Food Police

I imagine that everyone who teaches people about healthful eating has at least one problem in common.

Their families.

My husband had a heart attack last September.  He had that heart attack after we were already eating a reasonably healthful diet. (We mostly eat according to the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension diet). We were watching the levels of saturated fats, calories, sodium, and fiber in all the foods we were eating.  We were both losing weight, and his last blood tests were significantly better.

The week after his heart attack, I started teaching a (previously-scheduled) weight loss and healthful eating class. Now our sessions are almost over. As the class began to draw to a close, one of the ladies said to me “I wish I could take you home so you could guide and coach me.”

My husband has me at home. What does he call me?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not “coach.”

He calls me “The Food Police.”

I went with him to his cardiac rehab class when they talked about diet. The instructor did a great job. He said things that I know I have also told my classes… almost exactly word for word. But, it’s easier to hear this information from someone else, not your wife.

Eating, be it healthful or not so healthful, is such a personal thing. As we all know, it’s hard to change an eating habit, even when you’re super motivated. I can’t make my husband change his habits.

It’s hard not to be the food police. I have a sign in my office that quotes, “A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” I’m trying to remember that and not police my husband’s meals at home. He says it’s hard to enjoy a meal with someone watching so closely.

But what can I do?

I’m trying to be a good role model. I’m trying to have good food in the refrigerator. I’m trying to modify recipes to make them even more healthful. I’m trying to take healthful foods when we go to parties or events. I’m trying not to suggest restaurants that would require us to make difficult decisions. I’m trying not to eat things in front of him that would be tempting.

Most of all… I’m trying to keep my mouth shut when I see him eat something that I don’t think he should eat.

It’s not fun being the “food police”

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

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Suddenly It’s Real

It’s different when it happens to you.

I’ve been teaching fitness and wellness topics for many years. I’ve taught heart-healthy cooking, strong bone nutrition, dining with diabetes, and lots of general healthful eating strategies. I’ve seen people get frustrated as they try to understand conflicting dietary recommendations. I’ve seen people struggle to make major lifestyle changes as a result of a medical diagnosis. Nothing seems to make people more serious about a dietary change than a sudden health event. But nothing you can teach makes this more real than when it’s your family.

Last September, when I was on my way home from a conference, I got a phone call. My husband had had a heart attack.

He survived.

We were lucky. Statistics show that 1 in 4 deaths in the United States are a result of heart disease. After four nights in the hospital, three ambulance rides, two stents, and one drug reaction, my husband was finally released from the hospital. Ultimately, we were sent home with little fanfare. There were some packets and informational materials, but that was it. We were on our own.

Included in the pile of computer printout packets were four pages titled “Cardiac Diet.” Now, I have been teaching this topic for years, so I didn’t feel like I was completely unknowledgeable. But I was sure that there was more to this. Maybe there was something I missed in all the classes I’ve taken.  After all, this wasn’t just “reducing risk factors” and other classroom subjects. This was the real thing. My husband had had a heart attack.

I was hoping that a registered dietitian could tell me more. I wanted specifics. I wanted calories, grams, and milligrams. I wanted more than a list of foods that were “allowed” and other foods to “avoid.” You can’t eat like that, I thought. So, I asked if we could talk with a dietitian.

Unfortunately, because we live in a small rural community, there was no dietitian on staff for that.

Suddenly, I’m looking at this from the inside out. I’m not blaming the hospital, the doctors, or the nurses; they have enough on their plate already. But, I don’t think I’m an exception to the rule. I think that there are lots of folks out there who want more than a piece of paper and they want a step by step lesson for what to do. If you think about what you teach in this manner you can make more effective materials.

Thank goodness for those of you who do have the time to teach cooking, do consultations, and offer classes on cardiac rehabilitation diets. Please keep up the good work. I’m joining the charge. In fact, I’m currently looking for a grant so that I can teach some heart-healthy cooking classes in my community.

So now it’s real. My husband and I are learning a lot about heart disease, and I’m looking at it from an entirely different perspective. Here are some very helpful cooking handouts that can help folks make healthier foods. And here is a free handout for an overview of a heart healthy diet: EatRightHeart

More tips to come!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

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