By Zandy Dudiak, Communications coordinator
What do you do when someone replaces the junk food snacks you love to eat with fruits and veggies? Well, maybe you try the healthy snacks for a week. Then, you get a bit upset in week two because you really miss the food that’s not good for you.
That was a challenge that Tamara Epperson, team lead, faced when the three residents at Parkview Community Living Arrangement (CLA) began following the My25 food plan this year. But it was a lifestyle change that they’ve overcome with time, even switching to water or flavored water instead of carbonated beverages. “We got rid of all the bad snacks and all the bad drinks,” she says. “They’re doing it. They aren’t sneaking as much.”
Justin Moran, team lead, found the same thing when the snacks at Harmening CLA, switched to healthier foods, such as oranges, watermelons, apples, and bananas, for the three residents there. “They look forward to it now,” he says.
Part of Pittsburgh Mercy’s strategic plan is to reduce obesity prevalence for persons served in continuity of care programs by 10% between July 2019 and June 2022. Obesity is a main cause of decreased life expectancy for persons living with severe mental illness and a disparity for vulnerable populations. “We are stewards of their health,” Justin says.
My25 originally was designed for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a community-based setting. My25’s outcomes are highly favorable, with 70 percent of persons supported by the program at or moving toward a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) within six to 18 months of adopting the eating plan.
“These have been significant changes in their diets on a positive level,” Justin says. “We try to have a plate that looks one half fruit and vegetables and one half carbs and protein.”
Meals that often were “convenient” for colleagues to prepare in the past, such as microwaveable frozen entrees, have been traded for the easy-to-prepare meals. Justin says the My25 meal plan recipes break down the ingredients needed for every meal. Tamara says that was important at the Parkview site, because the colleagues there weren’t cooks, but were able to look at the menu and recipe and follow the instructions step by step.”
“It’s challenging but the more we do it, the better we’re getting at it,” Tamara says. “It’s amazing. It not only tells you what it is, it tells you how to make it.”
One Harmening resident who was eating peanut butter two-to-three times a day during the pandemic offered some resistance at first. “He’s complied,” Justin says. “He eats the meals we prepare for him now. He’s changed. I would definitely credit the program with that.”
At Harmening, counselor Mike Eliou is the colleague who checks out the meals for the week. Breakfasts and lunches are pretty standard but healthy, Justin says. The variety comes with dinner.
“I like My25 because it’s different things,” Tamara says. “It has so many recipes, you don’t get bored. Things that you think wouldn’t be healthy are healthy—if you cook them properly.”
It’s also easy to adjust the meals. The Parkview residents didn’t like the oatmeal on the My25 plan, so the colleagues tweaked it and “now they’re eating oatmeal every morning,” Tamara says. The healthier eating lifestyle has helped two of the Parkview residents consistently lose one or two pounds a week, Tamara notes.
Even “cheat days” are healthier. Tamara says the colleagues will use a thinner pizza crust or make a cauliflower crust instead. At restaurants, they are choosing broccoli instead of fries as a side dish.
Though Harmening hasn’t documented the weight loss among the three residents, Justin says, “their energy and demeanor is a little better and brighter.” They have also been using gym equipment, including an elliptical, a sitting bike, two regular bikes, and an Envision machine to help them track workouts. Parkview has purchased a bicycle for the residents there.
My25 has indirectly influenced colleagues, too. Tamara says one staff member at Parkview is using the recipes at home, though she sometimes tweaks it to make it better for her children.
“It has made me a little more health conscious,” Justin says. “It’s helped me with portion control.