We first met Seth Merritt in 2012, as we were opening our first clinic in Sellwood. At the time, he was a lone practitioner but grew his practice to include more providers of different specialties. What connected us was our mutual desire to serve the community on what they needed most – health coaching, nutritional advice, and healthy habits/exercise guidance. We both believed in the empowering our patients to improve and take charge of their health. I had the pleasure to reconnect with Seth recently and the following is an updated Q&A I had with him.
Seth Merritt is a family nurse practitioner, licensed massage therapist, Obesity Medicine specialist and founder of Merritt Health & Wellness in Southeast Portland.
Q: How did you get into practicing obesity medicine? What led you down this path?
I have always been interested in natural cures and treatments. The more I learned in school the more it was obvious how important food is to most chronic illnesses. I helped build The Oregon Medical Weight Loss program but had a different vision for patients that did not want to be sold bars and shakes as part of their weight management journey.
Q: I knew you since you started your own practice by your lonesome, how has your practice flourished since then?
We have kept my same business model of limited support staff like medical assistants and front desk staff so we can give patients more time during their appointments. The patients that stay with us understand this approach and appreciate the extra time and individualization they get from their visits. Over the last several years we have steadily grown by adding more providers that offer special skills and unique treatments. We are now a practice of 7 providers each with unique sub specialties as well as the focus of primary care.
Q: What services do your clinics provide now that you have more varied providers under your roof?
We offer a variety of services in addition to primary care. Functional Medicine, Integrative Medicine, Medical Weight Managment, Diabetes and Cholesterol Specialty Management, Approaches for Chronic Gut and Digestion Issues, LGBTQAI+ Transgender Medicine, Arvigo Technique of Maya Abdominal Therapy (visceral massage), also we have a Personal Trainer on site.
Q: Your motto has always been Hipprocrates “Let food by thy medicine, and medicine by thy food”. Can you give an example of a nutrient or resource that is commonly missing in our diets and responsible for a lot of health conditions?
A few nutrients that a lot of patients appear to benefit from is Vitamin D which is more of a steroid the way it works in the body. We also find a lot of patients who benefit from magnesium, zinc, and balancing the Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio to skew towards better inflammation control. Also most patients appear to under consume dietary fiber and protein.
5) Can you give an example of a success story you recently treated?
We have a lot of patients who come in for chronic weight issues that are able to reduce or stop some of their diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol medication. In addition when we approach chronic disease by way of chronic digestive issues we see medications for GERD and other issues go by the wayside. It is rewarding when we get medications out of the routine by getting to the source of the issue.
6) How has physical therapy helped some of your patients in addition to your counseling and treatment?
Physical Therapy is always a helpful tool for patients. Often the way some of our patients exist and use their body limits them from feeling good which prevents their ability to focus on lifestyle changes. I’ve never regretted a patient going through physical therapy and generally feel it shouldn’t be so hard to convince some of our hesitant patients to schedule with physical therapy. I myself have benefited greatly from physical therapy for issues that pop up now and again.
7) What do you think about the mental health component of obesity and its contribution/alleviation to the disease?
I like to tell people that once we lay the foundation for how the body works and how certain foods trigger the body to hold on and create body fat or let the body feel rest assured to release body fat, the rest is an exercise in mental health to some degree. Human behavior is interesting and complex. It sometimes can be a constant battle within ourselves between our brain that has its eyes on a certain goal and the other part of the brain that is making other plans. This is the most frustrating part of obesity management for the patient, which makes sense to me why it is helpful to have an ally help you navigate this inner struggle. And if they can also be your Primary Care Provider then hopefully that makes it super convenient for the patient.
8) How has your practice coped through the Covid-19 crisis – are you seeing patients via telemedicine now? What advice would you give folks who are very anxious and concerned about their health during the pandemic?
We have been able to pivot to telehealth appointments for some of our patients while also keeping our clinic nice and clean for the patients that still need to be seen in person. Most of our patients have been feeling various degrees of anxiety and depression. Also one study suggested the average adult weight gain during the pandemic has been 5 lbs. This matches with what we are hearing from our patients and their experiences. It is a hard balance between staying informed with the going ons in the news with the pandemic and social justice issues and making sure we are keeping balanced with self care. I have told more than a handful of patients to step away from social media and the news if they are feeling overwhelmed. Otherwise it is important for us to be engaged in our society right now if we can keep the balance.