“She saved my life.”
Angela Moore-Romprey struggled with the loss of her husband. The 10-year U.S. Air Force Veteran had proudly lost 50 pounds attending a Healthy Teaching Kitchen class taught by nutritionist Dana Herring. However, the emotional toll led her back to the comfort of fast food, until Herring called her to invite her to an advanced class.
“She asked me if I wanted to be in the class,” Romprey said. “It was a lifesaving thing at the time. I relearned how to put food together and use it. I lost that weight again, and she helped bring back my love of cooking.”
Herring and fellow nutritionist Lauren Hill, MOVE! program coordinator, have become a one-two punch to combating obesity and unhealthy lifestyles among the Veteran population at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Though separate classes, the weekly tutelage the nutritionists provide cover a wide range of health and nutrition guidelines to help the overweight Veterans.
“Motivating Overweight Veterans Everywhere — MOVE — is a 16-week program that gives Veterans information about a healthy lifestyle,” Hill said. “Obesity is a problem. About, 80 percent of our Phoenix VA Veterans are available for MOVE services.”
The MOVE! program is a weight management, health promotion program designed specifically for Veterans, but Hill’s class encourages Veterans to take a proactive approach to their healthy living through a peer-support group.
Kenneth Long weighs 194 pounds, but when he began the MOVE! program he was 335 pounds. The eight-year Navy Veteran said he benefited tremendously from the group setting. He said the program offers peer support and changed his way of thinking about his weight. He no longer seeks a magic diet but adheres to a new, healthier lifestyle adding he no longer takes insulin for his diabetes and has severely decreased his need for medication for other weight-related medical issues.
“If Veterans don’t know how to cook, it will be hard to apply nutrition recommendations from the MOVE! program or from the primary care dietitians,” Herring said. “Whether their goal is weight loss or lowering blood sugar, it kind of brings everything full circle. It’s a general healthful eating approach.”
The programs are national VA initiatives but dietitians are provided the freedom to run the programs to fit their population of Veterans. Dan Peitzmeyer said the current Healthy Teaching Kitchen is vastly different from the program he joined eight years ago. Herring took over the program in 2015 and developed massive informational cookbooks to provide to each Veteran attending her beginner and advanced classes.
March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Go Further with Food.” The Phoenix VA dietitians organized a plant-based cooking event March 12 to celebrate the 2018 National Nutrition Month. Veterans were treated to demonstrations and hands-on practice in preparing plant-based foods, providing Veterans the knowledge, skill and tools to support a healthy eating pattern.
The Healthy Teaching Kitchen and MOVE! programs are available year-round to help Veterans make healthier food choices. Veterans interested in the programs should consult with their primary care doctor and schedule a group or individual appointment with the nutrition department at their local VA facility.
About the author: Macario Mora is a public affairs specialist for the Phoenix VA Health Care System.