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Hospital Partners on Nutrition Program

Melanie Wong Vail Daily

VAIL — Everyone's been told that “eating healthy” is a key component to losing and maintaining a healthy weight — but what does “eating healthy” mean for you individually?

That's a question that Benjamin Stone owner of Sigma Coaching in Vail wants to answer and his methods have caught the attention of the Vail Valley Medical Center. According to Stone a physiologist weight and health don't just depend on how many calories you're consuming but what you're eating and how your body is burning carbs and fats at rest. His evidence-based methods have had such good results that the Vail Valley Medical Center's Howard Head Sports Medicine has partnered with Sigma to offer the personalized nutritional prescriptions to its patients.

Diet and recovery

While the hospital still has its own clinical dieticians many of Sigma's hospital clients are physical therapy patients looking for help controlling their weight and inflammation during recovery. Stone works these clients not only for weight maintenance but to make sure their metabolic needs are being met as their body works to repair itself.

“Typically when you sit down with a dietician at the hospital they'll tell you you're burning X number of calories a day and that you should eat this and that — it's usually pretty common sense stuff” said Stone. “What we do is quite different. We collect information about how your body burns energy at rest and it's specific to you. I think this is going to be a new model to follow as our health care system looks to preventative measures.”

Hospital officials say they see the service as a way to provide individualized and monitored nutrition programs for people who want the extra help.

“We are consistently searching for opportunities that can not only improve outcomes but also improve patient wellness. This is one service that is helping us achieve that” said Luke O'Brien vice president of physical therapy operations.

As of now insurance companies do not cover Sigma's services but Stone says he hopes that will change in the next year. The services cost a few hundred dollars for the testing and around $1000 for a 12-week program with Sigma coaches.

How it works

At a consultation with Stone he'll measure a patient's oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide output to figure out which fuels are contributing to a person's resting metabolism. From that information he creates a “nutritional fingerprint” specific to the individual and prescribes changes in diet and in the case of orthopedic patients some light exercise.

He says many patients are shocked to find that they biggest factor they're missing in their diet is fat. One of his most significant case studies involved around an Arkansas man who recently was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Doctors prescribed him insulin and told him there wasn't anything he could do to reverse the damage.

“He came to us and said 'I don't know how this happened. I ride my bike all the time. I'll try anything'” he said. “We found that for every fat calorie he was consuming seven carbohydrates. His body didn't have the tools to burn fat.”

Stone put the man on a diet of more fat and less carbs and in six weeks the man had lost 26 pounds. Follow-up testing showed that he was burning six calories of fat per one carbohydrate and he no longer needed insulin. By changing his diet the body was able to reprogram how it used energy at rest. It's more complicated with other patients with factors such as hormone imbalances but the testing can help pinpoint those outside problems are as well.

Sigma started as a nutritional coaching service for endurance athletes but Stone quickly realized there was demand from other demographics.

“We started seeing people who wanted to use our services to lose weight” he said. “At first my reaction was 'Hey I'm not Jenny Craig. But then I thought about it and decided that I could still teach them what they needed to know regardless of their ultimate goal.”

Success stories

Sigma also continues to work with the performance-minded clients that it started out with. Beaver Creek resident Pat Tierney an avid cyclist and skier came to Sigma to optimize health not necessarily to lose weight.

“Ben tested me and told me 'You're pretty fit but your exercise regime is all wrong and you could be much more efficient” said Tierney 69.

Tierney admitted that he had purposely followed a low-fat diet most of his life. His typical morning routine was low-fat granola topped with nonfat yogurt and berries followed by a bike ride up a grueling climb. Under Stone's tutelage Tierney added much more healthy fat to his diet and backed off on climbs instead going on flatter lower intensity rides.

“Basically what I was doing was telling my body not to burn fat because I was eating a bunch of carbs and then doing a workout that burned all carbs” said Tierney. “I lost 10 pounds within a few weeks and now I'm riding Vail Pass 15 percent faster than I did before.”

For Stone these results aren't miracles — it's simply the first time that scientific methods have been applied to individual nutrition.

“We're not thinking about what's healthy but instead what does healthy mean to you? What's your body lacking while you're sleeping? It's not about calories burned. It's how much is coming from fat. That's what matters” said Stone.