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People and programs 03/20/2015

“There’s fruit and vegetables in my meals now. There’s no foil or shiny wrappers. I’m not unwrapping my meals anymore.”

Gord did not come to The Local’s FoodFit program willingly. His wife Tanya had to coax him there, along with her sister. 

“We showed up the first day, we thought it was a one-day thing. We found out it was 12 weeks long and we were like, ‘Oh no!’ But then we found out what we’d be doing, making cooking fun and learning about healthy eating, and it was entertaining, fun, engaging so we chose to get into it.”

Gord and Tanya have both been food insecure for as long as they can remember. “I didn’t eat vegetables as a kid, I didn’t eat much of anything,” says Gord. They both completed their GED in the past 10 years, and moved from London to Stratford in hopes of finding a lower cost of living. Still, though, they found themselves just breaking even at the end of each month.They are key providers to their immediate and extended family, and are also caregivers for Tanya’s sister and her special needs son. The pressure on them is high.

The PROOF Report on Household Food Insecurity has found that the adults in most food insecure households in Canada are working, but still struggle to afford and access enough healthy food. We also know that the vast majority of adults in food insecure households have at least one chronic disease; most have more than one. Food insecurity takes a very real toll on people’s physical and mental health and is a serious public health problem.

Fast food, soda, and processed snacks have been the foundation of Gord and Tanya's daily meals for years — easy, quick, and accessible. But Tanya knows they don’t help her family’s health or bank account. “I grew up cooking, but I became removed from it. It’s seemed hard to incorporate it back when it’s easier to grab fast food. But I see [our family] falling into the ease of fast food and we want to be a better example.” Enter FoodFit.

FoodFit is a 12-week program for low-income community members who experience barriers around healthy eating and physical activity but want to make lasting changes to their health. The program combines fun, hands-on cooking sessions and food-based activities with take-home recipes, easy-to-understand nutrition information, group exercise, shared meals, self-directed individual and group goal-setting, and reflection and feedback loops that monitor and reinforce individual and group progress.

12 weeks of FoodFit had a big impact on many aspects of Gord and Tanya’s diet. They say their “a-ha” moment came in the seventh week, when they learned from FoodFit coordinator Kate Van just how much sugar goes into the most common convenience food items (from breakfast cereal to common condiments), and then learned healthier ways to satisfy their sweet tooth with recipes for yogurt sundaes, homemade applesauce, chocolate avocado pudding, and banana cookies.

Not only have Gord and Tanya’s meals changed as a result of being in Foodfit, their lifestyle has changed too. Just nine weeks into the program, Gord started jogging 3.5 kms to pick Tanya up at work so they could walk home together. “This is a cool down for him and a more intense activity for me. I can feel the difference. It’s a new awareness that eating well changes the way you can be active. I’ve never felt this good in my life.”

By the end of the program, Gord’s weight had dropped from 208 to 196 lbs, and his waist had shrunk by three inches, putting him out of risk of developing a number of chronic disease conditions. At the beginning of the program he had blood pressure readings consistent with stage 2 hypertension – by the end of the program he was considered pre-hypertensive. 

Tanya has noticed significant changes in her family members as well. “It’s another thing to see my sister eating vegetables and cooking them. She’s never cooked anything for herself. She knew how to cook, we thought we were going to this program for her – to get into it again and have confidence. She made me dinner last week, she’s applying it.” Tanya has also seen major changes in her nephew, who struggles with food and eating issues: “He’s underweight and he’s been eating everything she’s been making. She’s cooking it and he sees that it matters. This is a kid who wouldn’t eat anything, do anything. She’s getting positive feedback from him, her friends and our family.”

Tanya and Gord are confident they can carry on with their healthier lifestyle: “We’re a team – we’ll keep each other at it ... I can keep learning from this and I want to help other people. You’re in touch with your community again.”

“It’s good for our entire family. I think when they start the next programs, our kids and our previous foster daughter are going to join. We’re going to be a multigenerational FoodFit family!”

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