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Families take on challenge of getting healthier with contest

By Dawn Brazell | News Center | May 23, 2014

Fit Family ChallengeMUSC Wellness Center Director Janis Newton, left, works with Jody Hollars as his wife, Donna, observes. Newton is one of three MUSC experts assisting the two spotlight families in the Lowcountry who are blogging about being part of the Family FIt Challenge
Sarah Pack 

As fate would have, Donna Hollars faced a painful hip injury shortly after embarking on the Lowcountry Family Fit Challenge.

She’s nursing herself back to health, but she knows she can’t use her injury as an excuse. For one, giving up is not an option, not with her family being one of two “spotlight” families in the Lowcountry. The Hollars and the Shellman-Vests families were chosen to blog about their journey with the challenge. The statewide healthy lifestyle program kicked off May 15 and runs through July 10. Families register online and track activities to earn points for a chance to win prizes.

Hollars, who works at MUSC as an EpicCare Ambulatory credentialed trainer, said the rollout of a new phase of the program at MUSC means added stress. Instead of postponing wellness goals, though, she and her husband, Jody, and daughter MacKenzi Grace, have purged their kitchen, created family activity nights and even started a garden.

“Things are going well,” she said of the family’s participation so far in the challenge. “The family is engaged, but then there’s real life.”

That’s the point of the challenge, which gives families a structure, resources to stay motivated and suggestions of how to personalize the program to make it work. If people waited for the perfect time to start, it would never happen, said Susan Johnson, Ph.D., director of MUSC’s Office of Health Promotion, and one of three MUSC wellness experts who are working with the two Lowcountry spotlight families to help them achieve their goals.

"There are so many weight loss and fitness challenges out there,” Johnson said. “What is unique about this is that it is encouraging healthy activity as a family. The benefits are tremendous, and when parents begin to realize the impact they can have over the health of their children, not only now but for a lifetime, I think we will start to move the needle in the obesity epidemic.”
MUSC’s two other challenge consultants are Janis Newton, interim director of the Wellness Center, and Debbie Petitpain, a Sodexo registered dietitian and wellness nutrition coordinator. They are working with the families to personalize an action plan to encourage healthy lifestyle changes.

Newton believes people do better by becoming more conscious of how they are living their lives, including the amount of activity they’re getting, and then brainstorming their own ideas of how to create a healthier lifestyle. “Yes, you have to be motivated when you first start, but then we’re going to turn that motivation into a few habits that is going to make it mindless. We want you eating better, sleeping better and moving better.”

Fit Family Challenge
Dawn Brazell
From left, Susan Johnson, Debbie Petitpain, MacKenzi Hollars, Donna Hollars and Janis Newton attend the grand opening of Fit Family Challenge held at Hampton Park May 13. 

Newton said she loves helping people learn the tools to change their lives in a real way that’s sustainable.

“We just help to facilitate it, and you take it and run with it. If it’s not comfortable and it’s not you, you’re not going to do. We all know we need to move more during the day, so it’s figuring out how to make that happen.”

The general exercise prescription is to get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily, she said.

“Our take on it is that’s great but what are you doing the other 23 hours a day. Let’s look at the whole 24 hours and see about sleeping and see about how you’re fueling your body and when you’re sleeping and when you’re sedentary. It really doesn’t take much to make a couple of easy changes and, bingo, you’re moving more, you’re fueling your body better. It’s fun, and it brings you closer together as a family.”

One part of the challenge that has surprised Hollars is how it is bringing the family closer. They have turned off the television during dinnertime. She thought it would be too quiet, but has found the vacuum allows room for lively family conversation. They also do more to get outside together and look for opportunities to be active.

This marks a new phase in Hollars’ wellness journey that began last June when she started a Lunchtime Losers program at MUSC.

“The scale was a great motivator because it kept going down, the measuring tape kept going back down, and I found a way to add more activity and enjoy doing all of that. I found a real source of joy. It stopped being about the weight loss pretty early on and became about why do I do what I do and how can I continue to keep these changes moving forward and being positive.”

What Hollars found missing was how her family wasn’t part of the plan. She felt before the challenge that she was doing a good job of making healthy changes for herself, but not as well for her family.

“I’m passionate about the role I play in my family and how it really does start and stop with me. I wasn’t doing a great job of it before.”

She hopes the blogs of the families and the wellness experts will be resources for other families who will be encouraged to try small lifestyle changes. “The scary thing is anything new. You want to do well and you want to be role models, but there’s fear because we’re not perfect.  We do pizza, and we do fast food,” she said of the vulnerability involved in writing a blog.

Her two main pieces of advice so far are to expect setbacks and work through them and to make small changes at a time, so it’s not so overwhelming. “Find something that works for you,” she said, adding that she’s loved some of the ideas she’s gotten such as packing a frozen bag of steamed vegetables in her lunch, which also doubles as the ice pack. “My advice to other families is to find a little place in your life to make some tweaks and if that’s paying off, then slowly add on to that.”

MacKenzi is her main motivating drive. She wants her daughter to see what being healthy looks and feels like and to have the tools to weather any setback that comes along. They shop for healthy foods each week and do individual and family activities to stay active. The focus is doing things they enjoy, she said. For example, it was her daughter’s idea to do a garden, and her husband is helping to get it going. MacKenzi picked out cucumbers, tomatoes, banana peppers, red bell pepper, squash, sweet basil and dill. It will be interesting to see if anything grows, she said.

“We’re a work in progress. The fun things are the simple things.”

Debbie Petitpain's Top Nutrition Tips for Fit Families

1.    Make water more interesting to drink with flavored ice. Fill each hole of an ice cube tray with a blueberry, raspberry, a small piece of watermelon or the leaves of fresh herbs like mint. Fill with water and freeze then add them to your water glass. They add a hint of flavor and make it look pretty.

2.    Instead of spending an hour cooking just one night’s worth of whole grains like brown rice (which can take up to an hour to cook), make a large batch, cool, and put one cup servings in individual storage bags and throw in the freezer. Reheat in the microwave in a matter of minutes on busy nights.

3.     Eat a high-protein, high-fiber breakfast aiming for more than 15 grams of protein and more than 5 grams of fiber. Good pairings include yogurt topped with berries and high fiber cereal; whole wheat English muffin with sliced banana; and scrambled eggs topped with salsa.

4.     Bring a bag of groceries to work on Mondays – a bag of apples, 5 containers of low-fat yogurt, a bag of pre-washed salad greens, several packs of tuna or canned chicken and soups (vegetable, lentil, black bean). Then you have lunch for the whole week. Don’t forget silverware, some bowls and a can opener.

5.     Set aside “let’s play kitchen” time with the kids on the weekend. Have the kids pull your fruits and vegetables out and help wash, peel, chop and put up in Tupperware for grab and go snacks. Make it fun – have your young ones practice their counting by counting out 5 carrots per baggie, for example. Quiz your older ones to see if they can spell the names of all the foods. Let them taste as they go – they might just find a new favorite food.

6.     Keep fruits such as oranges, bananas and apples on the counter – what you see is what you are most likely to eat first. That also means keeping the junk foods on the top shelf!

7.     If you buy food in bulk, immediately portion out individual servings. If you have the storage space, move extras into the outdoor pantry or fridge so it stays out of sight and out of mind.

8.     Transition away from white bread by making your sandwich with one slice white and one slice whole grain bread (look for the word whole on the packaging). Use cookie cutters to cut the sandwiches into fun shapes for the kids.

9.     Muffins made with whole wheat flour is an easy place to slide mashed bananas, crushed pineapple, grated carrots, raisins and nuts. Freeze them, then warm in the microwave for 30 seconds and they can be pulled out for a quick breakfast or an after school snack.

10.   Keep a notebook in your kitchen drawer to list what you make for dinner. On a hectic night when you are at a loss for what to cook, you can refer to it for inspiration.

11.   Joining a CSA or farm share inspires you to try new seasonal and local veggies. Most offer the option to be home delivered and many give you recipes to go with what’s in your share for the week.

12.   Yes, precut melon, green beans in the steamer bag and veggie trays are expensive. But they also are time savers and may be worth every dime!

13.   Look into ordering your groceries online. You can easily search what’s on sale, and the total cost is tallied as you go and you won’t be tempted by the specials on junk or the candy at the checkout line. Just pull your car up to the store, and they load the groceries for you without you even having to unbuckle (or wake a sleeping baby). Spend the hour you just saved by not shopping to do some extra food prep for the week.




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