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Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006 11:50 pm

Weight loss

Springfield counselor-dietician says overeating is a symptom of deeper problems

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Neala Ausmus: Participants in her program are seen as having “inherent strength, goodness and wisdom.”
PHOTO BY BECKY AUD-JENNISON
During her years in practice as a dietitian, Neala Ausmus says, she met many clients who could have taught the mechanics of weight loss better than she. “As I worked with clients,” she recalls, “I realized that they frequently knew about calories, portion sizes, food groups, and exercise.” After seeing this over and over, Ausmus came to the conclusion that, for many people, overeating and overweight were symptoms rather problems. Ausmus went to college planning to major in art, but when her younger sister was found to have juvenile diabetes at the age of 6, the dietitian’s proscription of foods her sister could not have and her mother’s subsequent fear led her to conclude that there had to be a better way to teach proper nutrition. She dropped out of college, worked in a hospital nutrition department for a year, then attended Utah State University from which, in 1980, she earned a degree in clinical nutrition. At St. John’s Hospital, Ausmus became coordinator of the diabetes-education program, but, as the influx of grant money slowed, she began working in other areas, teaching weight-management classes at the wellness center and eventually managing the weight-management center full time. It was there, using medically sound techniques to approach weight loss, that Ausmus encountered the phenomenon of people’s using food and eating to manage their feelings and distress. She gives an example: “One woman I saw talked about how weight had become a problem over the last 10 years for her, and, again, she knew how to lose weight, but as I worked with her I came to realize she used food to numb herself from the emotional pain of losing her only child in a car accident 10 years ago. I began to see this pattern in many of the people I worked with, typically more subtle, and I realized that if the root cause — the drive to overeat — wasn’t addressed, there could not be a long lasting solution to the weight/eating symptoms.”
Ausmus explains that teaching the mechanics of weight loss isn’t enough. “That’s why some dietitians have eating disorders and some respiratory therapists smoke and some pharmacists have drug addictions,” she says. These behaviors, she says, are driven by the desire to avoid emotional pain and “numb out” by disconnecting from our feelings. Eventually Ausmus chose to return to school for training in counseling: “I decided that if I wanted to move into this direction, to work on the underlying causes of overeating and/or being overweight, then I needed more skill beyond my nutrition degree.” In 2000, she completed her master’s degree in clinical counseling at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ausmus was intrigued when she learned of the Solution Method Program, developed by Laurel Mellin of the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco. She describes the Solution as the only program she had seen that provides the “how to” skills to address emotional overeating. Ausmus took the training required to become a Certified Solution Provider. “The Solution is based on health rather than on pathology,” she says. “Participants are seen as having within themselves inherent strength, goodness, and wisdom. The role of the training is to equip them with the tools and skills they need to access that intrinsic health.”
Now Ausmus conducts Solution Method Program groups at St. John’s Center Living. Groups meet weekly for two-hour sessions for a duration of 12 weeks. The participants work through a series of journals as a means of getting to the underlying emotional causes of their excessive behaviors. Participants are taught how to better identify when their emotional responses are setting them up for excessive behavior and to deal more appropriately with those emotions, thoughts, and urges, a process that Ausmus calls “doing a cycle.” Approximately 75 percent of the people who go through the program are addressing eating behaviors, but, Ausmus says, she also has participants who are trying to control smoking, overspending, and overwork. Ausmus insists that participants who fully engage in this program can achieve long-lasting results and experience emotional balance that is helpful to them in all areas of their lives. “We can have emotional, sexual, and social intimacy because we can be close to others without losing ourselves in them or running away,” she says, “and, in this state of balance, the drive to overeat and for the other excesses are low.”
Those wanting to participate in the Solutions Method Program in a group format should call Ausmus at St. John’s Hospital, 217-544-6464, ext. 47133. A free orientation will be held 5:30-7 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Dove Conference Center, in the Prairie Heart Institute at St. John’s Hospital. Ausmus also is available for individual counseling at Maher Psychiatric Group, 217-793-9593.
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