Building new habits

Family taking small steps for success

Family taking small steps for success

May 28, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series about three Washington County families participating in a food diary program created by The Herald-Mail and Washington County Health Department.

Brian Michael's eating habits the last month have included skipping breakfast and drinking four Dr. Peppers and/or Mountain Dew Code Reds a day, starting as early as 7:30 a.m.

So nutrition adviser Tammy Thornton's advice for Michael, 31, of Williamsport, was pretty straightforward - start eating breakfast every day and find a healthier substitute for the soda.

Michael's choice: Diet Mountain Dew Code Red.

"As long as it's sugar-free, that's good," said Thornton, nutrition/wellness services coordinator for Washington County Health Department.

Michael and his family are one of three families participating in a food diary project created by The Herald-Mail and the health department.


The families have been tracking what they eat, how much they eat, in what setting they eat and how much exercise they get. The adult members of the families recently met with Tammy Thornton, nutrition/wellness services coordinator for the health department, to review their diaries and make recommendations on how they can improve their eating and exercising habits.

The other participants are Kellee Smith of Hagerstown and the Sargents, who live near Funkstown.

Rather than create full-blown diets for the families, Thornton commented on their positive habits and made some recommendations on baby steps each adult could start taking to improve their eating and/or exercising.

Participants, for the most part, were eating four to six meals a day, including snacks, which Thornton found healthy. Eating regularly increases metabolism, which burns more calories, and regulates blood sugar so they don't get as hungry between meals and feel better throughout the day.

Except for the Michaels, participants were eating a good variety of food, Thornton said.

The Michael family ate out more than the other families, and Brian Michael's vegetables tended to be french fries or potato chips.

"I don't think it's good," Michael said of the foods he tends to eat.

Early last week Michael, a computer tech who works at a desk most of the day, began eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast, usually strawberry Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats.

He said the Diet Mountain Dew Code Red he bought to substitute for regular cola tastes terrible, but it's growing on him, plus he's drinking more water.

His wife, Lisa, also began drinking more water. She slipped back to drinking two or three sodas a day recently, usually cherry Pepsi, but has gone back to drinking water.

Thornton said if the Michaels sample a variety of sugar-free sodas, sugar-free Crystal Light flavored teas and drinks, and sugar-free flavored waters, they probably can find something they like.

Thornton suggested to Kellee Smith, 34, and Lisa Michael that they try to eat more meals at the table rather than on the go or in front of the television. People tend to eat more when they aren't paying attention to what they're eating, she said.

Lisa Michael, 38, stands up and does chores, such as the dishes, while eating lunch. She said she wasn't focusing on eating at the table more yet, instead taking one step at a time.

With the Sargents, Thornton focused more on exercise.

Both Kathy and Glen Sargent want more energy to keep up with their daughter, Sophie, 7, but with work commutes to Frederick, Md., and Gaithersburg, Md., respectively, the couple ends up eating dinner late and has had trouble finding time for consistent exercise. They also were getting bored with their treadmill and exercise tapes.

After talking to Thornton, the couple borrowed several exercise videos from the health department to add some variety to their routine.

They also will meet with Angela Kershner, an exercise specialist with the health department, so she can help create exercise routines for strengthening and cardio.

Thornton also suggested Kathy Sargent, 54, try swimming at nearby Hood College's pool during her lunch breaks, a suggestion Sargent said she'd check out and possibly start this week.

So far, the Sargents said they are feeling good about the project. Both recently had their cholesterol tested again, and for both it had improved, getting closer to a desirable range though Kathy Sargent said she still has to take cholesterol medication. However, their improved cholesterol levels cannot be attributed to the food diary project that began in April. Their cholesterol would have improved gradually over time.

Kathy Sargent said she's been using the borrowed videos and her husband has been working out with an exercise ball and doing push-ups.

"We're feeling pretty good," said Glen Sargent, 58.

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