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MEN’S HEALTH: A Weighted Conversation

by L.M. Jarvis

June is Men’s Health Month, no better time to talk about a problem rampant in Cumberland County. Statewide, 25.8 percent of men are obese, according to the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), with the age group most affected by obesity being 45 through 64.

Cumberland and Salem counties have the highest problems of obesity in the state, according to a study by the New Jersey Department of Health. In Cumberland, nearly 43 percent of people aged 20 or older are overweight or obese.

“And it’s probably higher,” said Dr. Rebecca Fraid, DO, a family practice doctor who works in obesity medicine and helps patients with their weight loss or weight gain struggles.

Of that number, Dr. Fraid said Latino as well as non-Hispanic Black men have the highest rates of obesity in South Jersey. She said many of her patients grew up in Puerto Rico, where the diet is heavy on rice and beans.

Overall, most men aren’t motivated to lose weight. It’s not on their radar, but it’s a smart way to maintain control of your health as you age, according to Dr. Fraid, an Inspira Medical Center Vineland physician whose offices are in Millville and Mullica Hill.

Dr. Fraid said the struggle for men isn’t so different from women, although women may focus on it more.

“Maybe men overall aren’t as motivated to lose weight, but once I get them on a good track, it seems to help with that,” she said.

If a patient has bad habits, getting bariatric [weight loss] surgery isn’t going to magically take away their problems. Good success in maintaining weight for men or women means getting a handle on proper nutrition, exercise, developing a routine and knowing how to maintain their weight even after the surgery.

Dr. Fraid helps a spectrum of patients, from underweight people who have trouble gaining weight, to those preparing for bariatric surgery and are commonly told to lose weight before the procedure.

First, Fraid does a little work on the patient himself: What is his sleep quality? What does he do for a living? What is his family history and stress level?

“What is the disconnect?” she tries to determine. “More often than not, it’s undereating,” she said. “They are under-nourishing their bodies.”

That is a problem because the metabolism begins to slow down. She advises them to eat more often, more nutritious whole foods but in smaller portions.

“I find that patients naturally portion control when I ask them to eat every three to five hours,” she said.

Prepping meals does help, but not everyone has the time. If that is the case, she tells patients to put together small things, perhaps a yogurt with a handful of nuts, which is a nutritious snack that can help fuel your workday.

Younger men have a faster metabolism, which will slow down in their 20s and 30s. At the same time, the lifestyle of the average 20-something also changes.

“They have a family, and they want to stop at a drive-through before they go to a sport,” Fraid said. “It’s more convenience foods, and less exercise, no scheduled lunchtime or snacktime, which can lead to binge eating later. That is the common path that leads to problems.”

Fraid likes it best when couples fight the battle of the bulge together.

“I do see a lot of couples in here, which I think is amazing because then they can support each other,” she said.

It isn’t just about pure weight loss for men who come through her doors. It can be about losing enough weight to have a surgical procedure done. Some men need a hip or knee replacement, perhaps a hernia repair. However, they are told by their surgeons to lose weight before they can proceed with surgery. “The risk outweighs the benefits unless they are at a better weight,” Fraid said.

Some patients gain back the weight they lose, and that can happen if they lose it too quickly, she said. “Lose [weight] too quickly and the body wants to go back to where it feels comfortable,” she said. The body just didn’t have time to adjust to this dramatic drop in weight, and sometimes the patient tends to gain the weight back.

“Weight management is a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” Fraid said.

Men need to learn lifestyle changes, and not rely on medicine or surgery, she said. “They didn’t learn how to eat well; they didn’t learn how to exercise. You will gain the weight back if you didn’t learn the cause [of the weight gain],” she said. “There are no quick fixes.”

Fraid, who completed her obesity training through an Inspira Medical Center residency and fellowship, considers her work rewarding.

Male patients find themselves with less chronic pain and more energy, Dr. Fraid said. In addition, they have more of a sex drive, shake off their sleep apnea and can put diabetes in remission.

“It’s why I love what I do,” she said. “The list [of weight loss benefits] is literally endless.”

Next week, More Men’s Health: The Prostate Conversation