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5 Health Improvement Tips from a Morrison Healthcare Registered Dietitian

In the March issue of Today’s Dietitian magazine, Morrison registered dietitian Cynthia Moore was recognized as one of 10 registered dietitians nationwide “Who Are Making a Difference.” Moore has worked for Morrison Healthcare for 12 years, the last nine as the assistant clinical nutrition manager, ambulatory, at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, Va. Below, Moore discusses her approach to helping people improve their health.

I’m fortunate to be able to help people improve their health and to be part of a unique partnership between Morrison and the University of Virginia. As head of the Nutrition Counseling Center at UVA, I supervise a team of eight registered dietitians in five outpatient areas. We operate much like a private practice within the medical center. In addition to helping the public, it also serves the university staff.

In the Nutrition Counseling Center we offer nutrition education and counseling, medical nutrition therapy and weight and stress resilience training.  We also provide classes, cooking demos, and worksite wellness programs within the university.

After working with hundreds of people seeking to improve their health, I’ve concluded that counseling and education can have a significant impact on health improvement. Here are five approaches we use to help our patients live healthier lives:

1. Trust that each individual knows what form of health and wellness matters most.

We use health coaching skills that help people understand their motives and values involved in improving their health. We also focus on their strengths to reach their goals. Many people understand they need to make healthier food choices or exercise more for weight change. My aim is to create an environment where they can hear their own words and wisdom. Listening and collaborating toward their goals often enables them to take ownership of their health.

One of my patients was concerned about obesity and higher-than-normal blood sugar. Only 5’1”, she wanted to lose weight and prevent becoming wheelchair bound from prior injuries.  She quickly understood she had to reduce the size of her meals and choose foods carefully.

But as we talked, she realized swimming with snorkeling gear would enable her to improve her strength while avoiding pain from a prior neck injury. Solving this problem gave her ownership of her health. She progressed to swimming more than 20 laps each session and lost 40 pounds. Most important, she was able to walk to classes at the community college, stand long enough to fix food for family, travel and participate in church services. In short, by lowering her weight she could achieve those things that really mattered to her.

2. People Want to Achieve Goals Beyond Their Physical Health

Most people have more personal goals than simply lowering their blood sugar and losing a few pounds. For example, an overweight parent or grandparent wants to make sure they stay well enough to care for a child or grandchild or to see them graduate. Once the patient has expressed their goals, we can develop a program together to help them achieve it. Making a deeper connection to personal goals can also be the secret weapon to seeing your goals through when discipline alone wanes.

3. Reducing Stress Will Help People Make Better Decisions

We make optimum health decisions when we’re feeling rewarded and happy. We offer a six-week course called Nourishing Resilience which helps people connect within and use simple tools for stress resilience. When the brain is happier and more balanced, people make healthier food choices.

A few years ago, a patient named Mary wanted to lose weight and enrolled in the Nourishing Resilience course. It became clear that though she carried the emotional burden of caring for an ill family member, she could still make her own health a priority. Over the next year, she lost 50 pounds, took up running and completed a local four-mile race.

4. Focus on the Whole Person (Integrative Nutrition Care)

This holistic approach supplements traditional nutrition therapy with additional techniques that address the mind-body aspects of health and wellness.

One former client with Type 1 diabetes had an eating disorder and a blood sugar reading double the recommended level. I introduced her to Yoga nidra, a relaxation practice that has been found to reduce tension and anxiety. The client liked this technique so much that she learned how to do it at home. This improved her state of mind; she eventually began taking her insulin again, gradually reducing her weight and blood sugar.

5. Eat a Healthy Breakfast

Most days I eat a nutritious breakfast that has protein and high-fiber carbohydrates. Medical research shows there are health and weight benefits to eating within an hour of waking, so I recommend it to my clients. My breakfast usually consists of one of the following combinations:

  • Gluten-free toast with avocado or peanut butter and one-half banana;
  • Homemade mueslix consisting of uncooked oats, raisins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds with 2 percent milk, a small amount of plain Fage yogurt and blueberries;
  • Gluten-free cereal flakes with 2 percent milk, yogurt and banana.
  • Two boiled or pan sautéed eggs and toast, sometimes butter or cheese.

Each person is motivated by different needs, but health improvement can begin by setting specific “next step” goals and eating more wholesome, often plant-based foods with the right nutrients. Once they start to eat healthy meals, a drop in weight and blood sugar or cholesterol is often the motivation needed to spur them on to achieve their long-term goals. It’s a rewarding experience to work with people and share in their success; one that makes my job one of the best there is.

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