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Married doctors walk the walk of major weight loss

The slimmed-down Francis and Margaret Mercado with their two children, after their intensive weight-loss program.Like many people who struggle with weight their entire lives, Francis Mercado has tried different things through the years but always gained back the weight he lost. But when he stepped on a scale at a relative’s home in April 2011 and watched the needle inch past 290, he couldn’t believe it.

“I thought it was broken,” he said.

When he realized it wasn’t, he decided “enough was enough.”

Mercado had the perfect partner to help him lose weight — his wife, Margaret, who’s also steadily gained weight, especially after giving birth to their two children. The Gig Harbor couple had an added incentive: Both are physicians with Franciscan Medical Group, Francis in internal medicine in Gig Harbor and Margaret in family practice at the Port Orchard clinic.

“We’ve been giving counseling to others and we wanted to be more credible,” Francis said.

Francis and Margaret Mercado, both doctors with Franciscan Medical Group, before they began an intensive weight-loss program.The couple, who gained a lot of their weight during medical residency in Ohio, decided to use the traditional route of diet and exercise. But instead of following restrictive diets like Atkins or hCG (a current trend, based on certain hormones), they started counting calories and eliminating major offenders like chips and sweets.

To boost things, the couple created a competition with each other. Whoever lost the highest percentage of body weight for the month got a reward. “It got pretty competitive,” he said. “We became fairly strict and obsessive-compulsive about it.”

Margaret was in charge of shopping and helped keep her husband in check by not buying baked goods (his weakness). Their diet overhaul included eating more vegetables, both steamed and in salads, and lean, grilled meats. They kept track of calories with a free app called MyFitnessPal. Eventually, they started measuring their carbohydrate intake and limited them as well.

Previously leading a sedentary lifestyle, the Mercados eased into exercise, working their way up to at least 30 minutes every day. They swapped dinner dates for exercise dates and added a second television set in the living room so they could follow the P90X program while their two young kids were entertained.

Within 18 months of their decision, the pair had lost nearly 200 pounds together. Francis met his goal of 100 pounds, while Margaret, who originally was happy to lose 30, lost about 75. He no longer has to take cholesterol medication (after his LDL went from 190 to 86) and she no longer has back pain when playing with their kids, who are now 2 and 4. And most importantly, both have been an inspiration to their patients.

“It is a personal testament that it’s doable. You just have to be motivated,” Margaret said.

Motivation is a big factor in losing weight and the Mercados acknowledge that doing it together made it more effective. Francis recommends having a weight-loss buddy who can help with accountability, and said it’s especially a good idea to recruit the spouse, even if he or she doesn’t need to lose weight.

Besides adjusting their taste buds to different foods (“I hated salads but I can eat them every day now,” Francis said), time was the biggest challenge, especially for busy mom Margaret. “I felt guilty at first doing the exercise,” she said. “And that’s what most of my patients say: ‘I don’t have time.’”

She has since figured out how to fit it in as small sessions in between playing and talking with the kids, and she also looks for other ways to exercise, like hiking.

With their goal now to maintain their healthy weight, the two doctors are still very much keeping each other on track. And since they know firsthand about the many health risks caused by being overweight, they’re happy about their new lifestyles — as well as happy to be role models for patients.

“I have a patient who got off insulin after losing weight and another is off diabetes medication,” Francis said. “It’s rewarding to have patients thank you for inspiring them.”

Tips from Drs. Francis and Margaret Mercado on losing weight

  • Know everything you eat and keep close track of calories and carbs; use free online or smartphone apps.
  • Set realistic goals and start small.
  • Figure out your calorie intake and decrease it by 10 percent; if you don’t lose weight, cut another 10 percent. Keep adjusting until you start losing 1-2 pounds a week.
  • Be accountable to a weight-loss buddy.
  • Avoid your nemesis foods when you shop for groceries. Pack up on vegetables and lean meats.
  • Avoid liquid calories — a Frappuccino can have as many as 600 calories, or the equivalent of an entire lunch. Eat something that’s filling instead.
  • See your physician before starting a regimen, especially if you have heart disease, diabetes or hypertension.
  • Talk to your physician before taking any weight-loss supplements.


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