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Loss Leaders

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  • Written By: Dwain Hebda
Loss Leaders

Eric Spann and Dave Roberts save lives, one pound at a time

Dr. Eric Spann and Dave Roberts, MPA-C, are about as close to a textbook definition of the odd couple as one will ever meet.

Spann, a physician of 30 years, talks of fitness and weight loss strategies in the tone of a field general doing battle against obesity. Roberts, who started his career in the field of weight loss in the military and is retired from owning his own weight-loss clinic in Texas, strikes at patients’ emotional side while he’s shepherding them through the difficult process of dropping pounds.

In many other ventures, the two men might drive each other nuts with their contrasting styles but instead have found their perfect match in serving patients at their weight loss and longevity program, offered through the Baxter Health Family Clinic in Mountain View.

“Dave and I hit it off immediately,” Spann said. “Dave was the first person I have ever met who understood a lot of the endocrinology, neurology and the psychology of weight gain and weight loss. He also has this really unique gift for getting people started, encouraging them and getting them emotionally engaged. He’s better than I am in that way, and when you put him and me together, it’s an unbeatable combination.”

“We have the same passion; we both are completely dedicated to helping folks around us improve themselves. We just have historically gone about it differently,” Roberts said. “If we were a sports team, I would say he’s much more the coach, and I’m much more the cheerleader. We both kind of lean into each other’s roles and dovetail into each other.”

So far, the partnership has been turning in amazing results; since the duo started working together in December, they’ve quickly built their clientele to 50 people who have averaged 20 pounds lost in the first six weeks and several having lost 50 pounds to date.

As anyone who has ever tried it knows, the first four to six weeks is critical to success as it holds the most difficult part of any weight-loss program: change.

“Sugar is more addictive than heroin. Let that one mull around in your brain,” Roberts said. “Amy, one of our health coaches and our office manager, said that she was very emotional for the first two weeks because using food as a coping mechanism had been taken away. What she was seeking in food for acute joy had to be replaced with something productive, and what she learned was that she had the untapped strength within herself to gain control without self-medicating with emotional eating.”

Spann knows the difficulty of losing weight firsthand; his first client was himself, and he lost 30 pounds in six months that he’s never gained back. His methods were sound, but as he would come to realize, they were often too tough for people not wired like he was as a longtime weightlifter and later a triathlete.

“I’ve always done a detailed eat list then burn with exercise,” he said. “I’ve been able to get, on average, about 50 pounds off the average patient who follows the program. The problem was most people were so discouraged and so low by the time they asked a doctor for some kind of medical help, they could not endure the rigors of that first month of eating a lot less and burning a lot more, and they would give up. My method was a little bit too rigid I found out.”

The new approach is no less effective — or difficult — but is packaged differently to get newcomers through the roughest initial weeks. This is where Roberts shines, starting with an exhaustive interview at intake where he learns as much as he can about a patient’s health backstory and existing support system. He then nurtures patients without coddling them or failing to hold them accountable.

“I work with them most closely in phase one because when most folks get to me, in some way or another, they’re broken,” he said. “Most of them have had to deal with guilt, shame and negative-reinforcing factors their entire lives. The last thing they need is someone beating them up about what they’re not doing.

“Just the other day, I had a patient who said, ‘Yeah, Dave, I’m struggling. I just can’t understand why I’m not losing weight. I’m following the program perfectly.’ I say, ‘I think you’re skipping meals, and you’re skipping snacks.’ They said, ‘Yeah, but it’s not my fault. It’s my job.’ I say, ‘OK. Hold on right there. It is your fault. Own this because it’s your choice. You’re going to have to make different choices if you expect different outcomes.’”

Patients are also assigned a health coach, a person so integral to the process that Spann and Roberts look for special attributes from them to help ensure they fit the role.

“The health coaches are the linchpin that holds this all together,” Roberts said. “They’re folks who have been through the process — normal people who have experienced the exact frustrations and difficulties that current patients are experiencing. They can help by saying, ‘I’ve been there, brother. I’ve been there, sister. I’m still there, and this is what I use to succeed.’”

Patients generally exit the initial phase with improved confidence and are ready for Spann to take over, where he delivers some unfiltered facts about the difference between weight loss and longevity.

“Once they start losing weight, they’re willing to listen to my part,” Spann said. “They come in and say, ‘OK, doc, I’ve lost the weight. Now I’d actually like to live longer.’ What I tell them is losing 50 pounds of body fat is wonderful, but it won’t make one muscle cell in your body stronger, it just makes you less heavy. That’s great, but most people would rather be lean and fit than they would just be thin.

“The thing that we do differently is we treat this just like every other part of healthcare. We see patients regularly, we back them up, we take their calls, we examine them. This is not some fly-by-night thing. We decided we would treat people the exact same way with the exact same professionalism as if we were treating them for a heart problem. That, more than anything else, is why we’re unique — this isn’t a program we do on the side. What we do is medical and scientific and actual healthcare.”