Durham residential weight management facility treating the whole person amid pandemic

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Walking the grounds of Structure House you will find people hitting the gym, taking a group fitness class in the outdoor swimming pool, a wait staff serving a colorful meal in the dining room -- but this is no vacation.

"It's beautiful here; it's very comfortable, but we do serious work here," said Katie Rickel, licensed clinical psychologist and Structure House CEO.

The residential weight management facility with its 90 private apartments has been tucked away right off of 15-501 in Durham for decades, but in the last six weeks, Rickel said Structure House has stayed close to capacity; Rickel, seeing a boom in interest as people navigate the challenges of living in a pandemic.

"The three main triggers for overeating are stress, habit, and boredom," said Rickel. "And I can't think of what could encapsulate the pandemic more than that."

Rickel said at Structure House, where participants tend to stay anywhere from one to four weeks, people tend to lose between one and three percent of their initial body weight, but the program serves as a niche treatment where weight management and mental health intersect.

"People don't just come here if they wanna take off five pounds and go to a fitness retreat," she said. "They really come here when they're at a critical juncture in their life and basically they just become sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Dana Levitan will head home to northern Virginia this weekend after wrapping up her fourth week at Structure House.

"I was depressed," she said. "I am an emotional eater -- I binge, unfortunately -- I binged. I don't anymore."

Levitan, who has been serving as the primary caregiver for her aging mother who has dementia, also has a daughter who graduated high school and is starting college amid the pandemic.

"I don't think I had ever experienced such a low in my life as I did during COVID and as COVID wore on," she said. "I think you have to hit bottom before you do some drastic- something drastic to help yourself. And that's where I was."

The wife and mother said she has tried multiple different weight loss programs, but nothing has stuck until now.

"What they teach you here is to really be aware and be mindful of what you're doing and that's all it is," she said. "It's hard. But if you're aware you can totally change your behaviors."

In addition to the professionally prepared meals, team of dieticians, exercise physiologists, and life coaches that Structure House offers participants during their stay, Rickel said the cornerstone of the program is the food journal.

Graduates of the program can take the journal home and track their metrics and behavior, sending it back for feedback every two months, for free, for life.

"It's a support system that really you have for the rest of your life," said Levitan.
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