Was making changes in eating more difficult than changes in physical activity?

When I decided to start this program--that's what I call it, now it may be called a life style change--I had to figure out, "How do I need to eat?" Because eating was more of a challenge than just doing the other by getting more physically active because that was just something that I had to do, but eating was something that I had to learn how to do different, so it was like a bigger challenge because it's hard to break old behaviors.


What was your initial plan?

I went back to things I knew and what I had learned as far as food and nutrition. I decided I needed to prepare food differently. I used to eat a lot of junk food and snack food. So, I had to plan. I started changing the type of foods I ate. I tried to eat grains, fruits and vegetables. I learned from my experience that those foods have more fiber and more vitamins and minerals. The grains have more complex carbohydrates to give me energy and I needed energy. I decided to eat that way and I followed the food guide pyramid. I did different things. Instead of frying my meat, I would bake it. I cut back on a lot of meat because I ate a lot more meat than I needed to. I watched my serving sizes. That's the way I did things in the beginning, just to get a structure for myself.


How did your eating change?

I never had a problem with vegetables because I really like them. I changed how I prepared them. I tried less fat and more spices or herbs to season my food instead of using a lot of grease and oil. I think those things made a big difference. I also started eating grain products. I had been taught things like breads and pastas were fattening. Again, it was the way I was preparing them that was making them fattening. Now I can enjoy them all because I know how to prepare them so they are a low fat food.


Did family tradition get in the way of change?


When I was growing up, my family ate a lot of fried foods and a lot of junk foods. That is how I got into the habit of eating them. I have three kids and so I kept snacks in the house, you know, pop and cookies and cakes and just different things for them to snack on. They were not healthy snacks. They were just really to fill them up. So I started to change those things. I did catch some flack from my family at first. My husband was not on a diet and he liked to eat fried foods. My kids wanted those snack foods instead of the kind of snack foods that I was giving them, like fruits and vegetables, low fat snacks. The kids really didn't have a problem with it. It was more a problem for my husband.


How were you able to serve the old foods in a new way?

I would make the same foods, just prepare them differently. We like greens a lot. Usually I would cook them with neck bones or ham hocks. Now, I cook them with turkey necks and I don't put any fat in them. That way I was able to modify our diets but keep the same foods. We can all still enjoy what we like.


What helped the kids to adapt to the new way of eating?

I cook a lot of things from scratch. That helped me with the kids. I tell them, "We are not going to buy those cookies. We're going to make some at home." It became a fun activity for them. That way I can monitor how much sugar or how much fat or oil was in whatever was being made. It kind of worked but it was hard because they didn't want a lifestyle change and I did. I caused everybody to have a lifestyle change.


How were you able to stick to this major lifestyle change?

When you are trying to make a healthy lifestyle change or do anything positive to that effect, a lot of people think, "Okay, it's just another diet." Or "I'm not going to be able to eat anything I enjoy." Or "That is just such a dreaded thing you can't be successful because there is nothing good about it. You have to eat diet food and you have to deprive yourself of things you like." Many of us are raised with different traditions and values having to do with the way that we prepare our food. I'm coming from an African-American's point of view or perspective. Many of us think we have to prepare food the same way our mother did it or our grandmother or father or whoever in our family. I'm here to say you can still enjoy a lot of those foods you liked before. We just need to find alternative ways of preparing the food. It's not always necessary to go without. We just need more moderation instead of indulging so much. I haven't deprived myself of anything. I guess that's why it didn't seem like a struggle. I'm able to eat whatever I want to eat, whatever I have a taste for. I just try to prepare it in a way I know is more healthy for me. A lot of times it may not even be a big modification. It may be something small, but in the long run, it will make a big difference - baking instead of frying or using cooking spray instead of cooking oil to prepare something. It makes a big difference in the long run. I guess it takes some self-discipline to stop yourself and say, okay, I've had enough or if I've eaten something that's high fat so now I have to eat low fat the rest of the day.


Was it a struggle?

I haven't deprived myself of anything. Guess that's why it didn't seem like a struggle. I'm able to eat whatever I want to eat, whatever I have a taste for. I just try to prepare it in a way I know is more healthy for me. A lot of times it may not even be a big modification. It may be something small, but in the long run it will make a big difference.