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Central Texas Veterans Health Care System

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VA classes move Central Texans to lose weight, lead healthy lives

MOVE Program celebrates Success Stories

COLLEGE STATION (Published January 20, 2011) -- Sonya Gaines passed around old and new IDs to show her weight loss. Mary Jo Zito brought along a pair of pink scrub pants. One of Gaines' IDs showed a woman whose face was round and puffy. In a more current ID her cheek bones are the dominant feature. Zito times two could have easily fit into her old scrubs.

Gaines, a veteran, and Zito, a mammogram technologist at the Olin E. Teague Veterans' Center, were the featured speakers at a weight management class, MOVE!, at the VA Bryan/College Station Clinic on Wednesday. The two, chosen to serve as inspirations for area MOVE! classes during 2011, wanted class participants to have a visual impression on how far both have come in their efforts to lose weight and get healthy, and to illustrate how different methods of weight loss work for different people. The class meets the third Wednesday of each month and begins with a weigh-in, during which Dr. Leah Tindall and Jennifer Spacek, both with the College Station clinic, track gains and losses.

MOVE! Weight Management Program for Veterans began in 2006 and some class members have been faithful in their attendance since the beginning. Tindall, Spacek and class facilitator Sandra Smithwick, a registered dietician at the Teague Center, have been involved since the program's inception. Gaines, a veteran of the Air Force and Army, grew from 141 to 250 pounds after retiring. 'That woman had diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, bad knees, arthritis and I didn't know how to take care of her,' she said. She continued to go to her appointments at the VA and was told about MOVE! in 2008, where she learned about nutrition, exercise, portion control and good eating habits. She learned about bariatric surgery and eventually had gastric sleeve surgery, during which more than half of her stomach was removed. Gaines had the surgery in April 2009, but she continued to attend MOVE! where she received support and learned she wasn't alone. By September 2010, she had lost 98 pounds. 'Don't give up,' she said. 'My diabetic numbers are down, I'm no longer on insulin and my blood pressure numbers are so low I don't know anymore what's normal.' Gaines said her palate changed after surgery and she noticed that some food was too sweet or too salty. She realized she could nibble on the same candy bar for a week. 'I thank God for the people in the MOVE! program and those He has placed around me to keep me encouraged,' she said. Check out Sonya's success story video! 

Click to Play Sonya's Video

Click to Play Mary's Video!

Play Sonya's success story video! 

Play Mary Jo's success story video! 

A photo of Zito with her grandson motivated her on her weight loss quest. At 5-feet tall she had gotten up to 230 pounds. 'I saw a picture my daughter-in-law had taken of me holding my new grandson,' Zito said. 'He was out on my knees. I had no lap -- it was bust, belly and knees.' With no desire to have her grandson remember her as being fat and with the burning desire to some day dance at his wedding, Zito got serious about losing weight. It took her a year to lose 70 pounds. Zito gained some back and is now maintaining her weight with Weight Watchers. She had a setback after open-heart surgery, gaining back 30 pounds, but now wears a size 8, with a goal of getting to a size 6. 'I didn't save anything. As soon as clothes got too big they went to resale stores or were donated to Second Hand Rose,' she said. The scrubs Zito hung on to are size 22 and she had some that were size 24. Smithwick regularly saw Zito at work and church and assumed her weight loss was a result of her valve replacement surgery. She was surprised a photo was the motivator. 'She had waited all this time to become a grandmother and when she saw that picture she wasn't happy,' Smithwick said. Zito has not lost her taste for sweets and said portion control remains an issue. 'I have to resist that first bite,' she said. 'Simple carbs turn me on like a light switch -- white pasta, white potatoes.' It's important, Smithwick said, to understand everyone is different and will face different challenges as they change their lifestyles in the effort to lose weight. Check out Mary Jo's success story video! 

More information on MOVE! can be found at There are multiple MOVE! classes offered at the Teague Center.

Article courtesy of Janice Gibbs, Temple Daily Telegram staff writer,