It’s tempting to start the new year with an all-out push to lose weight.

For 2022, Nia Zalamea, MD, a general surgeon at Regional One Health, suggests a different approach: build a relationship with a health care provider to make steady, meaningful lifestyle improvements that result in lasting weight loss.

“The holidays are a challenging time emotionally, whether it’s feeling loss more acutely or the stress of social expectations. Then, we follow it up with one of the most self-pressuring events – New Year’s Resolutions,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder, Dr. Zalamea said.

“Hopefully, these past couple of years have taught us to give ourselves grace. Rather than try to force our bodies or lives to look a certain way, we need to explore these issues, and that is best handled within a good relationship with a primary care provider.”

Dr. Zalamea often sees patients who sought help due to the onset of symptoms and haven’t been to a doctor in years. Along with providing surgery and screening to address acute illness, she helps them connect with primary care to manage chronic conditions and prevent complications.

Your provider can do lab work and other tests to identify precisely what you need to work on to lose weight and improve your health. Dr. Zalamea described a “triple whammy” of diagnoses most commonly related to weight: hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

From there, she cautions patients not to expect a quick fix. “Rather than a crash course or boot camp, think about your goals and talk with your provider,” she said. “Look at that relationship as a protected space where you can get safe advice and accountability.”

Dr. Zalamea takes a “triage” approach: “I look at what’s life-threatening or lifestyle-threatening and treat that first.” That often means medication to get patients stable enough to exercise, make dietary changes, or undergo surgery. Once acute needs are under control and her patient feels better, “Then we can prescribe exercise or visits with a dietician.”

Bottom line, Dr. Zalamea encourages patients who want to make a change to take action…just not dramatic action. “The first step is to make the appointment. That’s 90 percent of the battle. It isn’t like any other year, and it’s still ongoing. Give yourself time and space.”

Expect your provider to do the same. Doctors became more flexible to connect with patients during the pandemic, using telehealth and phone calls rather than always requiring office visits. If that’s something you need due to COVID-19 concerns, work, or family commitments, just ask.

“The pandemic taught us to meet people where they are,” Dr. Zalamea said. “Communicate your needs and ask to schedule phone calls between office visits. We want to maintain connectivity so we can provide guidance and so patients don’t feel alone as they navigate their health issues.”

To connect with a primary care provider at Regional One Health who can help you get on track to a healthier you, visit

Nia Zalamea, MD is a board-certified general surgeon at Regional One Health. She earned her medical degree at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City and completed an internship and residency in general surgery at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California.