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Healthy choices: Nutrition counseling offers advice and encouragement

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Karen and Dan are now making healthy choices thanks to nutrition counseling offered at the District.

Karen and Dan found love 34 years ago on the dance floor. After Dan, 65, retired from the U.S. Navy, they settled in Camarillo. While they’ve been physically active throughout their lives, medical conditions and weight gain have taken a toll on their health, particularly Karen’s. So, they needed strategies to get back on track and turned to the Camarillo Health Care District for help. “I am not in the best shape,” admits Karen, 71, who needs a hip and knee replacement but needs to lose weight before qualifying for either surgery. 

In the past, Karen enjoyed regular Jazzercise and Zumba classes, but a series of deaths in her family had her feeling down and she experienced weight gain while seeking comfort in food and not exercising regularly. Over time, the lack of exercise and overeating led to reduced mobility, along with a diagnosis of diabetes, back pain, and neuropathy in her feet.

But last year, following a recommendation to speak with a nutritionist, they registered for a free appointment at the Camarillo Health Care District with Patti Jaeger, a registered dietician from the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging.  Patti offers one-hour appointments to adults aged 60 and over, on the second Tuesday of each month, between 1 and 4 p.m., on the District’s campus or by telephone.

“I believe our health is one of the most important things we have, and nutrition and healthy lifestyle play a vital role,” Patti said. “Many chronic illnesses can be terminated or reversed if a person is committed to make the necessary changes in their dietary plans, as well as activity level, and adopt a healthier lifestyle.”

“It really takes working with each one individually to understand how the person works, their current lifestyle, cultural habits, and food likes and dislikes for a healthy change to occur.”

People most often seek her out for information on controlling blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and enhancing bone health through nutrition and exercise, as well as how to eat healthy on a budget and getting adequate nutrients at particular stages of life.

After their initial appointment, Karen and Dan have checked in with Pattie quarterly for the past year as she helps them with their health journey.  “We always walk away from our appointments with Patti feeling really positive,” Dan said.

Dan has embraced his “support” role, encouraging them both as they make changes.  He is also in charge of grocery shopping and cooking their meals, and Patti’s nutrition advice has been instrumental in helping them eat healthier.

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“Each opportunity I have with the client, we discuss both how to achieve a healthy meal plan for that individual, as well as develop a daily exercise/activity plan and other healthy lifestyle choices,” Patti said. “It’s very individual and it’s important to work with their specific paradigm.”

As an example of Karen and Dan’s plan, Patti recommended a balanced diet and portion control for Karen and has encouraged Dan to incorporate more vegetables into their diet. Karen has replaced “junk food” with protein bars and vitamin drinks in between meals.

“My focus has been solely on how I can support Karen because her health issues related to nutrition have been more than mine,” Dan said. “We are a team and that’s how I want to approach it.”

Patti has also recommended Karen wake up earlier and stick to a daily exercise routine, which includes lifting weights and incorporating stretch bands to strengthen her arms and legs. 

“Patti said to keep a mind frame of, ‘If I don’t exercise, I’ll miss it.’ I previously had an attitude that if I wasn’t losing weight then it wasn’t worth exercising. But she corrected me. She said that’s unrealistic, and I needed to look at exercise as part of my daily routine – something I would miss if I was no longer doing it.”

Patti also suggested Karen use a pool for exercises like water aerobics to help reduce the strain on her back and joints, and she encouraged Karen, an accomplished artist, to get back to creating art and watch less television, which is a more sedentary lifestyle and can lead to eating out of boredom.

“Over time, we decided together that creating a realistic meal plan and achievable activity level she could adhere to, were the first steps,” Patti said. “Then we focused on creating daily habits that incorporate her lifestyle and disabilities, in order to have the habits eventually become second nature.”

In the past year, Karen has lost 10 pounds and has her diabetes under control by employing Patti’s strategies. She said she’s feeling uplifted and rejuvenated because she’s seeing results from diet, exercise, and consistent daily routine.

“Patti, being that third voice, saying ‘you can do this’ has been a big incentive for us,” Dan said.

Karen still has some bad days when she doesn’t feel like getting out of bed early in the morning or exercising. During those times, she gives herself grace.

“It takes a strong will to want to make a change, and also to sustain that change and truly develop a healthier lifestyle,” Patti said. “I provide the nutritional advice, suggestions, encouragement and help determining what changes have to occur. But, in the end, each individual has to do the work themselves.

“I think one has to believe in themselves and feel they are worth the work it takes to develop new, healthier habits and a healthier lifestyle in general,” she said.

Karen and Dan recommend that older adults take advantage of the nutrition counseling offered at the District. “I think what makes Patti unique is that in addition to her extensive knowledge, her care and concern really comes across, and that makes you feel comfortable and cared for,” Dan said.

For more information or to schedule nutrition counseling with Patti, call 805-388-1952. Participants must be 60 and up.

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