When Tamara Naar was 18, she was diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on medication to control it.
Nearly 25 years later, Naar found herself downing four pills a day, seeing a cardiologist and struggling with her weight.
“I was taking all these pills like an old woman,” said Naar, a neonatology nurse at Baptist Hospital. “My blood pressure is hereditary, but I added to it by adding the pounds and eating horribly every day.”
So seven months ago, she signed up for a wellness plan at Baptist that would help her beat what had become a lifetime of bad habits. She got coached on what to eat and how much to eat. A nutritionist took her shopping and introduced her to the joys of cauliflower. She upped her workouts, stopped eating hamburgers three times a week and scaled back on the Cold Stone pistachio ice cream.
Today, Naar is 20 pounds lighter and down to two pills a day. Even she is shocked by how simply changing her eating changed her life.
“It’s not about wanting to lose weight or be skinny. I want to be healthy,” she said. “That was my major thing.”
It may be an old adage, but it’s a goody: you are what you eat. It’s also when you eat and how much you eat. And while we can all sympathize with the need to have things fast and easy in our busy lives, nutritionists say eating well is actually not that hard. It just takes planning and, some would say, a little help from the village.
“It might take a bit more effort initially,” said Sheah Rarback, director of nutrition at the Mailman Center for Child Development. “But once you stock up, it becomes easier.”
If anything gets in the way of our good eating, it’s lifestyle. When you get home from work late, why spend an hour in front of the stove when you can spend two minutes at the microwave? And doesn’t that oatmeal box claim to be a good source of calcium for our kids, never mind the small print listing 14 grams of sugar? A small soda at the movies could satisfy a family of four. Even schools have vending machines.
But no one can ignore the damage being wrought by all this bad eating. More than one out of three adults in the United States — 37.5 percent — are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the leading causes of death — heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes — are directly linked to obesity. And childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years. With more than a third of kids between 6 and 19 considered obese, the CDC reports, they are at substantially more risk for developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone and joint conditions, and cancer.
So why don’t we just eat better?
“It’s easier for someone to unwrap a granola bar than to unwrap an orange,” Rarback says. “We’ve gone for easiness. Parents want children to get what they need, so if they see an ad saying something is fortified with vitamins, no one’s doing an equivalent [ad] for an orange or bananas.”
But just a few easy changes in our diet will make a world of difference in our health. The key is planning and making informed decisions.
“People get stuck with the same five recipes. Or they feel kids are picky,” said Erin Corrigan, the nutrition manager at Miami Children’s Hospital. “My suggestion is you dedicate half an hour, once a week, to looking over ads at your favorite store, create a meal plan, make a list and go to the store and dedicate only going once a week, unless it’s a real emergency.”