ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois - Ah food! Glorious food! Who among us doesn't enjoy sitting down to good meal and enjoying it to the last bite?

But the sheer pleasure of eating sometimes seems out of place in a society apparently obsessed with the impact of our dietary choices.

We're told that what we eat, or don't eat, can either cause or prevent heart disease, cancer, and other dreaded health conditions. We read about studies on food and diet that appear to constantly contradict one another: What's "good for us" today becomes bad tomorrow, and vice versa.

Even though enough diet books have been published to take up huge sections of bookstores and libraries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimates that more than one-third of American adults can be classified as obese.

It's enough to drain all of the joy out of cooking and eating, and to make it feel as if every bite we take comes with a side of confusion, anxiety and guilt.

What we need is a common-sense approach to food and diet that anyone can follow. That's the goal of a new initiative led by the U.S. Army Sustainment's G-1 (Human Resources) Wellness Division.

ASC's Fit Food Challenge is an eight-week initiative that began March 5 and runs through April 27. The dates were chosen, in part, because March happens to be National Nutrition Awareness Month.

Lori Owens, a master resiliency trainer in the Wellness Division, is leading the Fit Food Challenge. Owens, who is the newest member of ASC's wellness team, brings a passion for wellness to the job - along with, she'll confess, a weakness for chocolate.

But that's okay, because no foods are forbidden for those who choose to participate in the Fit Food Challenge. No one will be asked to give up cheeseburgers, pizza, doughnuts or whatever their favorite comfort food happens to be. Instead, Owens said, they'll learn how to enjoy them in moderation.

Participants in the initiative will be asked to take part in weekly challenges intended to teach them about food and nutrition, and that will encourage them to make better choices that can lead to a healthier lifestyle.

Owens stressed that the Fit Food Challenge is open to everyone, from vegans to keto dieters, and accommodates those who can't or won't eat certain foods for health or religious reasons.

"Even if you don't complete every challenge, you should get something out of participating," Owens said. "It truly is designed for everyone."

Participants in the Fit Food Challenge also shouldn't confuse it for a miracle diet, or a cure for all their dietary ills.

"The goal is progress, not perfection," Owens said. "Nothing about the Fit Food Challenge is intended to be restrictive. We stress the positive, not the negative."

Owens remarked that followers of fad diets that ban or severely limit certain foods tend to "fall off the wagon" and resume unhealthy habits.

"That's not what we're after," Owens said. "Instead, we'd like to see participants make small, simple, health-enhancing changes that are sustainable, and that can last a lifetime."

This approach is reflected in the individual challenges that will be presented to participants. These include eating foods that are as many colors as possible since, as Owens explained, a variety of colors in food reflects a variety of nutrients.

Participants will also be challenged with "healthifying" their kitchen, i.e. organizing it in such a way that healthier foods are easier to access. Another challenge will aim at controlling "hunger signals" that sometimes lead to overeating, while another will look at the proper storage of produce, so vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables don't go to waste before they're eaten.

Other challenges include becoming a "water warrior" by drinking more water - Owens noted that the body can confuse hunger for thirst - building a better breakfast, and eating at least three servings of green vegetables before dinner.

During the last week of the challenge, participants will be invited to treat themselves by enjoying one serving of their favorite food - healthy or not - and at least three healthy meals.

Challenges are presented to participants in the form of weekly emails. Participants can also opt in to daily emails that provide health and dietary tips.

At the end of the Fit Food Challenge, those who complete it will receive a certificate of completion. The presentations will take place at a ceremony on a date to be determined, probably in early May.

Family members and friends will be invited to attend the ceremony, Owens said, reflecting the fact that we eat most of our meals at home or out at restaurants.

"One of the goals of the Fit Food Challenge is to get family members involved," she said. For example, participants with young children can use an "eater meter" tracker onto which kids can place stickers whenever they eat fruits and vegetables.

Other activities associated with the Fit Food Challenge will include lunch-and-learn sessions, a smoothie day, and team walks held during lunch breaks.

Participation in the Fit Food Challenge is voluntary and open to civilian, military and contractor personnel. The initiative was offered ASC-wide, to include field locations, and currently includes participants from three ASC Army Field Support Brigades - the 403rd, 404th and 406th.

As of March 6, more than 190 employees (including this author) had signed up for the Fit Food Challenge. Owens said that sign-ups would be accepted through the first two weeks of the initiative, but need to be cut off after then in order to allow time for creating certificates and coordinating the awards ceremony.

Other organizations based at Rock Island Arsenal have gotten wind of the Fit Food Challenge, and the initiative does include a few participants from the Army Contracting Command. As part of the initiative, ASC G-1will partner with the RIA Garrison on a March 15 lunch and learn, on the topic "Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diets," presented by registered dietician Kera Linn.

A SharePoint site devoted to the Fit Food Challenge has been established. The site includes all materials related to the challenge, plus additional information and resources, along with a calendar of activities that can be synched with individual calendars.

The SharePoint site has links to some of the sources used to develop the Fit Food Challenge. Owens stressed that all of those sources are based on food science and the latest research into nutrition.

Anyone with a common access card can view the SharePoint site, making it available to organizations and individuals outside of ASC. The address for the CAC-enabled site is: https://asc.aep.army.mil/sites/g1/G1HRW/FFC/SitePages/CommunityHome.aspx.

"Even if you can't participate in the Fit Food Initiative, you can go to the SharePoint site to learn more about healthy eating," Owens said, "or to use it as a template to start your own initiative."

The Fit Food Challenge is part of an overall effort spearheaded by ASC's G-1 Wellness Division to develop a more ready and resilient workforce by encouraging healthy habits.

"We believe that living a healthy lifestyle isn't about depriving yourself," Owens said. "As the Fit Food Challenge shows, it can and it should be an enjoyable way of life."

More information on the Fit Food Challenge is available by contacting Lori Owens at (309) 782-4450 (Ext. 2-4450), e-mail lori.e.owens2.civ@mail.mil.