Building a system of weight management and care in Reykjavik: Erla Sveinsdóttir and Heilsuborg

Building a system of weight management and care in Reykjavik: Erla Sveinsdóttir and Heilsuborg

Founded by a general practicioner and a physipotherapist, Heilsuborg started eight years ago as a small fitness center in Reykjavik. With a clear vision and hard work, Heilsuborg has evolved into a multi-disciplinary centre for the prevention and treatment of lifestyle – related diseases.

Obesity has been a primary focus of Heilsuborg from the beginning; combining support for the body and nourishment for the soul in one location makes it an ideal environment for treating obesity. In August 2017, Heilsuborg took a major step, moving to a newly renovated, bespoke – and much larger – location that presents many options for consumers and possibilities for the future.

Erla Gerður Sveinsdóttir trained as a GP and holds a masters degree in public health. Upon graduation, she worked for many years in primary care and in two major rehabilitation centres in Iceland. As her interest in preventing and treating obesity developed, she identified a need for a destination where people would be able to receive high quality, comprehensive and multi-disciplinary support in cultivating a healthier lifestyle. She envisioned a place where people could access state-of-the-art health education, training, support and treatment.  It was on this foundation that Heilsuborg was founded. Erla is the Medical Director and an obesity consultant at the centre.

Patient and partner

Five years ago, after several years of trying countless diets on a difficult weight management journey, Sólveig Sigurðardóttir walked into the clinic. In Erla and Heilsuborg she found the support she needed to move forward and regain her health. At that time, Sólveig was struggling with severe obesity and had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS); both diseases had a huge effect on her quality of life. With support from the centre, she undertook incremental behaviour changes, which resulted in Sólveig developing physical strength, viewing herself with more respect,  developing quality sleep patterns, and preparing and consuming food that was healing for her body and soul. She started to photograph her meals, which became more colourful and nutritious as her new healthy eating patterns developed. As Sólveig started to blog about her journey toward health she captured public and social media notice, now has  thousands of followers and is an inspiration to many people in Iceland and abroad, encouraging others to make their way toward a healthier lifestyle. Today Erla and Sólveig teach classes together:  Sólveig cooks and prepares her beautiful and delicious healthy food and shares her experiences with people who want to develop healthier lifestyles, and Erla explains why and how these changes make a difference – for body weight, health and well-being.

Erla and Sólveig are both active in EASO, Erla as president of The Icelandic Association for the Study of Obesity during the past five years, and Sólveig as an engaged leader and national representative of the EASO Patient Council, where she was one of the founding members.

Comprehensive and multi-disciplinary

Building on the four cornerstones of good health: good nutrition, regular exercise, quality sleep and peace of mind, Heilsuborg has expanded over the years in all of these areas.

Since exercise is part of a system of prevention and treatment for every lifestyle disease, Heilsuborg still has a comprehensive fitness centre where physiotherapists and sports trainers support consumers. Nurses and dieticians assist with nutrition and facilitate the development of healthy behaviours, using state of the art strategies that include focus on developing and supporting a healthy microbiome and patient circadian rhythms. Psychotherapists and psychiatrists working in Heilsluborg use various approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy, Dialectic Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness. Consulting clinicians with various specialities work with us as well. All together, about 90 people are part of the Heilsuborg team.

With a radiology centre and testing laboratory in the building and a primary care centre literally next door – and shared reception staff – the team works in close partnership with these key partners. Heilsuborg also works in cooperation with the American company SleepImage in monitoring consumers’ sleep and an Icelandic company Sidekick Health, which has developed a digital app to support lifestyle changes.  Heilsuborg partners with The University Hospital in Reykjavík for bariatric surgery, and the Iceland University in Reykjavik for academic research. These unique partnerships provide many possibilities for future development in prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, teaching and academic research.

Programme participants in Iceland now have a substantial home to support their journey to better health. The centre’s  multi-disciplinary approach is compelling and they aim to become a COMs Centre in the future.