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Welcome 'Dr. Birdie' to the dailySpark

By , Dr. Birdie Varnedore, M.D.
Editor's Note: Most of you likely have read a story about Birdie Varnedore, a SparkPeople member and mother of five from Orlando who lost 140 pounds and kept it off using SparkPeople. You might not know that the amazing woman we have known as MOM5INFL is better known as Dr. Birdie Varnedore, a neurologist who specializes in treating strokes. We're proud to announce that after years of informally recommending SparkPeople to literally hundreds of her patients, Birdie has joined SparkPeople as a Resident Medical Expert. She now has an official SparkPeople expert profile, complete with a new SparkPage. Her new username is DR_BIRDIE.

"Dr. Birdie" will be blogging twice a month to start, writing for other areas of the site and answering your questions related to obesity, weight loss, and health.

Hi, fellow SparkPeople members! I'm Birdie Varnedore, but you may know me as MOM5INFL, a SparkPeople Success Story. I have been an active member of SparkPeople since 2007, using the tools and community here almost daily to help me achieve and maintain my weight loss goals.

I started my lifestyle change on July 23, 2007, at a documented 292 pounds, but since then I have lost 140 pounds. Amazingly, my husband Nick and I started the journey together, and we have been maintaining our weight loss for almost 3 years. He lost 120 pounds! We're committed to staying healthy to inspire our five beautiful children, who range in age from 4 to 11.

My weight-loss story has been featured in People Magazine, Good Morning America, "The Spark" and most recently on Oprah’s Ultimate Weight Loss Finale, but I attribute a large part of my success to SparkPeople. This wonderful community has been there for me since almost Day 1 of my journey. (I joined the site within a month of making the decision to lose weight.)

But, did you also know that I am a physician as well? I am a board-certified neurologist and also board certified the in the subspecialty of vascular neurology, which means that a large part of what I do is diagnosing and treating strokes.

According to the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association stroke is the third cause of death behind heart disease and cancer and is responsible for about 1 of every 18 deaths in the United States.

Typically, my patients experience strokes as the end result of years of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. I spend quite a bit of time explaining to stroke survivors and their loved ones what a stroke is and how it can affect them in the near future and for the rest of their lives.

Preventing a second stroke is usually my main emphasis. If you have the unfortunate pleasure of becoming a patient of mine, then there is a good chance that it is due to not adequately managing one of more of your chronic medical conditions of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes, which in many cases can be attributed to the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle.

Quit smoking. That's that first topic on my list of suggestions when I counsel patients. It likely won't surprise you to find out I take a special interest in educating people about the roles that obesity and the lack of activity play in managing their conditions. I often refer my patients to not only as a source for accurate information about losing weight and nutrition but also as a resource for how to live a healthier and happier life in general.

Unfortunately, as a specialist, my role in preventing strokes in the first place has been very limited.

Having lost more than 100 pounds and also having practiced medicine as a 300-pound obese physician places me in a unique position. I know and have seen the medical consequences of living an unhealthy lifestyle through my medical training and patient interactions. I also have first-hand experience with morbid obesity and know what it’s like to feel trapped by what seems to be an impossible amount of weight to lose.

My family has also experienced the unimaginable pain of losing my brother to extreme morbid obesity at far too early an age. Because of my experiences, accomplishments and credentials, I feel exceptionally qualified to talk about obesity and weight loss.
When I started my career, tipping the scales at 300 pounds, I had to counsel my patients about weight loss. These conversations were so difficult because I felt hypocritical. It was like an AA sponsor reeking of alcohol yet telling a newcomer not to drink. They knew it, and I knew it.

I have emerged from this weight-loss journey literally half the person I was physically, but no one knows that just to look at me, certainly not new patients.

Now, when I walk into a room, I receive the opposite treatment. I am now looked at as a 150-pound physician who couldn't possibly know a thing about weight loss because they think that I have been fit my entire life.

Observing how patients judge me by my appearance has led me to two conclusions that seem different yet are absolutely related. First, when I was obese, I was treated as if I didn’t have the authority to tell anyone to lose weight because obviously I had no idea how to do it. I was more of a walking billboard for what not to do! Second, when I lost the weight, I was looked at as that doctor who couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to be obese.

Interesting position, isn’t it? What these scenarios have in common is that they both illustrate the point that they are excuses. These scenarios truly demonstrate the fierce resistance to change that many people have when it comes to their relationship with food.

I am a living and breathing example that it can be done. I have fought on both sides of the battle of the bulge. I know that fatalistic feeling that losing a massive amount of weight was impossible. I know and I have used that excuse in the past. Through my experience, I now fully understand that excuses should be viewed as obstacles that need to be addressed and removed. Unfortunately, many physicians feel that obese patients are lazy and unmotivated.

This assessment is unfair and from my own experience, I know that most obese people are not lazy and unmotivated; they just need help with removing obstacles (excuses). Because I have the experience of changing my own life by losing this weight I feel that I am a much more authoritative and knowledgeable resource than the average physician. I know that there are challenges to be faced at every stage of the process and that it is difficult to change. It's more than a little challenging. Through starting, losing, and maintaining, I know the entire process weight loss journey, and I have an incredible amount of respect for each and every one of you on this journey. As they say, if it were that easy then we’d all be fit!

I am now at your disposal through blogs, articles, and other avenues here on SparkPeople. My hope is that through these avenues I can provide assistance to you and your families to achieve weight loss. I will balance my compassion and empathy for your situations with my education and expert advice because I do remember that there are two sides to every story. Being a member of SparkPeople’s outstanding expert panel will help me utilize what I feel is my unique position of being an authority on what it takes to both change your lifestyle as well as to share with you information from a medical perspective. Understanding the medical implications of obesity is necessary and compliments your motivation to stay consistent in your pursuit of health and happiness.

I am honored to be able to play a part of helping you stay healthy and to hopefully inspire you through my continued success with maintenance. Thank you Chris "Spark Guy" Downie for all that you have done to create this truly special and remarkable oasis of accurate information and support.

What questions do you have for Dr. Birdie? What topics would you like her to cover?

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Welcome Dr. Birdie
I had two strokes last year at the age of 42 and the never found the cause- my chlorestorol is normal, my blood pressure is good, and I am not diabetic. My strokes were on both sides of my brain both times and they told me they were like shotgun blasts to my brain, tiny pinpoint spots all over which is not very common. After they miss diagnosed my first stroke I went home and had another the following day. The ER now has signs up everywhere and they use my strokes as an example of abnormal strokes to watch for. I started my weight loss journey at 297 lb now down to 256 lbs. I want to get healthy so I don't have any more strokes. I am walking over three miles a day, been trying to walk over 10 miles a day twice a week. I have a heart rate watch and keep my HBM under 60%. I have even jogged a couple of 5 ks in the last month or so but inside my home. My balance is kaput so I use a cane and hold the back of a chair while working out. I only go outside (too much visual stimulation) to go to drs. I get easily confused and can't remember words and have problems coordinating words and can't focus very well with thoughts, words, or vision. I have been to a hematologist, gynecologist, neurologist, cardiologist, and my regular dr they all say I am in perfect health...Do you have suggestions for me to maintain and improve my overall health (both body and mind) and balance?
Thanks for your time and I am glad someone in your position understands our issues.
Dawn Report
Welcome Dr. Birdie!
All my life I have been fighting fatigue and depression. Those are the teams that help me the most on SP. I am now 64 and still at it. I began a team on Evening Eating Frustrations because that is keeping me from losing weight. Over 50 people have joined in less than a month! I and the team are making progress!

I have Fibromyalgia and want deep tissue massage for trigger points. Insurance won't pay for that. It seems unfair! When I push on those areas, they get very warm and it seems blood flows there. This is a medical issue and very frustrating trying to get treatment. I am doing lots of things food wise and doing water aerobics for years but pain and fatigue make my teaching job very difficult. I also care for my disabled husband. 2006 he had a stroke and uses a motorized wheelchair now.
SP has been invaluable to me in having a network of knowledgeable people to fight my health problems. I am delighted SP has a neurologist available, too.
Chris Report
Glad to meet you, Dr Birdie! I, too, am interested in how you did "it"; I've used visualization (of me in shorts, t-shirt and hiking boots on a mountain trail), and positive self talk. Still working to get to goal, but my attitude had taken an almost 180 degree turn. Report
My husband has suffered from some Tia's. I would like to find out more about them. I can tell my husband is a lot different than he used to be. He doesn't seem to have much energy any more. His personality is different too. He gets angry a lot easier. He also gets dizzy a lot and has trouble with his balance. I am looking forward to you being on here so I can learn more things so hopefully I can help him. Report've walked the walk and I'm sure that makes you a better doc. I'm a nurse and know how hard it can be to get patients to change, but you have a wonderful wealth of experience to draw on. Thank you for sharing it with us. Report
Welcome! and congratulations on your weight loss! Report
Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! You are such an inspiration ... on every level! Looking forward to your blogs .... Report
Thank you Dr. Birdie! I so understand what you are saying. I am a nurse who lost 60 lbs in 2008. It's an interesting place to have lived both sides of the weight loss story. Thanks for inspiring us with your story and success and for joining Spark to just add to the solid foundation we have here! Report
Hi there..... I was looking for you since the Ophra show. Congrats on getting on board with SP. Woo Hoo!! My bff girlfriend had a stroke at the tender age of 45. Doctors don't know what caused it. She worked out everyday. Not obese. No high blood pressure, High cholesterol, I don't think it was high. She was on birth control pills. Please help me to understand. She cannot use her right side after stroke. Thank You. Report
Welcome Dr. Birdie, looking forward to your articles from a doctor's perspective. Congrats on your weight loss! Report
Just when I thought Spark People couldn't get better . . . well, HEY! Welcome, Dr. Birdie. I've followed your story and am so encouraged by you. Thanks, Chris Downie. You score once again. Report
WOW! Report
Dr Birdie, I am looking forward to your blogs.

I do have some questions: How do you stay motivated? How do you stop cravings? How to get past plateaus?

Congrats Dr. Birdie! I look forward to reading your blogs. Report
Congratulations, Dr. Birdie! Love your story. Report
Birdie, you look HOT!!! I remember paraphrasing you on my profile awhile are such an inspiration. I guess now I'm going to have to get used to thinking of you as "Dr. Birdie."

I also LOVE this blog. Your can't-win scenario is one I never thought about. I also love your outlook on obesity and excuses. I find that once that really clicked for me, I was finally able to get some (small, slow) success.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of you!!! Report
Hello Dr. Birdie I am a new Spark member and am still overwhelmed at all the information available to me.
I am amazed at your success story. It must have been so difficult to be a physician with a weight issue and interact with your patients as well as your peers!
I am bi-polar and epileptic. Many psychiatrists and neurologists later most of my problems are controlled by medication. I am interested, however, if diet would have any effect on either of these diseases. I am also interested in learning more about strokes as my seizures share some of the same symptoms.
Thank you for becoming a Sparks contributor. I look forward to the information you will share. Report

Thank you for joining in an advisory capacity. Your story is truly inspirational. Report
Your blog is so very moving and inspirational. Thanks for sharing your journey, and I look forward to reading your future blogs!
Glad you've joined. I read about you when your story was featured on Spark People. Even though my 23 year old daughter and I need to lose weight, neither one of us needs to lose more than 20 - 30 lbs. However my daughter has other issues but our doctor, who I think is wonderful except in this instance, just tells her everything will be solved if she loses weight.

Now, she doesn't even want to try a different doctor because she thinks they'll just tell her the same thing - lose weight and all the other problems will go away. Problem is the problems were there before she gained the weight. She eats health, most of the time, and exercises but the weight just won't come off.

She is moving home in the fall and maybe we can tackle this together, including finding a new doctor. Report
Welcome! What an amazing, inspirational story you share. Report
Congratulations ~ Report
Hooray! I can't wait to read more of what you have to share. Your story is so inspirational and I know the information you will provide everyone at SP will be invaluable! Thank you! Report
I'd say anyone who meets up with you professionally has been given a real gift, Dr. Birdie, even if it may mean they're experiencing serious health issues. Sometimes those issues bring us new opportunities and I'd say you're probably very skilled in helping your patients see - and seize - those opportunities.

Congratulations to you and your husband on your decisions to get healthy. I know you'll add a LOT to SP and am thrilled that you've made the time to take on even greater involvement in SP. Thank you!!! Report
Love it! Thank you for coming forward to share your professional and personal wisdom with all of us! Report
:) amazing story Report
Welcome, looking forward to reading any kind of advice you'd like to pass on. Report
Welcome to your new position. Just to let you kow what a dolll you are. Report
As a "professional" dieter all my life, I could give the best of advise. At 5'2" and 306 pounds, no one was willing to listen to me either. I had to resort to weight loss surgery to lose the weight. Now people think I don't know anything about dieting because I "used" WLS to lose the excess. How little do they know!!!! It takes WORK to lose the weight with surgery. The surgery is a tool that makes it easier, but believe me, surgery doesn't cure head hunger, cravings, emotional eating, nor does it choose the foods that I eat. Now that I'm at maintenance, it's even harder. It's a daily battle. I commend you for losing the weight and appreciate your knowledge and experience as a severly obese person. You will be a wonderful asset to SP! Report
Great to see you on the advisory team! Feels like meeting you, Birdie! I know what you're talking about - I took off 60 lbs. and previous patients know it, but wow! the new patients think I wouldn't know what I'm talking about regarding weight loss. It's so very 12-step - minute by minute decisions, daily focus... Anyway! Great to meet ya - keep up the good work! Report
When I was reading your blog I had a thought (hmmm ... don't be afraid ... lol) Have you considered hanging a before and after picture of yourself in your office for your patients to see? It could be an awesome motivator and even put some others more at ease about being honest with you about their own life style. You are such an inspiration to so many, myself included, why not use it? No matter what you decide I'd like you to know that I appreciate you taking the opportunity to share your gifts with us on a regular basis. Thank you! Report
Welcome Dr. Birdie! Congrats on all your achievements in weight loss and life as a Dr. helping people with Strokes! So inspiring! Glad you are aboard and will enhance SP even more now. Looking forward to your blogs! Report
Welcome and I look forward to reading your blogs! Amazing, motivational and inspiring--that's what you and your spouse represent! Report
Great to see a doctor on here.. Stroke victims can be difficult to work with.. I have about 5 I visit regularly as a resthome helper.. They are tough on their family and most of all their expectations to their own abilities once finished in the hospital regime!

Also shocked visiting people whom come from families with history of aneurysms.. I have clients with shunts operated into their head to avoid pressure build up..

It takes a mountain of patience to communicate with people with little or no verbal abilities.. It is painful obvious when they are frustrated and lack words.. Many are well functioning but give up with words escape them..

More visiable education, people don't realise the disaster of brain damage and the human costs outside the hospital door..

I am watching couples seperated by resthome doors as the pressure of having help in private homes is too much on the healthy care giver..
Many people have a romantic idea about being a care giver, it can rip teeth out of people when the spouse returns home.. Many times they are not the person people remember them as..

I got the best aha moment visiting my dads intensive care unit- he was hooked up to a blood thinner machine and the doctor showed me the damage to my dads heart, how they preform the ballon operation and I could put the bricks together from there..
I also loved my dads doctors honesty, he gave my dad 5 years and the time ran out with just days from a date..
I also was care giver for a diabetic type 1 man, he was a high risk blood clot patient.. It was hell watching him suffer 24 dialysis, the machine wrecked all his arteries including his dialysis shunt..
I now use my experience to keep realities and keep my weight undercontrol.. I also get more respect from clients when I flash my before photo..
They feel less inclined to argue nutrition when they know have large I have been, I get more questions about is this and that healthy..
The huge future problem I have experienced is fit runners with dements.. I am hoping more fit young men will enter the health industry, we need them to avoid frustration from these individual still wanting to hit the pavement lol..
Sometimes we get more out of them if they are allowed to do what feels natural.. When we try to hold brain damaged people back they get angry, and resentful and seek escape..
Many of my co-workers have not thought much about this issue, but lossing a dement man in front of a train has a person scratching their head other solutions are needed.. Report
Since my father suffered his first heart attack at age 47 and died in his 5th one at age 60, and my mother suffered a debilitating stroke at the age of 57, never regaining the use of her left side (she lived to age of 73), I have taken my blood pressure meds since in my 30's. I have taken cholesterol meds for a number of years, have one stent, take Plavix, but just recently had a lot of side effects from one of the statins. I am almost 76, have lost 50 lbs., eat very healthy foods and feel that I really don't want to take any more cholesterol lowering drugs. Any suggestions???
PS Always love to read about you and found this article very interesting. Report
Welcome Dr. Berdie. I am hoping to find out more about excersing for weight control and what type of excersise you recomend for women that are over 70 and suffer from Arthritis and cronic pain.
can you make that a priority on your blog. Report
After reading your blog, all I could say was "little" Birdie told me" and smile! Welcome to the Spark Team! Report
Welcome!! Congratulations to both you & your husband on your amazing weight loss. I'm really looking forward to reading your blogs. Report
Thanks for your story and your advice, Birdie and...
WOW! Great to have you on board. I would like to hear more about Lovaza or fish oil for controlling cholesterol. I would like to be off the lovaza and use the sp diet for cholesterol control, but should I wait until my weight is lower or just plug along. I hope this is a blog you will start sometime in the future. Report
I introduced my family doc (of 20+ years) to Spark over five years ago and she has been recommending it to other of her patients for about four years now.

I have felt for a long time that recognized members of the medical community would someday be members of the Spark Leadership Team.

I have read your story and I think Spark is honored to have you to call on to straighten our thinking about some medical issues (I guess, as a neurologist, that is probably a layman's description of your job - to straighten the kinks in a patients brain so it can function effectively). Report
Great to have your example and expertise available here at Sparkpeople, Dr. Birdie! I look forward to learning from you. While reading your story, I had a thought: perhaps you could have an encouraging pamphlet showing your "before" and "after" photos to your patients, to show what is indeed possible. If an incredibly-busy mom/wife/physician can do it, others have no excuse! Report
I love that you are a leader by example, thank you for inspiring me! Report
Welcome Dr. Birdie!
I'm sure you are an inspiration to your patients and others! I am having back surgery on Thursday for a herniated disc. I'm hoping everyone here at sparkpeople will keep me in their prayers and well wishes.

As far as medical advice for us sparkpeople, I hope you can give some tips to us about high cholesterol. I have it, but don't want to use statins because of side effects.

Thank you! Report
Welcome! You are a wonderful addition to the SparkPeople staff. I look forward to your articles. Report
awesome birdie!!! thanks for helping out here in spark world, my wife and i have also are on spark, we have been here since 2008. i believe that spark has added years to our lives, especially my wife with her autoimmune issues, primarily POTS.
i look forward to learning from you. Report
Welcome Dr. Birdie! I look forward to the valuable information you will be sharing with us. Congratulations on being with us professionally and personally. And congratulations on your wonderful success with your, and your family's, lifestyle change. What a great role model you are to the many people you encounter daily, in all areas of your life. Great job!! Report
Stroke symptoms are different for both men and women. Would you please use one of your blogs to describe symptoms along with suggestions on how to avoid a stroke.
It is wonderful the SparkPeople has brought you on board to assist us with medical conditions from all perspectives. Report
I'm so excited to have you as a resource! Thank you Dr. Birdie and thank you Spark People! I have a close friend whose recent MRI revealed that she has had two strokes recently (she had the MRI as a routine followup, I think, because she had a benign tumor removed from her brain several years back). Anyway, they have run a battery of tests on her and are not finding the results they anticipated ... she seems very healthy. Bottom line is that I'm going to let her know about your blogs. Thanks again ... and congratulations on your successful transition to a healthy lifestyle! WooHoo! Report
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