Soldiers, Families stay Army Strong by maintaining good health through nutrition
December 14, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- (Editor's note: This is the first article in a two-part series on maintaining a healthy Army Family lifestyle.)
Because of their demanding lifestyle, Soldiers are expected to stay in good physical shape. For a strict exercise regimen to be successful, it must be partnered with the right fuel. This begins with a healthy diet.
To help them sustain a healthy lifestyle through the proper diet, Fort Drum personnel work with Soldiers and Families to keep them in tip-top shape, ultimately making them Army Strong and Family Strong.
Capt. Ben Wunderlich, Fort Drum Preventative Medicine dietitian, offers tips and advice for Families during the holiday season, as well as how to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the year.
Make smart choices
Although avoiding temptations during the holiday season might be difficult, Wunderlich proposes a change of pace.
When at a party this season where the spread of food and goodies seems to go on forever, he suggests stepping back and thinking about what you want to put on your plate before diving hand-first into everything available.
He recommends choosing the three most-appealing items from the table.
"Decide what you really want. Take the three (items) and enjoy them," he added.
Or, when going to a holiday party, opt out of bringing the typical sweets and make a better choice of indulging the party-goers' healthy side with a veggie tray or fruit salad.
That way, you know there will be healthy choices to choose from when piling your plate with goodies, Wunderlich said.
Making smarter choices shouldn't just go into effect during the holidays, though. The best time to make the choice to eat healthier is today, tomorrow and the next day, Wunderlich explained.
Although many people will vow to trade a bowl of ice cream for a piece of fruit come the new year, Wunderlich recognizes it's difficult to go on a diet after Christmas.
"We're used to the taste of candy canes and peanut brittle, and apples just don't taste as good afterwards," he explained.
He advises his patients to stop fretting over the word "diet" and to start making some dietary changes.
Instead of going on a diet, Wunderlich suggests making one or two changes to what a person eats.
"Cutting back on soda or eating more apples can make a major difference," he added.
Indulge a little
"Desserts keep you sane," Wunderlich noted. "We have a thing called discretionary calories, so I encourage (people to eat unhealthy food)."
Unhealthy food begins to take a toll on a person's body only when they're not getting essential nutrients.
"We don't have vitamin C-fortified Whoppers and iron-fortified french fries, so if we can get the (vitamins) we need first, then eating the (unhealthy food) is fine," he said.
Wunderlich encourages his patients to be mindful of portion sizes.
"Instead of (buying) the family-size bag of Cheetos for ourselves, (buy) the small, snack pack ones, because they have a good portion size and you can hopefully stop with the first bag," he said.
Although he suggests not depriving the body of "junk" food, he also recommends asking the question, "Do I really need this food right now?"
"Many times we don't (need it), we're just bored," he added.
He also tells his patients to sit down and enjoy their food.
"Don't cram your face (with food) while you're watching TV. Sit back, kick up your feet, pull out your spoon and fork, and really enjoy that flavor," Wunderlich explained. "That way, when you're done, you're satisfied."
Put your body first
Wunderlich stresses to his patients -- especially Soldiers who rely on their body's condition for performance tests -- to be mindful of what they're putting in their body, because a healthy diet and exercise go hand in hand.
"What you do for exercise is run by the fuel you consume," he tells his patients, describing it as "eating for performance."
"You can see right away how (diet) changes are affecting your performance," he explained. "Exercise can help control hunger."
As far as the psychological aspect goes, exercise also can be used as a tool to relieve stress, versus someone being an emotional eater.
Wunderlich notes that changing how a person eats actually begins with what they drink.
"The biggest (downfall) for Soldiers and civilians is what they (drink)," he said, noting that while sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks and alcohol might be tasty, they don't satisfy a person's hunger for very long.
He also busts the myth that "less is better," by encouraging his patients to incorporate more food, but to make sure it's the right type.
"I shock a lot of people by telling them, 'if you eat more, you can actually lose weight,'" he said, noting that eating more produce and lean protein will keep you full longer and discourage sudden urges to veer into a fast-food drive-through and order everything on the dollar menu.
He also suggests that instead of bringing the entire container of crackers to work, to portion food each night for the next day to avoid snacking the entire day.
A trick he tells his patients to do is to use their body as a tool and measure a portion size by how much food they can fit in the palm of their hand.
"(Measuring) can take time at first, but once you (measure) each day you begin to have a better idea of what a portion size should be," he noted.
During his nutrition classes, Wunderlich tells attendees to make a grocery list before shopping and to eat a meal before heading out to the grocery store. He also suggests gravitating toward lean protein and colors when perusing the aisle. And Soldiers should make sure they head to the aisles with carbohydrates on the shelves.
Wunderlich also stresses to his patients the importance of reading labels.
"If you're going to read labels, research (foods) before you go to the store," he said. "I tell patients to avoid looking at sugar (content). … It's more important how much fiber is in (the food)."
He suggests looking for whole-grain foods that contain three or more grams of fiber and to be leary when the whole grain is corn.
"A lot of the kids' cereals use a whole-grain corn, or a filler, to add fiber to the (cereal)," he explained. "If it looks too good to be true, it is."
Another time to do research is when traveling, especially over the holiday season.
In the tradition of taking block leave, many Army Families will be traveling this holiday season. Wunderlich notes that Families on the road can continue their healthy diet by doing some restaurant nutrition research.
"We all travel and go TDY (temporary duty) in the military, and I know there's a McDonald's everywhere I go," he said. "I know I can have a cheeseburger and an ice cream cone for 450 calories. So, I already have my preplanned meal that I'm satisfied by."
Also, Wunderlich stresses intensive research if his patients want to try on a new diet. He suggests settling on a diet that has a lot of research to back it up.
One diet he recommends is the DASH -- dietary approaches to stop hypertension -- diet, which focuses on eating more produce, fresh fruit, meats and seeds.
Jot it down
"One key thing that most people don't do, that all dieters who have lost weight do, is (track) your food," he explained. "It's hard to cheat when you have to write down that you ate four cups of ice cream."
When a working mother of three whose husband is deployed claims she doesn't have time to track her food intake, Wunderlich jumps into action with suggestions on how to save time and still be conscious of what they're putting in their body.
"If you have a smartphone, take a picture of your meal … or, it takes no time to just add more produce," he said. "It's as easy as wipe apple on shirt, put in mouth."
He's heard the excuse from people that no matter what they do, they can't lose weight. His solution is simple: "track food intake."
"We get people tracking their food, and they lose weight," he said, noting it's the small things that add up quickly. For instance, swiping a few pieces of candy off your co-worker's desk each day can add up, and people usually don't even realize it.
Wunderlich encourages all TRICARE beneficiaries to inquire about the classes offered by the Preventative Medicine personnel at Clark Hall. Class topics range from nutrition to maintaining cholesterol to how to maximize your grocery shopping experience.
For more information or to sign up for a class, call 772-6404.