In December 2007, Howard Hightower’s cardiologist summoned him into his office and began reeling off a long list of ailments and treatments.
High cholesterol and blood pressure. Diabetes. Heart surgeries. Sleep apnea and more.
“He basically said we’re ignoring the 300-pound gorilla in the room,” Hightower recalled. “He said, ‘If you don’t do something about your weight, you’re going to die.’ He was that blunt.”
At home that night, Hightower, who then tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds, stepped outside and prayed. At lunch the next day, he planned on eating at Subway, a step toward a healthier diet, but for some reason decided to drive to Forsyth Road to give Firehouse Subs a try.
There, he spotted Metabolic Research Center, and he recalled thinking the shopping center was an odd place for a laboratory. Back at his insurance office, he Googled the name and learned it was a weight-loss center.
Eight months later — after one last splurge of fried pork chops and other New Year’s Day fixings, High-tower had shed more than 100 pounds. And he’s kept it off, thanks, he says, to the maintenance programs at Metabolic Research.
“It was divine intervention,” he says.
Last fall, Hightower slipped into the military uniform he wore home from Vietnam in 1967.
“All four buttons were buttoned.”
Plans catered to the individual
The Macon location is one of more than 100 Metabolic Research Centers, most of them in the South. The company stresses weight-loss approaches that use nutritional guidance, behavior modification and personal guidance, not fad diets.
“There are a lot of different weight-loss companies,” said Ginger Rodgers, manager of the Macon center. “A lot of them consist of either their food or a liquid diet. Ours is not like that at all.”
The program starts with a free consultation for a health profile analysis.
“That way we can see if they have any health issues,” said Rodgers. “And if they do, then we make a program that’s designed to their special needs.”
According to Rodgers and the company’s Web site — www.emetabolic.com — costs are based on a client’s individual needs. Some clients’ insurance might cover some costs under “medical necessity,” the Web site states.
Programs focus on encouraging healthy eating choices from all four food groups. There is no counting points or calories. The company carries a line of supplements and other products, but they do not have to be in the individual plans, Rodgers explained.
“We design it to their lifestyle,” she said. “They can eat out. They can cook at home. They do drink our high-nutrition supplement drink, which is the heart of the program.
“They can purchase meal bars and meal replacement shakes, but they don’t have to. What we do is teach them how to get back to eating in a healthy way, instead of trying to control their portions, and how to get away from the things they used to eat.”
The company’s Meta-Kidz program, which is relatively new to Macon, is targeting children before they get too entrenched in unhealthy habits.
“In the USA, the children that we are raising now will not outlive their parents because of the obesity rate,” Rodgers said. “The young adults who are overweight now, once they get in their freshmen year of college, they normally gain 15 pounds or more. They’re the next generation. It’s hard to see the kids who are so overweight. They just don’t have a chance.”
Thumbs up from clients
Some of the company’s more glowing testimonials come from former clients who are now employees.
Nikki West says she lost 55 pounds, and now shops for clothing in the juniors section.
Patsy Worley, who lost 15 pounds, says the program helped her regain strength and health following colon surgery and a debilitating bout with shingles.
“I couldn’t walk,” she said. “The herbs and vitamins really helped me. I knew from tests (in the hospital) that my body was deficient in a lot of minerals.”
Another thing that sets the program apart, they said, is the one-on-one counseling and support given to clients, which continues through stabilization and maintenance phases.
“It’s a personal relationship between us and the client,” said Sundy Soloman, who discovered Metabolic Research on the Internet and lost 36 pounds in two years.
Speaking as a client and employee, she said the program’s strong suits are “support, education, accountability and motivation.”
The maintenance phase of the program, Rodgers said, is free for one year after clients reach their goals.
“They can come in here anytime to see us,” she said. “They can still have one-on-ones with us. We can still keep track of them, which is good because some people need that accountability.”
Hightower said he enjoys stopping by to inspire other clients.
“I love to see the people. It’s so rewarding to let them know that it can be done.”
Clients are encouraged to begin exercising. For Hightower, that meant gradually working his way up to walking an hour a day, three to four times a week, but only after he had dropped his first 20 pounds.
“At 302 pounds, you don’t exercise,” he said.
Hightower took “all-natural vitamins,” including the heart supplement CoQ-10, vitamins B-12 and B-6, folic acid and flaxseed oil. He also took a supplement to speed metabolism and drank the company’s protein drink.
He eats out but often asks that cooks hold or change the sauce on some entrees. He even has a healthy wrap named after him at a local Waffle House.
“I’ve found out that restaurants will cooperate with you,” he said.
Hightower said he’s cut his medications in half. He no longer suffers from sleep apnea, and his diabetes is under control without medication.
The guidance and accountability from his follow-up visits have been helpful, he said. And a healthy dose of self-control hasn’t hurt, either.
“I don’t reward myself with KFC or a Peanut Buster Parfait.”
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.