Mark Sanna, DC, ACRB Level II, FICC

Providing patients with a weight-loss program is a natural in a chiropractic practice.  As chiropractors, we are well aware of the detrimental effects on the spine and joints that result from carrying extra weight. If we desire to approach health from a holistic perspective, not addressing necessary weight loss is sending patients an inconsistent message.

What Is Your Niche? 

A recent survey asked chiropractic patients what they wanted from their chiropractors that they weren’t getting.  The top response was advice on weight loss.  The survey also revealed that it was also the number one service that chiropractors felt that they didn’t want to do because they felt it was too complicated and that the success rate was very poor. This gap between supply and demand provides chiropractors with a niche that offers significant opportunity to provide a needed and wanted service that can significantly increase the profitability of their practices.

Most people believe that the secret to losing weight is to have your intake of calories be less than the calories you expend. Weight loss is a more complex process involving issues of self-esteem, body chemistry, genetics, exercise, and lifestyle choices. Providing patients with a way to jump start their weight loss is the best way to introduce a weight-loss program that helps provide patients with the motivation they need to make long-lasting lifestyle changes that support long-term weight loss.

Breaking the Cycle of Addiction

You can help patients break the cycle of unhealthy calorie craving and the chronic inflammation that results from the consumption of unhealthy calories, by providing them with a detoxification program that will help break their addiction to the Big Macs, french fries and Mountain Dews that promote weight gain. There are several excellent jump-starting detoxification programs offered by reputable manufacturers of nutritional supplements that service the chiropractic profession. They typically involve a brief period of meal-replacing shakes and anti-inflammatory nutritional supplements followed by the reintroduction of healthy eating of whole foods. They are simple to instruct, easy to follow and produce consistent results.

This approach to weight loss quickly breaks the cycle of junk food addiction and begins cravings for food that is healthy for the body. The typical weight loss produced by the detoxification approach is between 8 and 10 pounds during the first week of the program. This is due to the decrease in fluid retention caused by chronic inflammation. These results are significant in the eyes of patients as their clothes fit better, their energy increases and they begin receiving positive reinforcement from friends and family that notice their weight loss.

Inflammation: the Silent Killer

Inflammation at the cellular level leads to many chronic health conditions. These conditions not only include aches and pains but also heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  The first phase of a detoxification program is directed at getting rid of that inflammation. This is one of the reasons patients lose weight so quickly. It is also the first step to resetting the body’s chemistry and reprogramming new healthy eating habits. You can help patients maintain their initial weight loss by teaching them which foods are anti-inflammatory, such as fish, lean meats and green vegetables and avoiding pro-inflammatory foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes and refined carbohydrates.

Keep it Simple

Keep your message simple. Tell every single patient that walks in your door, “You’ve got to move right and you’ve got to eat right and the better you do those two things, the healthier you’re going to be.” Deflaming, getting rid of chronic inflammation, is about long-term health. As a chiropractor, this becomes your focus with patients—not weight loss. Most patients will benefit immediately from weight loss, however, your goal is to shift their mindsets that it’s not about their weight—it’s about their long-term health. This changes the conversation from weight loss being an add-on to an integral part of your practice and your patients’ good health.

Address weight loss early on in your treatment protocol in the first weeks of care. Utilize a Case Management Flow Sheet to keep track of your initial weight-loss visit and to schedule your follow-up weigh-ins and measurements. Use the assessment tools that work the best for you and that you are most comfortable with. Some practices use high-tech equipment to measure BMI and body fat. Most people don’t relate to these measurements. It’s best to keep it simple and low-tech. People want to lose weight and what they care about are pounds and inches. Weigh them and measure them at key areas from top to bottom. At times, patients may not lose a lot of weight but they will lose a lot of inches and will still be very pleased with their results.

Provide your patients with step-by-step instructions for what they can expect from your program. Give them a list of pro- and anti-inflammatory foods so that they can learn to make healthy choices. Rarely, if ever, will a patient follow a weight-loss program perfectly. It’s human nature to slip back into old habits. When a patient falls off the wagon and eats the hors d’oeuvres and white cake at a friend’s wedding, let them know that it’s okay. They can reset their body with a mini-detox that will not only take off the pound that they put on over the weekend but will take off another pound so that they’ll be down a pound rather than up a pound by the end of the week. Weight loss is a lifetime process that includes fluctuations up and down. The goal is to keep the fluctuations from becoming too wide and the course corrections quick.

Don’t Go It Alone

You will most likely find that you obtain the easiest results with patients who have weighed less in the past than they do now due to weight gain. They want to get back to the weight they used to be and they will make up the largest number of patients in your program. The more challenging patients are those who have been chronically obese. They have never been thin in their entire lives and may weigh 300, 400 or even 500 pounds. You can still achieve results with them, but they should not be the focus of the type of weight-loss program we are discussing. They may require a greater level of professional attention than you are equipped to offer.

You can improve the long-term success of all patients by having them be accountable to another person or group of people. Follow the Weight Watchers™ model and hold a weekly group weigh-in and a brief class on healthy eating. This provides attendees the opportunity to be acknowledged for their wins and to receive support for their challenges in front of their peers. If holding a weekly group meeting is a time commitment that you are unwilling to commit to, there are other ways to provide your patients with the support of an accountability partner.

Modifying your diet is much easier if your spouse or significant other is in alignment with your goals. Research shows that placing husbands and wives on a weight-loss program magnifies the probability of success 200-fold. The failure rate of someone losing weight on their own and keeping it off for one year is 98%. You can help patients avoid this by asking them if their spouse, family member or a friend would like to be on the program together with them. Having a partner is good for the patient and good for your practice as it doubles the number of people on your program. There are some practices where the doctor and the entire practice team join a group of patients on their New Year’s weight-loss program. This creates an atmosphere of community as everyone is going through the experience at the same time and seeing the results together as well. Create a weight-loss challenge between your practice team and your patients and celebrate the most weight lost with a prize for the winners. You and your practice team can play the role of the accountability partner for your patients!

The Role of Your Practice Team

The goal is to keep the doctor busy treating patients. You can help to accomplish this by delegating the weighing and measuring of patients to support staff members. It is important for your staff to be familiar with your weight-loss program and the products that you are recommending to patients. The best approach is to have the doctor and every member of your practice team implement your weight-loss program before you introduce it to your patients. In this way, they’ll know exactly what patients will experience. When your staff can share their own wins and losses, they can help encourage and motivate patients to follow through with the program. When both the doctor and practice team members are in good physical shape, it sends a powerful message to patients that you are congruent with the recommendations you are making for their weight loss and overall health. In other words, you walk your talk.

Most weight-loss product manufacturers will provide you with educational posters and brochures to display in your reception room and in strategic locations throughout your practice. These materials can serve as conversation starters between your patients and your practice team. Don’t be surprised that once a conversation about weight loss and the results you and your staff have experienced with your program begins, it spreads like wildfire. When one person shares their success story it won’t be long before those who overhear the conversation are asking to learn more about your program. People love to talk about their success with weight loss and everyone has five to ten pounds that they’d love to lose. Be sure to provide your patients with regular words of affirmation. Acknowledge how well they are doing and compliment them on how good they look from following your program.

Marketing Weight Loss to Your Community

One of the most important tools for marketing your weight-loss program is a high-quality website. And to be sure to optimize your position on the major search engines. Every single day, dozens of potential weight-loss patients in your hometown are Googling “weight-loss.” You may not outrank Weight Watchers™ or Jenny Craig™ but, you want to show up organically as close to the top of the search results as possible.

There are many companies that can help you with search engine optimization. You can organically increase your search position on your own by constantly including updated content on your website. This includes adding a blog to your website and by posting articles and videos on your homepage. HIPAA-compliant patient testimonial videos are highly effective at increasing your ranking as people spend a longer time on your site when they are engaged with a video. While most of your weight-loss patients will come from referrals, you will be amazed at the number who when asked how they found you will respond, “I Googled you!”

Marketing your weight-loss program attracts people that might not normally think of coming to a chiropractic practice. When people have the opportunity to experience your practice and the care and attention you take with them in your weight-loss program, they will often inquire about the other services you provide. This is your opportunity to have the conversation with them that connects the dots between weight loss, lifetime health, and chiropractic.

Seasonal Marketing to Pump It Up

In many practices located in colder climates, the new year often brings a dip in patient volume. Inclement weather, new deductibles and wallets lighter after holiday spending can put the squeeze on the flow of patients through your front door. On the other hand, January is the month of New Year’s resolutions. After packing on the pounds from Thanksgiving through Christmas, the most common New Year’s resolution is to get back in shape! To maximize the impact of your New Year’s weight-loss marketing promotions requires preparing one or two months in advance. With the right preparation, January and February can be some of your best practice months of the year.

Mail a letter or postcard to all of your patients letting them know that you have the solution to their weight-loss resolution. Ramp up your social media posts with messaging around the New Year’s resolution weight-loss theme. Post some videos of patients satisfied with the ease and speed that they attained the results they desired with your program. You’ll notice that the big players like Weight Watchers™ double up on their television advertising budgets during the holiday season. If you have a magazine or newspaper with a local circulation, this is one of the best times of the year for you to advertise your weight-loss program.

You can use an email program such as Constant Contact® or MailChimp to send a monthly inspirational and educational newsletter to your weight-loss program members. Include some healthy recipes and tips for how to make the right food choices while shopping and dining in restaurants. Feature a patient success story and interesting news items. This will keep patients thinking about your practice throughout the year.

Weight Loss as a Profit Center

Weight loss can become an excellent profit center for your practice. When patients do well with your program, they are going to return to purchase your products and supplements, and they’re going to get their chiropractic adjustments. They also tend to be excellent sources of new patients referrals. If a patient doesn’t get the big idea about how chiropractic should be a part of everyone’s health care, they can return to your practice only to purchase your weight loss products and supplements. This keeps them connected to your practice and to a healthy chiropractic environment on a regular basis.

Some weight-loss product manufacturers drop ship product directly to patients.  There are others that have you stock the product. It is always preferable for you to have an inventory of product on hand. There’s an old saying that goes, “You cannot sell from an empty cart.” Having an inventory of product lets patients know that when they run out, they can drop into your practice to make a quick purchase. This increases foot traffic to your practice as patients come in to make a purchase when they may not be scheduled for an adjustment. It provides you the opportunity to connect with the patient and make a positive impression. When it’s time for them to receive chiropractic care, yours is the first practice that will come to the top of their minds.

At a low office visit fee of $50 and a treatment plan of 30 visits, a chiropractic patient could generate $1,500 for your practice. The average weight-loss program will cost a patient approximately $150 a month for a year-long program. This brings the value of a patient who benefits from both your weight loss program and chiropractic care to $3,500. If you attract only two of these patients a week to your practice, that’s an extra $7,000 a week. You easily add over $100,000 in cash services to your practice by adding the weight-loss niche and still be a highly effective chiropractor at the same time.