SparkPeople Resident Medical Expert and Member

SparkPeople Resident Medical Expert Birdie Varnedore, M.D., is a neurologist, mother of five, and successful member. Board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in neurology and vascular neurology, she is a full-time neurologist at Florida Hospital in Winter Park, Florida. She also is a member of the hospitalís telemedicine stroke team and provides state-of-the-art stroke care to residents of the greater Orlando area.

Birdie, known as DR_BIRDIE on SparkPeople, has been a member of the site since 2007--just two weeks after starting her journey to lose more than 100 pounds. Birdie and her husband, Nick, found tremendous success using SparkPeople, losing 140 and 120 pounds, respectively! They have five young children. Birdie is currently navigating the challenges of being a full-time neurologist, wife, and mother all while maintaining a massive weight loss! Birdie attributes much of her success to SparkPeople and uses it as a tool for her patients who have been affected by the potentially life-threatening consequences of obesity.

Birdie has been recognized nationally for her weight-loss success with SparkPeople and was featured in People Magazine and Good Morning America in 2009. Most recently she was a featured weight-loss success story on Oprahís Ultimate Weight Loss Finale!

Birdie enjoys spending time with her family and has made leading a healthy lifestyle a part of her daily life. She incorporates activity into her daily living and makes exercise a priority. Since 2007, she has transformed her body through diet and exercise and has become passionate in helping others do the same.

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We Are Meant to Move: Why 'Dieting' Alone Doesn't Work

Did you know that you can lose weight without doing any exercise?  I’m sure you have heard about the concept of calories in versus calories out.  According to this principle, all you need to do is decrease your daily calorie intake to less than what you are burning per day and you will lose weight.  Is this correct? Technically, yes.  This is the foundation for every single "diet."   However, if you want to lose weight, look better, get healthy and keep it up, you have got to use your body as it was intended and start moving!

If you are overweight, you probably are not moving enough.  There is an ongoing debate about whether diet or exercise is more important in weight loss and management.  There are studies that support the role of calorie restriction as being more important for weight loss and there are others that support the greater role of exercise in determining pounds lost.  

So, which one is more important?  In my opinion they are answer equally important!  At SparkPeople, we place an equal emphasis on diet and exercise.  (Diet is defined as the food and drink that you are consuming on a daily basis, and that's the definition we use at SparkPeople.) But, I suspect that even on SparkPeople, there are large numbers of people who are losing weight with calorie restriction alone or who, at the very least, do not emphasize exercise enough.  I am here to tell you that this is a recipe for failure.  It may seem harsh, but I’ve got to give you some tough love and let you know that diet without exercise will likely not work in the long run to keep off your lost pounds.   

Posted 8/31/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 101 comments   62,026 views

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Don't Be Afraid to Talk to Your Doctor about Weight Loss

Have you ever felt like your doctor was judging you or made you feel ashamed of your weight? Do you avoid seeing your doctor or postpone seeking medical care because you are embarrassed about your weight or want to avoid a potential lecture about weight loss? 
Unfortunately your fears are not entirely unfounded.  Many studies have shown that medical professionals do in fact stereotype obese patients.  In September 2003, the journal Obesity Research (now called Obesity) published a study that revealed a weight bias among health professionals who work with obese patients.  These professionals “significantly endorsed the implicit stereotypes of lazy, stupid, and worthless” using a self-report questionnaire.  Not very comforting is it? 
Despite studies such as this one, it is important that you do not let your fears interfere with your medical care.  Lack of medical care in obese patients is a serious issue and can be harmful to your health.  Studies have shown that obese patients are less likely to receive preventative care.
Do you think correcting the perception of health professionals will fix the problem? Yes, it will help, but there is another side to this story.  Physicians are faced with the difficult task of potentially insulting a patient.  Words must be chosen carefully. Doctors fear that patients may feel insulted by the subject of weight loss even if they did their best to bring up the issue of weight with compassion. 
Because of these issues, the topic of weight loss frequently remains the pink elephant in the examination room and is addressed by no one.  The obese patient receives inadequate care and the physician may feel like it is a no-win situation to try to encourage weight loss. 
Physicians treat obesity-related conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes on a routine basis.  Many of these conditions can be prevented and/or controlled with diet and exercise alone.  Often, physicians place their patients on medications to control the disease process without addressing the root cause.
Many Americans see their physicians only when they are unwell.  They feel that if you walk out of the office without a prescription you have received inadequate care.  For example, if a patient presents with an upper respiratory tract infection (a cold) and you tell your patient that there is no indication for antibiotics because they have a virus (which antibiotics don’t treat) they usually leave unhappy and may even find another physician who is willing to prescribe the antibiotic. 
So instead of a lengthy dissertation about how and why antibiotics are prescribed or the risks associated with their overuse, many physicians give in to their patient’s misconceptions and write the prescription anyway.  They avoid an argument or disagreement, and they know this patient will feel more satisfied that the visit was a good one.
This fear is only one reason why weight loss and exercise are rarely discussed.  To make matters worse, studies show that a significant percentage of physicians actually feel inadequately trained to counsel patients about weight loss--myself included in my days before SparkPeople and my own weight-loss experience.

Posted 8/16/2011  2:00:00 PM By:   : 68 comments   60,636 views

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Confession: I Gained 10+ Pounds on a Cruise!

It's been more than four years since I started changing my life. I have lost well over 100 pounds and, for the most part, kept it off. The scale goes up and down sometimes, but all of the clothes in my closet still fit. How's that for consistency? I've been wearing the same pair of size 8 jeans for more than two years, and I'm committed to be part of that elusive "5% group"--people who not only lose the weight but keep it off long-term! But, I'm not perfect. In fact I'm far from it. I believe that one of the most important factors that separate success stories from false starters is the ability to reject the "all or none" attitude, which has the potential to end a healthy lifestyle. Still, rejecting that "all or none" attitude remains my greatest challenge. I’m still working on it, and I just had the opportunity to practice my skills.  My story is an example of what it looks like to reject the all or none attitude and to get back on track.

My family and I recently went on a seven-day cruise. I love to cruise. My first was in 2009, and we have done one every year since. So, that makes a total of three cruises where I have had the opportunity to practice what I preach when it comes to healthy living.

As we all know, cruises are notorious for having plentiful and delicious (but not always healthy) food. We also know the reputation that cruises have for overeating and weight gain. Every year I have committed to not becoming a cruise statistic.

Confession: This year, I did just what I promised myself I wouldn't do. I gained more than 10 pounds during my most recent cruise. Ten pounds! How can that be? I'm going to explain to you how and why it happened, but first I wanted to tell you a little about my previous two cruises and the lessons that I learned from them.

Posted 8/2/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 159 comments   121,071 views

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Dr. Birdie's Take on the 'Potato Chips Will Make You Fat' Study

You may have heard about yet another study that is trying to tell us that we have really bad habits that are making us fat.  It seems like just about every day, there is a new study about Americans and weight gain--some of which contradict each other!

This recent study was published by the New England Journal of Medicine last month, and I have seen and heard discussed in just about every news outlet and journal. 

One of the headlines that caught my attention was something like “Potato chips make you fat!” Many of the stories just list the particular foods that were singled out by the study as potential weight-gain culprits--without any explanation of the behaviors associated with those foods.  What most stories have failed to point out is that this study was not intended to be used as a guideline for weight loss. 

This study was an analysis of more than 100,000 adults who were not obese and who were otherwise healthy.  The analysis revealed that these adults gained an average of 0.8 pounds per year.  Lifestyle habits and weights were tracked every 4 years for 12 to 20 years.  Because they were not obese when the study began, the study was able to detect some lifestyle factors that were associated with greater weight gain.  Some particular food items were identified, which is what makes this study noteworthy. 

Remember that these patients were not obese when the study began so this study is better suited for discussing weight gain prevention rather than weight loss.  Seasoned SparkPeople members will find that they are already practicing the majority of these healthy habits and limiting (or eliminating) these foods. 

Here are some of the dietary choices that the study concluded are associated with weight gain over time:

Posted 7/20/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 26 comments   33,933 views

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Dr. Birdie's 10 Top Tips for Teaching Kids Healthy Habits

Childhood obesity is an epidemic.   According to the CDC, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years.  Children are now dealing with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint problems, fatty liver disease, gallstones, and heartburn--diseases that were once found mostly in adults.

Children who are overweight also face tremendous social and psychological problems, including  discrimination and low self-esteem, according to studies.  

And, in 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine announced that for the first time children are not expected to outlive their parents

One major obstacle in combating childhood obesity is denial.  Studies have provided the proof that when it comes to their children, parents are, in many cases, unable to see that there is a problem.  Parents are looking at their children with the belief that they are healthy, but sadly many are wrong. 

Despite the overwhelming evidence and our desire to help our children be healthy and happy, teaching our children healthy habits is not an easy task.   Parents are competing with peer pressure, mass media, and a decreasing emphasis on physical activity in schools. 

So, is there anything that you can do for your child?

Yes, of course. Today I'm going to share with you my top 10 tips, as a doctor and  a mother of five!

Posted 7/6/2011  6:00:00 AM By:   : 27 comments   25,495 views

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Welcome 'Dr. Birdie' to the dailySpark

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.

Posted 6/20/2011  10:00:00 PM By:   : 125 comments   23,550 views

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