The Doctor for Life building, which opened several months ago on Tanner Road, might look like just about any other doctor’s clinic from the outside, but what’s inside is an entirely different world.
The clinic contains a fitness and weights room with a separate lap pool, offices for private behavioral counseling and meetings with a dietitian and a showcase kitchen with observation tables arranged in stadium seating. Patients, and anyone who cares to have breakfast, lunch or dinner there, can watch a professional chef do his magic with vegetables that were grown in the lot behind the building.
“We have a facility where we have a complete service to offer patients,” says Dr. Cheryl Sarmiento, medical director and co-owner of Doctor for Life. An internal medicine physician, Sarmiento has had a subspecialty in obesity for more than 20 years.
Doctor for Life’s Sarmiento and her husband and business partner, Dr. Emmanuel Sarmiento, started the business after years of frustration with their limitations in treating patients with heart disease, diabetes, strokes and cancer. “The common denominator is carrying extra weight and obesity, and there’s no one place to take care of these people,” he says.
The concept is similar to university-based weight loss clinics nationwide, including the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina and the Duke Diet & Fitness Center at Duke University. It’s also similar to some private clinics, such as the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, which provides medical weight-loss services on-site and fitness at a nearby aerobics site.
A chief obstacle to treating obese adults is stigma. People are intimidated by visiting gyms, in which many members look young, healthy or like body-builders, the Sarmientos say.
“So we make this facility like a home environment,” Cheryl says.
The clinic’s pool serves as a bridge to a physical lifestyle change.
“So if you’re a beginner at exercise, you can start with the pool,” she says. “The kitchen is designed like a home kitchen, and we teach them how to cook healthy food.”
The philosophy behind Doctor for Life is that good health is a journey, not a destination.
“It’s a journey where we hold our patients’ hands in the beginning,” she says. “The goal really is for them to be independent and take care of themselves and not depend on doctors or medications.”
This doctor-guided, patient-centered care model is aimed at helping patients lose weight and get off as many medications as possible, says Emmanuel, who is an allergist and chief executive officer of the business.
One of the keys to weight loss is to eat portion-controlled, healthy foods. Since this is a major challenge for many people, the clinic has executive chef Rodney Foster make such meals and teach people how to do it themselves. Foster, who also is the chief operations officer, owned Slate Restaurant in Atlanta before moving to Greenville.
The clinic’s 0.25-acre “healthy farm” garden grows yellow onions, collards, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips, Swiss chard, arugula, kale and a dozen other vegetables.
One of Foster’s recent lunch items was a five-spice turkey and lettuce wrap, made with fresh ginger. It’s served with chili-garlic sauce and rice vinegar, and its total calories equal 276.
Doctor for Life has state-of-art equipment to pinpoint precisely a person’s body composition. This assessment, along with an individualized health assessment, a culinary lab experience and a personalized exercise plan, are included in a 30-day First Step program.
For people who do not want to cook or would like help with some meals each week, the clinic offers the option of buying meals for the week, with prices around $5-10 per meal.
Visiting the clinic is like an a la carte buffet where you pay for what you use. Some patients might only see the doctor, in which their visit is covered by insurance. Others might want a gym membership with personal trainers available to assist. For overweight patients who would like a mental boost to their willpower, there is a behavioral counselor available, Emmanuel says.
“The most important thing is we have a team approach,” he explains. “We have a team of professionals, working with you in a homey place where you can feel safe.”