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A little help from new friends: How Real Appeal Helps People Lose Weight and Keep it Off

Bobbie Poates lost 60 pounds between October 2015 and October 2016—an astonishing one-fourth of her body weight. And now, she’s determined not to become a statistic.

 

Nearly half of American adults who are overweight or obese say they are trying to lose weight. That’s a hard enough task, but keeping weight off is harder still. In one study that tracked overweight people who were trying to slim down, half the people who managed to lose 5 percent of their body weight regained it within two years. Eighty percent of those who lost 10 percent of their body weight gained it back within two years.

Poates, who turns 70 in July and works in the mailroom at a UnitedHealthcare office in Maryland, has kept the weight off over the past eight months and is dead-set on losing another 10 to 20 pounds. She attributes her success and confidence to a program called Real Appeal, which combines an online support system with real-world tools.

“It’s so encouraging to know that I don’t have to stop and watch my grandchildren play, I can move right along with them,” Poates said. “I couldn’t walk up and down stairs correctly before—I could only go one step at a time. Finally, through Real Appeal, I got to where I could walk up the stairs normally.”

What’s the secret to Real Appeal? The weight loss tool, developed by UnitedHealth Group and available through some UnitedHealthcare plans, marries social support, entertainment, and solid science to help people shed pounds.

Each person in the program gets a package of materials, including exercise DVDs, resistance bands, measuring cups and a food scale to help control portion size, booklets with weight-loss information, a measuring tape to track the size of their waists, and, of course, a scale to weigh themselves.

But the program isn’t all weighing food and counting calories: There’s some fun involved, too. An online television show with morning show-style segments on fitness, cooking, nutrition, stress management, and sleep features celebrities such as Dr. Oz, actor Tom Arnold, and actresses Jennie Garth (“Beverly Hills, 90210”) and Vivica A. Fox.

For Poates, the best part of the program was the social support. While programs such as Weight Watchers have long counted attending group meetings as an important part of the weight loss experience, Real Appeal brings meetings into each person’s home through his or her smartphone. People taking part in the program get paired with a personal health coach who provides one-on-one advice on nutrition, exercise, and other relevant topics, as well as a group of people around the country who are also trying to lose weight. The groups have regular calls to share their challenges and successes with each other and the coach.

The recipe has proven successful: When UnitedHealth Group employees in Ohio tested Real Appeal, 70 percent of them lost weight after 24 weeks—roughly halfway through the year-long program— and 37 percent had already lost 5 percent of their body weight.

“At first, I was afraid to ask questions—that someone would laugh at me, or I’d say the wrong thing,” Poates said. “But every day it got a little easier, and I finally started joining in, too. If someone was having the same issue you were having, it would help you, and sometimes the issues I was having would help them.”

The group was particularly helpful in encouraging one another to exercise. Poates has gone from walking a few thousand steps per day to 10,000 steps—a level research has shown helps to lower blood pressure and increase overall fitness. https://newsroom.uhc.com/health/stepping-your-way-to-better-health.html She’s also paying more attention to what she eats, faithfully using healthy recipes in the Real Appeal books and even growing vegetables in her own garden.

Poates, who is also a cancer survivor, credits these changes with lowering her blood pressure and cholesterol enough to stop taking medication. Just as important as these physical changes, however, are the mental and emotional changes.

“Real Appeal taught me that stress is one of my biggest issues—stress will put everything right in my mouth,” Poates said. “What I learned is—grab an apple or drink another glass of water. Don’t grab a bag of cookies.”

Now that the year-long program is over, Poates no longer has a coach or support group to check in with—but she’s still using her Real Appeal tools, measuring her food with cups, weighing in on her scale and using recipes in her books. When she notices herself gaining a few pounds, she starts walking more and keeping an even closer eye on what she eats. She’s even trying to help her daughter lose weight. After all, if anyone has learned how valuable it is to have friends to share the weight-loss journey with, it’s Bobbie Poates. The friendship, encouragement, and advice that she gained through Real Appeal are gifts that she can now share with her loved ones as they embark on journeys of their own.