Many people have made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier, but after a month returned to old habits.

The transitional lifestyle approach emphasizes making changes one small step at a time. This approach makes it is more likely a person will make long-term changes, according to retired nurse practitioner Cheryl Rising who gave a free “Wellness 101” presentation in Park Rapids last week.

Diane Brophy is the community ministry and education coordinator at St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s at Two Inlets. She attended the presentation to get information to use with parishioners.

“I work with community health through St. Joseph’s as well and have been teaching classes to prevent diabetes,” she said. “It all starts with food.”

Good nutrition key to disease prevention

Rising did her doctoral dissertation on obesity. “Half of the people in our nation are either overweight or obese according to their body mass index,” she said. “People who continue to be overweight get heart disease, diabetes, arthritis. The epidemic we have in our nation is our kids. Kids who are overweight and obese often stay that way as adults. These children also have increased psychological problems, anxiety, depression and all the chronic illnesses that go along with obesity, and developing these problems at an earlier age than happened in any previous generation.”

Rising shared the story of an employee she worked with who had severe diabetes and an insulin pump. “In just working with changing choices and eating style she was able to cut way back on her insulin with the OK of her doctor,” she said.

For diabetics, she said the key is eating “low glycemic.”

“You try to eat things that don’t have a lot of sugar and that helps stabilize the glucose in your body,” she said.

Overcoming obstacles to success

Rising said often when people try weight loss they wonder why it didn’t work. “What happens a lot of times is that you go on a diet to lose weight for some special occasion,” she said. “All of the programs have positive things, but we need to eat healthy and make the right choices.”

“We have to look at our lifestyle as happenings throughout the day,” Brophy said.

“Transitional lifestyle is all about taking where we are today and the choices we make. I know I feel better when I stick to healthy proteins, vegetables and fruit and cut down on pasta and bread.”

She said it is helpful for people to look at how what they eat affects how they feel. “When you choose foods that don’t agree with you, it creates inflammation in your body,” she said. “Inflammation can lead to osteoarthritis, lethargy, you name it.”

Tips for making healthier choices include picking items with five ingredients or less, reading ingredients and reading labels. “If sugar, fructose, corn syrup are there you’ve got added sugar,” she said. “Then look at the sugar content. Even a protein energy bar that sounds healthy may have 18 grams of sugar. I encourage people to keep sugar below 10 grams. Some yogurts have only 2 grams of sugar while others have as much as 20. So whether yogurt is a healthy choice depends on which one is selected. At the grocery store, the best place to shop is the periphery, because most of the outside rows in the store are not filled with processed foods.”

Processed foods may have ingredients that cause hunger to increase.

Rising said some programs specify what to eat but not how to eat and make lifestyle changes, so after a six-month program people go back to eating as they always did.

“The other thing I tell people is not to focus on the scale but how your clothes are fitting,” she said. “When we lose fat and gain muscle, the scale may go up some. We’re getting healthier, but the scale doesn’t measure it so we get discouraged.”

Another benefit of weight loss is back health. “For every 10 pounds we take off we take 40 pounds of weight off our backs,” Rising said.

Making health a priority

“The main thing is we’ve gotten so busy, we sometimes forget to make time to be healthy,” Rising said. “You need time to prepare food. When you don’t have time, it’s often fast food or frozen dinners.”

Transitional lifestyle is a comprehensive program to implement changes.

“You don’t stop eating this way today and eat another way tomorrow,” Rising said. “You make a lifestyle change. You gain the confidence to make good choices from day to day.”

Both women agree making small changes each day is key.

“It’s a whole process of changing how you think about food and retraining your brain,” Brophy said.

“You have to think about labels. Some of the best food doesn’t have a label, like an apple or an orange. If we consider eating as part of our overall well-being, then we will be more successful. There are additives in processed food that are addictive. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine, and sugar substitutes also have addictive chemicals, including diet soda.”

“It is looking at everything in your day and making changes,” Rising said. “Sugar is one of the most inflammatory things we put in our bodies. If you’re really trying to eat low glycemic and not take that cookie or candy bar or piece of cake, think back to when you ate those things and how you felt.”

Rising said avoiding the first bite of a cookie or candy is key. “Once you start you want more,” she said. “That’s the addiction piece.”

Setting up for success

Rising said in her previous workplace she learned to avoid the break room on Wednesdays, when big boxes of caramel rolls and doughnuts were brought in.

Brophy said the SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Partnership) grant she works with emphasizes changing cultures. “We work really hard with businesses.”

She said in Hubbard county, worksite wellness was one of the initiatives. “We worked with seven businessses on changing the work environment, so people don’t bring in those doughnuts,” she said. “We explain how that decreases productivity and increases the risk of chronic diseases, along with how to add activity to the work day and help people stop smoking, support breast feeding, decrease stress. We look at sustainability, so it’s not just a program, it’s a way of thinking. It’s policies, systems and environments.”

“Stress eating is huge,” Rising said.

“That’s when cravings kick in and if you have the food around, that’s what you’ll grab,” Brophy said. “If you have all the ingredients for a salad at work, then you’ll have a healthy option.”

Rising suggested bringing baggies to work with snacks such as cut up carrots or celery or almonds. “Then go for those instead of going for the cookie,” she said.

Instead of buying flavored water, Brophy suggested infusing water with lemons, oranges or cucumbers. “They are natural and you avoid adding more plastic bottles to the environment,” she said.

Dealing with constant stress so it doesn’t lead to comfort eating is also a key.

Rising said a low glycemic diet leads to faster fat burning. Combined with exercise “we end up losing inches,” she said.

“If we can get people on a healthier track, that will bring down healthcare costs,” Brophy said. “A lot of these diseases are preventable. If we can get people back into gardening that helps too.”

“If a person can focus on making lifestyle choices for six months or longer you can develop habits that will last.”