Mary and Dan Heisick find the key to eating healthy is planning and preparing meals in advance.

Dan Heisick entered retirement with plans to be active and enjoy hunting, fishing, and four-wheeling, but some weight gain was slowing him down and putting him at risk for developing chronic health conditions.  Through healthier eating and some other lifestyle changes, he’s back on track to a vibrant retirement.

“At my last physical, my doctor, Dr. Christopher Bell, noticed I had gained weight and that my cholesterol and blood sugar numbers were elevated.  I was sluggish and kind of hobbling around,” says Heisick.  “He encouraged me to do something now, before things get out of hand.”

Heisick was referred to the dietician and urged to enroll in the “Health Begins in the Kitchen” program at CHI St. Gabriel’s Health.  The new program was developed to prevent chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes in individuals who have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or want to lose weight.

Jan Korzenowski, dietician at CHI St. Gabriel’s Health, developed the program specifically to get ahead of disease.  “So often we work with patients who already have chronic conditions,” says Korzenowski.  “The program helps people learn what changes in diet and lifestyle they can make to maintain health and prevent disease.”

Prior to the program, Heisick describes his typical dinner as consisting of “a pile” of potatoes, butter, “a slab” of meat, and dessert.  “I also used to binge on M & M’s and Hershey bars.  I drank a liter and a half of pop a day,” says Heisick.

Through the program, Heisick learned which types of foods to eat and how to prepare healthy foods.  He was provided numerous recipes and was able to taste-test many of them.  He learned how easy it can be to prepare simple and healthy meals.

Heisick notes one of the biggest challenges to eating healthy is having time to cook healthy.  Preparing meals in advance for the week ahead has helped overcome that challenge.

“The program showed how planning and preparing meals in advance really makes eating healthier easier,” he says.  “It takes a half day each week to make meals for the whole week, but it’s worth the time.”

Heisick’s plate looks a lot different now.  “For lunch I’ll eat a big salad, with some protein like chipped beef or nuts.  For dinner, I’ll have a hamburger that is half beef and half venison and a side of cole slaw,” he says.    “I learned that portion sizes matter, so I eat one hamburger instead of three.”

Heisick says he also made other lifestyle changes, like going for a walk after eating instead of laying on the couch and watching TV. He’s also started to join his wife, Mary, in the garden. “The garden has always been Mary’s thing, but I like to get out there and help her now,” he says.  “Of course, she lets me know if I’m getting in her way.”

The results have been positive. “I lost 20 pounds in one month,” Heisick says.  “I’m feeling so much better and have a more positive attitude about life.  After feeling this positive change, my mind tells me I can keep this up.”

The changes made have not been without challenges.  “The most challenging part at first was the craving,” says Heisick.  “But that goes away after a while.  Through the program, I’ve found a balance.”

He credits the support from his wife for helping to maintain these new healthy habits. “Mary went through the program with me and has been my partner through all of this,” says Heisick.  “It’s really helped having her there to support me.  It’s been positive for our relationship too.  We’re helping each other stay healthy.”

Heisick encourages others to consider making changes towards a healthier lifestyle. “It was a real wake up call for me,” he says.  “If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your family and those who love you.  It’s definitely worth it.”

CHI St. Gabriel’s Health is currently taking registrations for the next “Health Begins in the Kitchen” program.  The program consists of four two-hour sessions (3 to 5 p.m.) on August 30, September 13, September 27, and October 11 in the Franciscan Room at St. Gabriel’s Hospital/Unity Specialty Center.  The cost is $45.  Register for the program by calling Jan Korzeniowski at 320-631-5571 or emailing JanetKorzeniowski@catholichealth.net.

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