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Cheers to Better Nutrition


Take a walk with me through any state fair midway for a taste of my favorite foods growing up. Anything deep-fried, meat-laden, gravy-slathered, cheese-covered, carb-loaded, sugar-coated—you name it, I would eat it. A balanced meal usually meant having one fruit or vegetable that wasn’t breaded or fried, probably from a can. Because I had a slight build from running track and cross-country, I was the type of teenager that people asked where I was putting it all or if I had a hollow leg. I justified a similar diet well into my early adult years by saying I would just “run it off later.”

However, as I approached middle age, I noticed the calories were harder to run off. Raising my own family and having a sedentary job meant less time for exercising. I found that I no longer felt good eating heavy foods and then sitting for long periods of time. Two factors motivated me to change my eating habits: 1. My wife continually introduced me to healthier foods, and 2. My doctor began to inform me of health risks, such as heart disease and diabetes, at my checkups.

A few years ago, I consulted with a nutritionist because of some concerning results in my bloodwork. She put me on an extreme diet, eliminating meat, wheat, and corn and limiting dairy. The idea was that I was overloading my liver with my diet, and I needed to give it a break. I won’t lie; it wasn’t easy at first. I called her after a week, pleading for a reprieve in some way, but she just responded with additional fruits and vegetables that I could eat. She said I couldn’t undo years of poor eating habits overnight. Still, she was a cheerleader for me, encouraging me to think of how good I would feel once my body adapted to these more nutritious foods.

In time, I did feel better on this diet, though I found I was hungry most of the time. My nutritionist said that was OK, that I could eat more because I wasn’t filling up on empty calories. I even discovered foods I would never have tried, such as Mediterranean dishes. Although I wouldn’t say I enjoyed every minute, I made it two months on that diet. At the direction of the nutritionist, I added other foods back in moderation while keeping the healthier foods at the core of my diet.

The result was better blood work and an improved checkup with my doctor. I lost weight, and I felt better than I had in years. Shortly after that, I ran in a 10K race with my brother-in-law, who regularly competes in triathlons—and I beat him! It made me wonder how much better I could run, fueling my body with healthy foods instead of using running as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted. And who knows what health risks I might avoid by eating better?

If you are used to an unhealthy diet like I was, a nutritionist can help you make better food choices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes March as National Nutrition Month, providing several resources to help you make more informed choices. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can help you find a nutrition expert or ask your doctor or local health department. Some health insurance plans cover nutritionist expenses for those considered nutritionally at risk. Through the  “Food is Medicine” movement, promoted by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF), health care providers, and nonprofit organizations, including Colorado Access, offer medically tailored meals to those most at risk.

Sure, the foods at the state fair may be enjoyable for a special occasion, but not for a steady diet. Many other nutritious foods will help you stay healthy and feel better. Sometimes, all you need is new food ideas and a nutrition cheerleader to get you out of your unhealthy habits and into a better lifestyle of healthy eating.