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Twenty years ago, a physician told Reneé Rawls that she had to choose between life and death. She had scheduled an appointment to talk about pain she was experiencing in her back and legs. When she was weighed, the scale showed 527 pounds, and she was shocked. She immediately asked the doctor, “What can I do? I had no idea that I weighed that much…”

The physician responded, “You have two choices: life or death. Pick one.”

Reneé says now that it was devastating to be told that her life was in danger, and not be given any constructive feedback or information. “I’m looking for a pamphlet. I’m looking for a nutritionist I could talk to, or maybe a weight doctor, but there was nothing.” She left the office feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.

Reneé began doing research, and also started several different diets to try to lose weight, ultimately exploring many different approaches. “I tried eating certain foods, small meals, meals at certain times, even the Cabbage Soup Diet! I tried to beef up a little exercise that I could do… but still, I was not able to lose the weight on my own.

Things only began to change, however, when she found a physician who specialized in weight management. “I actually found a doctor who had experience in weight management… and we were able to talk. I was able to journal my foods – whatever I eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, even the cravings I had. I was actually able to write down everything that I ate without cheating. And we were able to come up with a strategy that was best for me.”

Reneé learned from a physician that obesity was a chronic disease, just like diabetes or cancer, which completely changed how she thought about her weight. “Once I learned that obesity is a disease, then I figured out that it is not my fault… but I had to find the tools to help me manage this disease, just like you would manage any other type of disease, whether it’s cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol. You have a physician to help you manage those [diseases]. You have a team of people, whether it’s in your family or in the community, to help you through that.”

Reneé has utilized her team and the tools that she’s discovered in conjunction with her doctor, and since that original moment in the doctor’s office, she has lost 300 pounds. She says her health has improved significantly, and she’s able to be active and play with her beloved grandson. She’s dedicated herself to advocating for people with obesity, and is focused on doing the things she needs to do to manage obesity and live a healthy life. Why? As she puts it, “Obesity is a disease. It’s not going anywhere. Even though I have lost a lot of weight, it’s still a journey for me and it’s a disease that I have to have tools to help me manage.”

When asked what advice she would share with people who want to have a success story like hers, Reneé’s advice is simple:

“I would like people to know that obesity is a disease. It is not your fault, but it’s very important that you find a team of individuals to help you navigate through your journey. That’s talking to your physician, and if their position does not work for you, keep going until you find a team of people who are able to help you through your journey.”

For anyone who feels intimidated to talk with their doctor about weight, Renee says she understands. Many people have told her that they’re struggling with their weight, but they’re not sure how to get the conversation started with their doctor. She tells them this: “You just told me you had a problem with your weight. That’s where you start. ‘I have a problem with my weight. What can I do? Can you help me?’”
It’s because she’s kept going and found the right team that Reneé can say that she is choosing life and enjoying it to the fullest. She’s inspiring others to take the first step on their journey, too.

Diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to help many people reach a healthier weight. Medical treatments are needed to address the biological changes happening in our bodies that can drive weight regain. To find a physician near you who specializes in weight management, click here.

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