Obesity is a chronic condition that a growing number of Minnesotans experience, and like many chronic conditions, it’s one that patients may need to manage throughout their lives. 

While patients may live with obesity for a long time, it doesn’t have to be up to them to manage it by themselves. That’s one of the guiding principles for University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians) nurse practitioner Kayla Gish, CNP.

Gish cares for patients in M Physicians’ and M Health Fairview’s Comprehensive Weight Management Program. For her, it’s a personal calling.

“I had lived with obesity since before I was five years old,” Gish says, “I was always in the 99th percentile on all of my charts growing up.”

Gish has been a nurse practitioner for six years, but it wasn’t until she began a medical weight management program herself that she shifted her career path to focus on helping patients with their own comprehensive weight management. 

“I just couldn’t manage my own weight until I started a program myself, and it just made sense,” she says, adding that it was the first time she had not felt hungry and experienced any sustainable success with weight loss. 

“As I got further into my own journey, I realized that this was something I could help other people do as well.” Now Gish doubles as a medical care provider and an advocate for patients as they go through their own journeys.

How medical weight management works

When Gish and her team first meet with patients, she says that they often feel like they’re burdened with shame. “They don’t know what to do, and they don’t know where else to go. They think there’s something wrong with them or what they are doing. They’re looking for a solution,” she explains.

But there’s one thing about obesity that Gish always wants to be clear: that it isn’t a character flaw, a lack of willpower or about poor decisions. It’s another chronic disease. “I think that is something I had to learn as a patient before I could help others figure that out. That’s what drives me and how I work with patients.”

M Physicians’ and M Health Fairview’s Comprehensive Weight Management Program aims to help patients find sustainable ways of meeting their own weight management goals. Gish says that for many patients she and her team work with, those goals include wanting to keep up with their kids, hiking like they used to or sitting comfortably in an airplane seat.

That’s what Gish and her patients focus on as they put together medical weight loss treatment plans that could include medicines, sustainable lifestyle or diet changes. It could also include surgery for others, and counseling and therapy for patients who may also experience depression, anxiety or disordered eating.

Gish says that it’s a collaborative process, “where our patients may see several of us through their journey depending on what they need.”

Medical weight management isn’t about quick fixes, either, according to Gish. 

“We’re not going to talk about a quick fix because the quick fix isn’t sustainable long term,” she says, noting that it’s about finding sustainable, lifelong habits and solutions that work for each patient. 

“It’s important to know that we’re not the team that will get a patient to their goal and then be done,” she stresses. “We’re with you over your lifetime. If things change and how you manage your weight needs to change with it, we’re here to help you navigate that too.”

The program has even made its own changes to adjust to patients’ lives and meet them where they are by offering virtual appointments. 

“It can be difficult for patients to make it to the clinic for appointments, and they might consider stopping the program. So we want to meet patients where they are, which is why we have many regular virtual appointments too,” Gish explains.

Ultimately, Gish wants to help patients meet their goals and live healthy lives. “It’s what has guided me through my own lifelong journey, and it’s why I want to help guide others through theirs too.”

To explore the Comprehensive Weight Management Program, visit its website.