Two-thirds of the people in this country are either overweight or obese, says Leah Whigham.

Whigham, executive director of the Paso Del Norte Institute for Healthy Living, has a degree in biochemistry and Ph.D. in nutritional sciences. In her 15-year career she has focused on obesity, nutrition and weight loss.

“It’s hard to say as a scientist what specially causes obesity, because there are over 100 contributing factors,” Whigham said, pointing to issues such as disordered eating, stress, heightened hunger response and age-related changes.

When she adds factors like genetics, viruses, pregnancy, physical and mental disabilities, chronic inflammation, or just more eating of larger food portions – you’ll see why she stressed how obesity cannot be pegged to just a single source.

Benefits of healthy eating and physical activity may seem like common sense but can be hard to stick to.

Whigham said she’s not surprised that there’s a demand for help. A number of health centers focused on diet, nutrition and fitness are popping up around El Paso and building clientele.

Common sense

El Paso-based BioMetrix on Sunland Park Drive teaches food intake balance to help clients understand and deal with obesity and heart disease. How too much of a good thing might actually be too much of a bad thing, the benefits of proper eating and hormone-replacement therapy, for example.

CEO and franchisor Alexander Frank Catucci, 50, says his company offers comprehensive lab testing to determine each person’s physiological makeup.

The company says it can improve the overall quality of your life through hormone balance, nutritional education and guidance, exercise, supplementation and age management therapies.

Catucci says that more than anything, common sense should dictate what we eat and what we don’t eat.

But the problem is getting people to apply common sense, and, people being people anyway, well, it’s no surprise how cravings easily can overpower common sense.

Changing behavior, particularly food cravings and lifestyle choices, is difficult. Catucci has heard all the excuses you can imagine.

“Changing their minds can be tough,” he agrees. “Nobody can be 100-percent compliant. We hear people say, ‘I just can’t stop eating it.’”

Which is a popular way of saying that this or that particular body hormone is addicted to it. Hormones control brains, brains control food preferences.

Catucci, a nutritionist and master personnel trainer who has lived in El Paso for 20 years, hates sugar. He says processed sugar should be banned from our diets. The seductive, hormone-controlling, fat-creating, taste-satisfying carbohydrate is one of the worst things ever foisted on our bodies.

“We’re a carbs- and sugar-induced society,” he says. “Sugar’s not in everything, but it all gets turned to sugar through the amount of prepackaged foods we eat. Nobody cooks anymore.”

BioMetrix has seen its share of success stories. Catucci has one client who dropped 240 pounds in 14 months. His clients range in age from their 20s up to their 80s.

“I love to help people change their lives,” he admits. “And I like being part of a team.”

He’s also convinced that this is his mission in life.

“We’re trying to help people avoid being 80 years old and decrepit,” he adds.

Doctor weighs in

Dr. Juan R. Perez, M.D., runs a family practice on the Westside. In El Paso since 2004, he started working with a company called California Medical Weight Management last year after noting the weight issues of many El Pasoans.

Perez often hears two common phrases: I just can’t lose weight, and what can I do to lose weight?

Health evaluations are part of the program, followed by Perez’s advice on changes to diet with an emphasis on a controlled weight-loss program.

“We also provide information on nutritional supplements, multivitamins, and the importance of fiber and protein intake,” he adds.

Perez points out that medical treatments for weight problems can be expensive. One injectable weight-loss medication can cost as much as $300 to $1,000 a month.

And there’s a weight-loss medicine pill that can run from $200 to $300 a month.

“Probably 50 percent of insurance companies won’t cover weight-loss management,” he says. “It’s expensive; insurance companies might go along or might not.”

Positive reinforcement is a key part of what the California program offers patients – people need to have a weight-loss goal and see that they ARE losing weight.

Monitoring to make sure people are eating fewer carbs is equally important.

Perez is at the California program office on Thunderbird Drive twice a week to see patients taking part in it. About 60 are participating.

He’s pleasantly surprised by the progress he’s seeing, but admits doctors can only do so much. His patients have to want to change their diets and lifestyles.

Perez, 43, knows he must be nice but truthful.

“With our lifestyles and schedules so crazy, it’s hard to set a schedule and stick to it,” he admits. “But this program helps them get started.”

Stress triggers and detox

David Wardy offers a Wellness Nutrition and Weight Loss program at his Westside chiropractic office. He believes new thinking is rapidly overtaking the curriculum that nutritionists and dieticians trained on in the past.

“There’s just so much new information, and it’s science based,” Wardy says.

Most of what he uses when assessing patients with weight-loss/proper nutrition problems is based on stress evaluation, noting that there are three kinds of stress: physical, mental/emotional and biochemical.

Though chiropractors manipulate the spine to treat patients, Wardy says his task is to figure out what kind of stress caused the problem.

Yes, certain kinds of stress can make your vertebrae get misaligned. And some foods, particularly those laced with additives and chemicals, hit you with biochemical stress.

“I’d check your diet and all your food intake,” he says, noting that everything in your prepackaged chow contains a “toxic load.’

This stress is not always physical – it can be mental. And it drives inflammation. These are things, he says, that people don’t usually think about.

Wardy has no more use for packaged food than Catucci. And just like Catucci, he hates sugar.

“People can make themselves sick by their lifestyle decisions,” Wardy notes. “When man messes with it, don’t eat it. If it comes from God, it’s OK.”

His wellness clinic teaches patients, ranging in age from 16 to 65-plus, how to deal with the toxicity of the foods they eat. He calls it compliance.

If Wardy ran the world, he’d eliminate all genetically engineered food and get rid of all toxins, and he’d start educating people on the dangers of such food from the get-go.

And while the toxic load in most foods is likely here for good, Wardy believes he can at least help decrease it.