Caught up in the grind of a weekly work schedule, a well-balanced diet and regular exercise may not be top priorities for the average Duke employee—the Duke Diet and Fitness Center aims to change that.

Since its start in Fall 2009, the Duke Employee Weight Loss Program has been conducting several four-week sessions per year to gear employees toward an overall healthier lifestyle, said Dina Lumia, client relations specialist for the Center, adding that more sessions have been added due to popular demand.

“The program is so comprehensive because we have the four different components: fitness, nutrition, medical and behavioral health,” said Sofia Rydin-Gray, assistant director of behavioral health for the program. “We work together in a whole-person approach.”

Overall, employees who have completed the program have been satisfied with the results.

“[This program] is necessary for anyone wanting to lose weight,” said program participant Corey Lyon, who works for network services in the Duke Consultation and Referral Center.

Lyon, who finished his session earlier this year, said he previously would go all day without eating breakfast and would grab lunch around 3 p.m. He added that compounding his eating habits, he was going though a period when he also was not exercising.

“After doing [the program] for four weeks, it set a precedent for me,” he said. “It has made a lasting impression and I continue fitness... and have changed my eating habits tremendously.”

During the program, participants are provided 40 meals, 20 after-work exercise sessions and 20 seminars on weight control and fitness, which are all provided by the Diet and Fitness Center. The program costs $650 per person, and participants must be cleared by their health care providers prior to the start of the session.

Although not provided with every meal over the four weeks, employees are taught skills in grocery shopping and creating a healthy eating environment, Lumia noted. The program also provides group fitness opportunities and classes on subjects such as stress, behavior health, hypertension and diabetes.

Still for many participants, including Lyon, motivation to regularly follow the provided diet and exercise was his biggest challenge.

Time commitment can be hard for employees, Lumia said, because the program requires them to devote their free time as well as some of their work time toward program activities. She added that, although not every participant gives 100 percent the entire time, it is still beneficial overall.

“People who are more consistent will probably have more weight loss and feel better,” Lumia said. “Even if they don’t come in every night, they are in a better place than they would have been without the program.”

The program also benefits Duke as an employer as well, Lumia said, noting that, when employees are more “preventative” and live healthier lifestyles, health care costs decrease and productivity in the workplace increases.

Since the first weight-loss session, Rydin-Gray said the sessions have not structurally changed much, though administrators are currently conducting a cumulative study that will record the data of the employees’ progress over the four-week period. The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board, she said.