the faculty in 2009 after becoming a family nurse practitioner in 2006, and she’s gained a good deal of experience with community practice by working at the School of Nursing’s school-based clinics at Brown and Johnson Elementary Schools and at Rowan Middle School, as well as the UNACARE Clinic. She said Dr. Rick DeShazo, professor of medicine and host of Southern Remedy, recruited her to help with Healthy Living.

“He called me up and outlined how they had a nutrition program that was pretty much done and in the works, but they needed an exercise program to go along with it,” she said. “He asked me if I’d be interested in working on that.”

Bidwell said it was a topic she was well-versed in counseling patients about, so she jumped on board and began poring through the literature and guidelines.

“It was really important to me that this was doable for the people of Mississippi, but it wasn’t a carbon copy of all the fitness programs that are out there, because those don’t work here,” she said. “I’m from the Delta, where we had no access to gyms: You had to work with what you had.”

Bidwell has used the resultant workbook to promote the Healthy Living Program at health fairs and school nurse conferences around the state. She didn’t expect it to be such a hit among her peers.

The participants toasted their success at a Sept. 12 celebration, which included 55-calorie cupcakes baked by Bidwell.

“The majority of people lost at least 3 percent of their bodyweight,” Bidwell told the group. “Some of us lost over 10 percent of our bodyweight, and when you lose 5-10 percent of your bodyweight, you decrease your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and you cut your breast cancer risk by about 25 percent.”

And while the purple cupcake frosting was a big clue, Bidwell then announced Northington as the biggest loser, having shed 19 pounds, or 11.6 percent of her bodyweight (purple is Northington’s favorite color).

Northington credits the group support with giving her the motivation to exercise and choose healthier eating options.

“I can definitely feel the difference,” she said. “I’m not as tired, and my energy level is higher.

“It’s not that I’ve denied myself; it’s made me make better choices.”

“Exercise and portion control are the big things for me,” said Dr. Carl Mangum, associate professor of nursing, who has two grandchildren and three more on the way. “My endurance is up. I’m in it because I have some overall weight-loss goals that I must achieve.

“Failure is not an option.”

Bidwell issued the group a warning during the celebration.

“Just because you weighed in for the last time yesterday doesn’t mean I’m not still watching you.”

It turns out the warning was premature: Most of the participants signed up for Round 2, which just began last week with a total of 17 participants for the first weigh-in.

To learn more, visit www.mpbonline.org/southernremedyhealthyliving or call Josie Bidwell at 5-6520 or e-mail her at jbidwell@umc.edu.