Finding Strength in Numbers for Lifestyle Changes


New group classes at the Raby Institute offer patients new tools to impact chronic disease


Chicago resident Sharon Fierro has never liked taking medications, preferring instead to manage her health as naturally as possible. But at her annual physical last year, lab tests showed that she had elevated blood pressure and cholesterol. Chronic headaches were infringing on her daily life, too.


Her doctor, Raby Institute founder Theri Griego Raby, MD, ABHM, recommended that Sharon join the new group classes taking place weekly at the Raby Institute. Naturopath Kathy Chavez, ND, and Nurse Practitioner Sejal Gehani, NP, run the sessions, which focus on chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.


"I was really excited. [The group visit approach] is really unique. You go for your annual physical and want to do things to get better, but without specific attention and ongoing support, it's challenging," Sharon says.


Strength in Numbers


That sentiment captures the reason why the Raby Institute began offering the group sessions.


Too often, visiting a doctor for a standard appointment provides only a temporary fix, Dr. Chavez explains. "You feel inspired for a couple of days. Then you go back to your old lifestyle. The support piece and accountability of these group visits is where patients get the most benefit."


That approach worked well for Sharon, who says she noticed an improvement in her energy levels and how she felt early on. "It was really helpful to have the support. It's great to have the energy and motivation from the others. It's an accountability thing."


Sharon isn't alone in feeling that way. Studies show that when people are making lifestyle changes, being in a group has a major impact.


"When people have a sense of community, they feel more obliged, supported, and competitive with others. It becomes more a part of their awareness-like going to church, a book group, or school. If it's something you're doing on a regular basis, it's more in your mind," Dr. Chavez says.


For Sharon, the approach was powerful, and "the support around making these lifestyle changes was awesome."


Small Changes, Big Impact


Seeing results within weeks, Sharon says she has lost weight and inches, as well as lowered her blood pressure and cholesterol. The sessions also encouraged her to go gluten-free, and within two weeks she says the daily headaches that had challenged her for two years disappeared.


Each session in the six-week group visits focuses on a different topic. Topics include:
• Nutrition
• Exercise
• Supplementation
• Stress management


The main issue, Dr. Chavez explains, is that "we are such creatures of habit that we don't even care what we're doing sometimes. We just do it because we've always done it. Simple changes in our lifestyle can make dramatic changes in our health."


Sharon returned to the sessions each week, saying, "Each time, there was something different to learn, another level to take it. I kept getting more and more good ideas."


On Her Own

With Sharon's first group class sessions over, she continues to make positive changes in her life on her own. Feeling better has motivated further positive lifestyle choices, and she says she finds support in her fitness instructors and friends.


The program, she adds, created "a whole new level of consistency to Dr. Raby's services and intentions." While many physicians tell their patients about the importance of diet and physical activity, the hands-on, integrative approach made a bigger impact for Sharon.


Through the sessions, she says she learned to move at her own pace and follow the flow of her own body. "It's not an all-or-nothing proposition," she says.


She set out to avoid medication, and she has done exactly that through diet, exercise, and a new outlook.


"It's a mind-body-spirit thing-not one or the other," Sharon says. "It's an awesome program, and I'm glad it's continuing. Dr. Chavez and Sejal are awesome to work with. They really care."


Questions about future group health classes? Want to sign up? Visit the group sessions webpage for the latest dates and times, or call the Raby Institute at (312) 276-1212.


"Without health, life is not life, life is lifeless."
- Ariphon the Sicyonian