Lifestyle Medicine Physician Works with Veterans to Improve Nutrition

By Carly Smith, BS, MPH(c) 

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MOVE! is a weight management program offered to veterans by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The program includes science-backed curriculum and practices adapted from the VA’s Whole Health program, an interdisciplinary and patient-centered program that empowers veterans to take control of their own health and wellbeing. 

“Research shows that nutrition is often more influential for weight loss than exercise,” says Stanford Lifestyle Medicine expert Robert Oh, MD, MPH, and Chief, Well-being Officer (CWO) at the Palo Alto VA. “A lot of things matter for weight loss and two big influences are diet and stress management, which is why we include the Whole Health educational model into our MOVE! program.”

“People may come for weight loss, but they stay when they realize how involved and influential the program can be for them to change their whole life,” says Michelle Truong-Leikauf, MS, RD, and MOVE! Program Coordinator. 

A Holistic Weight-Management Program

“Although the program is designed for weight loss, we look at the person holistically and focus on the aspects of health and weight loss that people can actually control and what they want to focus on,” says Dr. Oh, at the Palo Alto VA.

The MOVE! Program offers nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle medicine courses to veterans (both in-person and virtually) for comprehensive weight management. The program coordinates with health coaches and physicians to meet with veterans individually and in small groups to address their specific health needs.

“The program is really complex operationally, but the quality of care offered benefits from our team of experts all dedicated to one mission: giving people the best shot at success at reaching their goals,” says Truong-Leikauf. “Removing judgment and creating an environment that encourages people to talk about their concerns, their power, and the actions they have the power to take gives us the ability to meet people where they are at.”

The MOVE! program utilizes a tailored, person-centered approach that prioritizes sustainable lifestyle changes, giving the veterans a sense of control in their own health plan. While weight is the main measurement, healthy behaviors and goal setting are emphasized to produce continuous results in people’s lives and diets. 

“MOVE! emphasizes the same pillars of health as Stanford Lifestyle Medicine for people to focus on,” says Dr. Oh. “Weight is our measurement, but our health coach team works with the veterans to keep their actions going. So, even if people are not seeing results on the scale, they can see real changes in their diets and other established healthy habits to be proud of.”

Resources Available for Everyone

Although the MOVE! program is only available for veterans receiving care at the VA, their website has an abundance of resources freely available to all. Resources include episodes of the Fresh Focus Podcast, which discusses nutrition for veterans; the MOVE!11 Getting Started Questionnaire, which helps summarize one’s current health status; guided recipe videos and cookbooks approved by the VA Nutrition team, and much more. There are also educational resources to learn more about Whole Health’s “Circle of Health” model and testimonies from veterans describing how the MOVE! Program helped guide their weight loss journeys.

Circle of Health

Veteran Testimonials

On the MOVE! program website, people are greeted with hundreds of success stories and testimonials from Veterans that have chosen to share how the program impacted their lives. Dennis Pecorella shared that after years of trying different diet methods, he was matched with a MOVE! program dietician who made nutrition information easier to understand and incorporate into his life. With her help, he was able to create his own sustainable diet plan.

“MOVE! has not only led me to weight loss, but better health overall,” says Pecorella. “I take less medication, try to walk two miles every day, and always eat my vegetables!” 

Peter Johnke’s primary goal in the MOVE! program was to make eating and dieting a more mindful activity. With the help of the MOVE! team, Peter learned to consistently track his food and beverage intake for an entire year and continues to do so. This helped him gain more control over his diet and learn when to best incorporate healthier options. 

“If you are in a place that you need to change…the MOVE! program will help you to help yourself!” says Johnke. “Do your due diligence! Take care of yourself!”