“I’m happy. My health is good. My family means everything to me. And I have a good life. That’s what this program has done for me."
Food is such an essential but basic part of our lives that it can be hard to appreciate the impact that a change in diet and nutrition can have on a person’s health, outlook, and future. But that’s the kind of shift we get to see at NourishedRx.
Martha is a wonderful example. Living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, she started our program two years ago after her second bout of Covid put her in the hospital and worsened her diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and chronic heart disease. When Meg, our program manager, reached out to her about our food is medicine program offered through Martha’s Medicare Advantage plan, Martha was ready to give it a try. The results were transformational –dramatically boosting Martha’s health, easing the depression that had weighed her down in recent years, and enhancing her self-confidence, self-reliance, and optimism about life in general.
While this was a new beginning for Martha, it also brought her full circle in her food journey – back to the healthy eating habits and good health of her childhood. Martha grew up on a farm outside Dublin, Mississippi in a family with five brothers and six sisters. Her parents were share croppers; and although they had little money, they always had wonderful meals on the big dining table her father had built with his own hands. As Martha recalls, “We lived off the land, and grew all our vegetables and spices, and raised hogs and chickens. The only time we had anything sweet was when Mama baked a cake."
Looking back, she realizes now that no one in her family ever got sick. Martha didn’t even visit her first doctor until she was 16. But that good health started to change in the 1960s as her family moved north one-by-one as part of the Great Migration. “All of a sudden, we started eating differently. We had a lot of processed food. Our health began to deteriorate. Over the years, we developed heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes. It makes me appreciate what a big difference food made in our lives.”
Raising her own children, she made sure they ate plenty of vegetables, but she also let them have a lot of potato chips and sweets. By the time her children had grown and moved out on their own, Martha was tired of cooking all the time. So, she began to eat less carefully and healthily, grabbing whatever was quick and easy, even as she spent long hours at work. She was also a night person and ate a lot of snacks and junk food during downtime, reading or scrolling the Internet. After retirement, those habits persisted even as her health worsened.
A Different Path
Covid was her wake up call. Her second bout was scary. She couldn’t walk across the room without fear of collapse. Even when hospitalized, she didn’t feel safe. Suffering from brain fog, she had trouble concentrating and remembering. And her chronic conditions put real limits on her energy and independence. That felt like a true low point in her life. The invitation to join the NourishedRx program hit her at the right time and inspired her to take a hard look at how she was living. Very quickly, she became determined to make a significant change.
Still struggling from the effects of Covid, she was grateful for the meals delivered to her door with simple instructions and recipes to follow. Some of the ingredients were new to her, but she was willing to give them a try. “There were a lot of items I had never eaten in my life like tofu and tempeh and certain spices. But I cooked and ate everything, and it was delicious.”
The change in her eating habits was huge. No more fried foods, junk food, or soda. Lots of vegetables, fish, and lean meat. The recipes that our dietitian, Megan, provided helped Martha manage her salt and sugar intake, consume healthy fats, and address her vitamin deficiencies. She learned which foods affected her specific health problems and began to balance her meals with different portions of vegetables, proteins and carbs. She began to shop differently, too, reading labels carefully, starting in the vegetable section, avoiding the junk food aisle. She even ate different snacks at night, enjoying carrots over chips.
An Improved Diet as a Catalyst for Better Health
Very quickly, Martha started to feel better physically. Her energy levels were higher. She slept easier. She got a glucose monitor to watch her blood sugar, and a scale to check her weight every morning. She began to retain less water and felt less bloated. She noticed improvements in her heart and kidney functions which the doctors confirmed. Her A1C rates were dropping, her blood pressure was getting under control, her heart problems simply went away.
And these eating changes had a ripple effect on other aspects of her life. She began to exercise more regularly because that also helped her feel better. Even when she hurt her back and couldn’t do the exercises she liked, she kept up with her walking and stretching. Setbacks are no longer insurmountable obstacles. “Just because I get off track, doesn’t mean I’m going to quit. I just come back and start my routine again.”
The attention on her physical health helped Martha become more conscientious about her emotional health. She’s always experienced stress and anxiety but began to think about those challenges as just another aspect of life she could manage and care for differently. In particular, she noticed how feeling down or negative inspired unhealthy eating habits. So, she learned to calm herself by sitting quietly, focusing on her breath, and meditating. Those positive changes inspired more self care. “I tell my friends now, I go to bed happy, and I get up happy."
Her friends and neighbors at the senior living community where she lives have noticed all those changes, and some are motivated to follow her example. They see the healthy food that she cooks, and the positive, energetic way she takes on life. “They respect me for it,” she says.
Martha has made the most of her opportunities with the NourishedRx program, and the results have paid off. “I’m happy. My health is good. My family means everything to me. And I have a good life. That’s what this program has done for me.” In a very real sense, eating good food has taken her back to the good health, self-reliance, and optimism she felt as a young person. It’s a great way to live.