By Lizzie Resch
When clients walk into Physicians Weight Loss Center in Eau Claire, they are greeted at the desk by a woman in white scrubs with short, brown hair and glasses. Besides signing in or out, clients converse with the desk clerk. They talk about new products or what they will eat for dinner.
“I’m going to order a grilled chicken salad,” the desk clerk said.
Some clients of the center are a child accompanied by a parent, a woman trying to lose a few pounds for her May wedding, and a person who gained weight after a surgery such as gastric bypass. A surgery also led the desk clerk to two Physicians Weight Loss Centers. However, at the Eau Claire center, she is the executive director.
Cheryl Drangstveit’s motivation to help others comes from a personal experience with medical staff in the ‘90s that changed her life physically and professionally. The experience sparked her interest in helping others lose weight. In 1991, Drangstveit had a hysterectomy. Years after the procedure, Drangstveit’s health worsened. She had pneumonia, heart and lung disease, other infections, and lost her hair. She went to the doctor numerous times.
“I had one infection after another,” Drangstveit said. “They would give me antibiotics, but they never looked into what was triggering the bladder infection or the kidney infection or pneumonia.”
Five years after her surgery, a doctor performed a CAT scan. The doctor found a basketball-sized abscess in her stomach.
“When he opened up that abscess,” Drangstveit said, “there was the sponge. I knew there was something a matter with me. They were trying to say it was all in my head.”
A sponge from her hysterectomy five years prior had not been taken out. Drangstveit called it “an accident” and “malpractice”. She said “the doctor is captain of the ship” and responsible for anything like that, but the head nurse takes them out.
“They said 12 came out. Well obviously only 11 came out. I didn’t swallow it,” Drangstveit said with a laugh.
Drangstveit was not able to be operated on due to type II diabetes and other health risks. She said she was told to “live the best she can.” In 2004, she went to the Physicians Weight Loss Center in La Crosse and started eating healthier. About two months into the program, she started exercising, focusing on cardiovascular and resistance training. Drangstveit lost 75 pounds, dropping her weight to 153 pounds. Doctors told Drangstveit she added 20 years to her life. She no longer had type II diabetes, heart disease or lung disease. Her lung capacity increased from 40 to 100 percent.
The great experience at Physicians Weight Loss Center in La Crosse inspired Drangstveit to open the center in Eau Claire in 2007. Prior to this, she taught computer classes at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Western Wisconsin Technical College, both in La Crosse, Wis. She also owned an antique shop.
Drangstveit’s center also includes a doctor, nurse, kinesiologist, medical assistant, and three counselors. Instead of classes, they work with clients one-on-one and offer six programs to fit one’s lifestyle or even age. When an overweight child comes in, they are weighed and undergo a body composition analysis. This test identifies one’s body mass index, fat percentage, fat mass, and how many calories you need in a day. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, 31 percent of Wisconsin children ages 10-17 years are overweight or obese based on BMI standards.
“BMI is not perfect,” said Pediatrician Brent Jensen, MD, of Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, “but it’s the best tool we have as clinicians.”
Using the information from the body composition analysis, Drangstveit can determine which diet to put a child on.
One of the reasons Drangstveit believes childhood obesity has increased is fast food. Jensen said Asian countries are seeing an increase in obesity, too, because they have adopted Western society. They now have McDonald’s and KFC. Drangstveit said today it is easy to find something to eat down the street. It was not that way when she was a child.
“My father always had a garden and my mother was a very good cook,” Drangstveit said.
She said her father also had a sweet tooth and wanted a dessert after every meal.
Drangstveit said she “got addicted to the sugar and fluffy carbs.” She said too much sugar in the system has led to a type II diabetes rampage in society.
Drangstveit suggests people stop eating at fast food restaurants and eat nutritious.
“What they should eat would be lean meats, fruits, and vegetables,” Drangstveit said. “And a small amount of dairy and a small amount of starch.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, their Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) funds 25 states to address the problems of obesity through statewide efforts with multiple partners. Wisconsin is one of the states funded. One of the objectives of the program is to prevent and control obesity through an increase in physical activity.
The programs at Physicians Weight Loss Center do not require exercise, but it is encouraged. In this high-tech age, Drangstveit says people do not do as much outdoor exercising as they should. When she was growing up with nine siblings, she said they would play outside until 10 p.m. when their mother called them in.
“We’d play cowboys and Indians in the neighborhood. I always wanted to be Annie Oakley,” she said, laughing.
Prior to Drangstveit’s surgery, she could run, but during the five years after, she crawled out of bed. She said Physicians Weight Loss Center in La Crosse helped her turn her health around. At 62, she now water skis and climbs mountains.
Drangstveit’s personal experience with her weight has been beneficial to clients.
“When her television ads air, we usually have an influx of people identify with her story,” said Kathy Smith, a counselor at the center. “That’s probably the biggest draw.”
Smith has known Drangstveit for over 10 years, but has worked with her for two of those years.
“Cheryl is the most positive, encouraging, and generous person that I probably know,” Smith said. “She sees the best in people. She sees the person that’s hiding under that weight.”
Drangstveit and Smith met through church. Drangstveit said she loves going to work because she also gets to live her Christian faith by helping other people obtain higher quality and longer lives. She said it is her ministry to help people. She listed three parts of everyone’s makeup: the body, soul and spirit. She said in order to lose weight, one must be spiritual.
“If that’s missing, that’s a missing link or hole in their character,” Drangstveit said. “Something has to fill it, so sometimes people will fill it with drugs, or alcohol, or food. We do talk to them about their spiritual part of it. We try to encourage them to spend time in prayer about their eating.”
What makes Drangstveit feel successful is not her own experience overcoming her own health but the success of others.
“My whole life I’ve been seeking a way to help people,” Drangstveit said. “Seeing people have their life turn around is the most rewarding thing I have experienced in my life. It’s a very rewarding job because people are having positive results in their weight loss.”
The Physicians Weight Loss Center of Eau Claire is also having positive results.
“We’ve almost tripled our business each year,” Drangstveit said about the success of the center.
She said it will be around for a long time. Personally, she will probably retire in four years, along with her husband.
“We have so many hobbies,” she said. “When he retires, I’m outta here.”
As the client with the May wedding pays for her food and is ready to leave, Drangstveit asks to take a ‘before’ picture of her to track her progress. At this time, Drangstveit’s encouraging and positive attitude Smith talked about is evident.
“When you get to your goal, then you can wear a bikini,” she said to her new client.