March 17, 2022

National Nutrition Month Encourages Us to Think About Our Relationship With Food and Eat to Support Our Health

It’s March, and thankfully spring is in sight, as well as an easing of COVID-19 numbers in our community, and we are all so grateful for that. March is also a time to think about nourishing our bodies well, since it is National Nutrition Month. The campaign was created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to highlight not only the importance of eating to support our good health, but what that looks like in real life.

Transylvania Regional Hospital is fortunate to count knowledgeable clinical dietitian Lori McCall, MS, RD, LDN as an esteemed team member. Her extensive experience assisting patients with creating optimally healing eating plans makes her an expert we can trust as we seek to understand how best to eat to support our health.

“I generally take a different approach to working with patients’ nutritional needs, depending on if they are in the hospital and recovering from injury, surgery, or a health condition, or if they have been referred to me but in overall good health,” explains McCall. “If a patient is in the hospital, my primary goal is to maximize protein and calories in whatever form the patient can tolerate best, whereas with outpatients, I try to provide guidance about how we think about food so I can help them normalize their relationship with food. At its most basic, I help inpatients more with quantity, and outpatients more with diet quality.”

McCall notes that the nutritional advice she gives patients is often deceptively simple. “I help patients understand that the best evidence-based information we have about healthy eating is not necessarily flashy or new,” she says. “At its simplest, the philosophy is: Eat more plants, fewer processed foods, and try to move every day.”

What we have come to know as “diet culture,” McCall states, is not healthy. “Most of us were raised with an approach to diet that saw food as a reward or punishment, and that certain foods were ‘good’ or ‘bad,” she shares. “This leads to strong feelings of shame and guilt about food. My goal is to guide people toward a view of food as a source of healing rather than something to withhold as a punishment.”

It’s also important, according to McCall, to cultivate an approach of balance instead of an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to eating. “For example,” she says, “fitting more plant-based foods into your diet doesn’t mean you should only be eating platters of greens. Variety is key. A good starting point is upping the veggies and beans in recipes you already enjoy, such as using black beans instead of ground beef in your tacos, adding cooked lentils to your marinara sauce, or throwing in a few cauliflower florets while cooking your rice.”

And although the pandemic has been associated with weight gain for many as we ordered more take-out or perhaps ate more than normal because of stress, the past two years have also seen a marked increase in people’s interest toward cooking and making from-scratch food. “It’s a lot less stressful to have some fun in the kitchen with your family and pull off a meal together than it is to have yet another fast food meal,” says McCall. “Devoting an hour each week toward meal planning can make home-cooking a reality.”

McCall also brings up a basic fact about human nature: If we are told that we can’t have something, we want it all the more and are likelier to overindulge. “It comes down to cues,” she says. “I work with a lot with people who may have an environmental trigger that prompts them toward less healthy food choices. You might stress-eat chips while watching the evening news, for example, or grab a drive-through biscuit on your way to work. If we can distance from those triggers and substitute a healthier habit in its place – say, take a walk during your 5 o’clock wine and cheese time – then we’ve got a shot at changing that pattern and establishing a healthier behavior.”

When McCall works with a patient living with a specific condition that requires carefully monitoring what they eat, such as diabetes or heart disease, she takes special care to customize the information she shares with them and the treatment plan she creates. “Also, many aren’t aware that Medicare covers dietician visits for those with diabetes and chronic kidney disease. You just need a doctor’s referral to be able to call and schedule an appointment,” she explains.

Since the food we eat affects how we feel physically and impacts our mood, it’s smart to put some thought into what motivates us around food, whether it causes us stress or is a source of pleasure, and how we can come to view it as a positive rather than just another thing to worry about. “Often, if we can be gentler with ourselves around food, we can move in a direction where we eat in a way that recognizes food as an important source of nourishment, and something that can make us feel better and more energetic on a daily basis,” encourages McCall.

The food we consume has powerful healing properties and should play a large role in helping us recover from illness or surgery, as well as a part of maintaining our good health. Simply sitting down with an insightful registered dietitian like Lori McCall can help patients improve their relationships with food and start enjoying preparing and eating healthy meals made delicious with a variety of ingredients and creative use of herbs and spices. Making inroads to healthier eating is a gift we give ourselves.

Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital. Her diverse professional experience includes service as a bedside nurse and over a decade as a leader at healthcare institutions in Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina. Ms. Pilon earned a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Ohio’s University of Akron and a Masters in Health Services Administration from the University of St. Francis in Illinois; she is also a Board-Certified Nursing Executive.