Janice Constantine listened intently as the doctor explained that obesity was a disease and should be treated as such.
After having gone through a revolving door of commercial diet programs over the past few years, the Stillwater resident saw the doctor's pitch and the holistic weight-loss program that started this month at the HealthEast Stillwater Clinic as a "last resort."
"I've tried so many other things," she said flatly after attending a recent meeting to learn more.
Constantine is among the first weight-loss enrollees at the clinic, which is one of a growing number of medical centers offering medically based treatment for a condition that afflicts more than one third of all Americans and has long been thought of as a character defect, said Dr. Jennifer Landers, one of the program's directors.
The $2.6 million facility, tucked in an office park off Hwy. 36, features a small exercise room — crammed with gleaming equipment such as a treadmill, a Pilates reformer that resembles a medieval torture rack and a row of dumbbells — where patients work out, on average, for 30 minutes to an hour three times a week.
As in many states, obesity has become a major health problem in Minnesota, affecting 26 percent of the population in 2012, the last year for which state Department of Health data is available. Nationally, the numbers are even higher.
"Treating it as a disease helps us sort of peel back some of the layers and find the root causes of obesity," said Beth Dierkhising, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer who works part time at the clinic. "Before, back in the day, your doctors would tell you your body mass index suggests you need to lose weight, but they wouldn't tell you how to do it."
Which is exactly what the new program at the Stillwater clinic intends to do.
After running a series of tests, including hooking the patient up to an EKG machine, doctors devise a training program tailor-made to the individual that includes strength training and nutritional counseling, Dierkhising said.
"When you're in a program like this you're going to hit some plateaus and some bumps in the road, so that's where it's nice to have guidance like this, because that's when many people are going to give up," she said.
That's precisely what persusaded Constantine, whose recent weight-loss efforts read like a who's who of late-night infomercials, to try the program after Landers, her regular doctor, recommended it.
Still, even after listening to Landers' short presentation, she remained skeptical.
Another challenge, she said, has been getting her insurance to cover the treatment, since obesity has only recently been recognized nationally as a disease that can be treated like any other.
Theresa Dawson, who was also at the meeting, said she has tried for years to lose weight, which doctors said would alleviate some of the pain associated with fibromyalgia, a little-understood musculoskeletal disorder. So far, nothing has worked, she said.
"It has to work," the Cottage Grove resident said. "I want to lose weight because I don't want such horrible pain from having my bones cracking."