Steve Hall never imagined a trip to the grocery store with his doctor would change his life. In fact, the Yancey County resident never imagined having the opportunity to be at the grocery store with Celo Health Center’s medical director, Liz Peverall, learning to read and understand food labels to better manage his health.
The shopping trip was part of Sweet Inspiration — Learn How to Turn Your Health Around, a unique program created by Possibilities of Wellbeing co-founders Geraldine Plato and Margot Rossi in collaboration with Peverall. The concept for the 10-week program was to combine the best of Eastern and Western medicine practices. The combination offers a new perspective on issues such as prediabetes, diabetes and obesity, and helps motivate CHC patients to manage their health through proven and easy-to-incorporate diet and lifestyle changes.
“Symptoms of illnesses such as diabetes can present themselves in a variety of ways,” says Plato, a certified integrative nutrition coach. “There’s no one-size-fits-all diet or approach. Participants hoped we would simply tell them what to eat every day. Rather than focusing on one standard, we believe it’s important to look at the whole person and understand that their age, stress level, food choices, sleep patterns, and social interactions, to name a few, all influence healthy outcomes.”
Possibilities of Wellbeing’s mission is to champion individual and community well-being through health education, lifestyle strategies and integrative medicine. The Eastern and Western functional and lifestyle medicine approach set the fall program apart from others in the area.
The Sweet Inspiration title makes great sense, says Rossi, a licensed acupuncturist and classical Eastern medicine practitioner. “Many things in life are sweet beyond sweet foods,” she says. “Our goal was to help people realize that when they feel a yearning, they can focus on the metaphor of ‘sweet,’ such as the comfort and nourishment that comes from loving relationships, taking time to pamper themselves, joyful experiences, a satisfying career and more.”
Each 90-minute session includes a brief medical review with Peverall and her staff, followed by hands-on presentations, cooking demonstrations, recipe sampling and a question-and-answer period. Classes cover a wide variety of topics, such as what diabetes symptoms tell us about our lifestyle, how stress and emotional well-being impact blood-sugar levels, how to eliminate cravings, understanding sugar and fat, tips on preventing neurologic problems, the role of the gut in maintaining health and how to read food labels.
“We could see things coming together when one student realized her Mountain Dew counted as a food,” Peverall notes. “She had been very confused about what to ‘eat’ to help her diabetes until she realized that, although it was a liquid, the Mountain Dew she was drinking was a big part of her intake and did count.”
Not only did the trio offer cooking demonstrations, they also brought in recipes they’d created. “We took great care that everything we prepared used ingredients that could be found locally and offered a good balance of healthy fats, protein and fiber,” Plato says. “We also showed participants how to replace less desirable foods with nutrient-rich choices that can be easily found on the shelves of most grocery stores.”
“What I eat now doesn’t resemble what I ate before the class,” Hall says. “I never knew that warm foods or liquids served at room temperature helped my digestion. I didn’t know I could eat the right complex carbohydrates without having much impact on my glycemic index. Thanks to letting us taste so many recipes, I’ve added foods into my diet like beets and barley. Since they showed us how to make our own salad dressings, I don’t use store-bought dressings anymore. I’ve been losing weight, and I feel better.”
Helping patients shift blood-sugar levels and adapt new dietary or exercise habits was not the trio’s only goal. Since stress often influences eating behaviors and affects the complex process of digestion and blood sugar levels, Rossi led mindfulness meditation exercises. She couldn’t have been more pleased by the response. “In one class we talked about managing pain through breathing,” Rossi says. Participants “were surprised to experience how relaxed they could feel by using a simple tool like breathing.” In addition, they were introduced to guided imagery and yoga practices to reduce stress and gain new perspectives for problem-solving. “I personally loved Margot’s imagery of floating higher and higher away from an unpleasant thought,” Peverall adds. The importance of spending time in nature was also emphasized.
One of the benefits of the program was the feedback participants gave each other. “One patient would say they tried something new and share their result with the class,” notes Rossi. “Here was a group of people from different backgrounds, but they understood each other’s challenges and supported each other. The synergy was terrific.”
That synergy was not only evident among the students. Although they’ve not begun planning, the trio hope to create more group workshops in the near future. “What’s great is that we’re all so different, and yet we reinforce and support each other’s ideas,” Peverall says. “I think patients walked away with a well-rounded perspective.”
For more information on upcoming programs or to access a directory of complementary medicine providers in the community, visit possibilitiesofwellbeing.com.