Michael Bare was strolling through Paris with his wife, Lorna Wimberley, in September 2016 when reality hit: “Oh my gosh, Lorna and I are walking together along the River Seine! That still blows my mind,” says Bare, 65, a retired college bookstore manager.
“I would never have thought I would be able to do that.”
It’s just one of many life-affirming milestones the couple has celebrated since enrolling in the UCI Health Weight Management Program (WMP) — a decision they made in October 2014 after another of Bare’s physicians warned that he could die if he didn’t lose weight.
‘It’s time to do something’
“I remember coming home and saying, ‘It’s time to do something,’” says Bare, who weighed more than 400 pounds and struggled to climb the stairs in their Fountain Valley home.
Bare explored his options, even attending a bariatric surgery seminar. Wimberley, 63, a retired pharmaceutical lab technician, also did some research and found the WMP website.
“What appealed to me was the description of the staff,” she says. “It was different from other weight-loss programs because they had doctors, nurse practitioners and dietitians. At UCI Health, they were leading the program and they were there day-to-day.”
The two-phase program emphasizes accountability. The first phase is a structured weight-loss regimen using meal replacements. “The second phase is lifestyle weight loss,” says Program Director Katie Rankell, RD.
“They may be using some meal replacements, but they’re also learning how to keep weight off when eating whole foods.” Patients also attend weekly weigh-ins and group classes, and they check in regularly with health coaches.
Bare enrolled in a medically supervised low-calorie plan* based entirely on nutritionally sound meal replacement products.
Wimberley, who weighed 169 pounds, wanted to improve her health and appearance so she opted for a more moderate plan that combines some meal replacements with vegetables and fruit and is typically not medically monitored.
Supporting each other
“I can’t tell you what a great support it was that the two of us were doing it together,” Bare says. “One of the first things we did was clean out our cabinets of junk food. Together we really reinforced the program.”
Encouragement from classmates and staff also kept them motivated. “The atmosphere is so positive,” Wimberley says. “It gets you into the mindset where you’re thinking positively about yourself and you really can lose weight.”
Within five months, Bare lost 75 pounds and he was able to conquer the steep staircase at Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. “He took it one day at a time,” recalls Rankell.
“He became that coachable patient who would reach out to us whenever he had questions or concerns.”
Setting a weight loss record
Bare’s efforts helped WMP achieve a milestone of its own: He became its first patient to lose 200 pounds.
“We didn’t have a milestone pin high enough for him, so we had one made,” says Rankell. “On the night he hit the 200-pound milestone, we ran out and got balloons. The class was so excited.”
That evening in November 2015 was “life-changing, life-affirming,” says Bare. “I did it with the woman I love. All the staff came into the room. I cried.”
Bare went on to lose a total of 225 pounds and Wimberley shed a total of 45 pounds, but their work was hardly finished. Disclaimer › More than three years later, they still attend WMP’s Phase 2 class, which promotes lifestyle strategies for continued weight loss or weight maintenance.
“We really encourage our patients to be held accountable for at least a year to keep the weight off,” Rankell says.
A new life together
Besides dramatically altering their diets, Bare and Wimberley have transformed themselves from self-described couch potatoes into fitness enthusiasts and intrepid world travelers.
They take aerobics classes, long walks and bike rides — including a weekly 20-mile round trip between their home and the WMP class in Irvine. Recently, they visited the United Kingdom, Ireland and the pyramids of Egypt.
The couple had always wanted to travel, “but I was so afraid that I was going to be doing it alone — that Michael would not survive into retirement,” Wimberley says, marveling at the transformation WMP has made to their lives.
“For him to accomplish this milestone means the world to me — because I have my partner to do all the fun things we always wanted to do.”
*In published studies, average weight loss for the in-clinic Decision-Free® plan is 43-66 pounds fro those who completed 12-26 weeks.