Over the course of 2019, Molly Janielis, 20, learned a lesson that many people learn much later in life – that change is possible for anyone if you put your mind to it.

A routine doctor’s appointment in early 2019 brought an unexpected shock. A blood sugar test revealed that Janielis, then 19, had prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than usual, but not high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. At the same time, Janielis was also diagnosed with severe obesity with persistent weight gain. She had tried multiple lifestyle changes in the past that resulted in weight loss initially, but then led to weight regain.

Molly Janielis in late 2019. Since starting her new healthy lifestyle, she has lots 80 lbs and is no longer considered to have prediabetes or obesity.

Janielis, a student at the Lawrence General Hospital School of Nursing, knew things had to change. After that routine appointment, Janielis saw Sonali Malhotra, MBBS, of the Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes Center at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC), who became her partner in the mission to restore her health.

“Dr. Malhotra was very supportive and didn’t treat me like just another patient. She was very hands- on, direct and factual in her approach with me,” said Janielis. “She said ‘I can tell you everything you need to do and how to do it, but it’s up to you to make the changes.’ It was an empowering attitude.”

When Janielis first went back to see Malhotra, she had lost 30 lbs. “Every time I saw her after that, I would drop another 15 or 20 at a time,” she said. “It was really satisfying to see that our plan was working.”

The plan was simple, but not easy. Malhotra started Janielis on medications and treated the underlying cause of the primary problem rather than the consequences. Together, they also explored healthy eating and exercise changes. “There was a lot of back and forth, trying to figure out what works or doesn’t work, and adjusting along the way, like in most of our patients,” said Malhotra. “A partnership is what you want in a doctor-patient relationship. I am here to help and guide patients. I always tell them ‘You do your part and I will do mine by helping you find the right treatment.’ Molly was very motivated and understood her role and what she needed to do very well.”

Molly Janielis in October 2018.

Malhotra’s approach is unique in that it focuses on obesity as a disease and not a character or behavioral flaw. “Obesity is a disease and we treat it as such. As providers, it is our responsibility to help patients in that respect,” said Malhotra. “No one wants to gain weight to the point of having obesity, just like no one wants to be sick with any other illness. With obesity, it is one of the few diseases where you can see the effects on the outside. This can lead to stigmatization, poor self-esteem and depression, along with other serious medical concerns that come with obesity.”

Since starting her new healthy lifestyle, Janielis has lost 80 lbs. and no longer has prediabetes. Most importantly, she has learned lifelong habits that allow her to stay as healthy as possible, like eating a balanced diet and being physically active.

“I have another 20 or 30 lbs. to go, but I’ve learned to do everything in moderation. In the beginning, it was too restrictive trying to go to the gym every single day and trying to have all of my food be perfect,” said Janielis. “The journey became less about needing to be skinny and focused on weight and more about being strong and healthy.”

The biggest shift, however, was a mindset of defeat to one of empowerment. “I was stuck in the mindset that this was just how things are,” she said. “Obesity runs in my family and it was eye-opening to learn that just because you’re genetically predisposed to something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. Change is possible for anyone.”