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Grab that cookie! Then try these creative ways to eat healthy

By Tim Merrell


I wake up every morning with every intention of eating healthier. I start with an English muffin sandwich with spinach, egg and one slice of bacon totaling 350 calories.

After breakfast, I sit down at my desk and begin to telework. But two hours later, I find myself walking mindlessly into the kitchen, grabbing the Oreo Double Stuffed chocolate cookies. And there I am again – snacking.

I am supposed to know better, because I am the health program manager for the Coast Guard.

My job is to teach members how to maintain Coast Guard personnel readiness, and I recognize I’m not setting a very good example.  

Maintaining personnel Coast Guard readiness has taken on a new meaning during COVID-19.

The Coast Guard has suspended weigh-ins, to ensure member’s safety and follow social distancing guidelines. But personal readiness is still key.

“Sustained personnel readiness is critical to our ability to serve our nation,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden. “Coast Guard members are required to maintain their physical readiness and adhere to the body composition policy every day.”

In trying times, we sometimes let our dietary wellness suffer. Almost everyone these days enjoys a little comfort food while binge-watching Netflix. But, if this becomes a habit it can quickly affect our overall health and lifestyle.

“Most of us have not experienced something like COVID-19 before,” said Vanderhaden.

“This is the first time I have been ordered to ‘stay at home’ and find myself being thrown off my routine. We must stay fit and resilient to overcome unforeseen hardships.”  

“At this time, there is a lot of stress because members are stuck at home, and we don’t have the same outlets we might have had before,” said Reservist Lt. Cmdr. Lauren Trocchio, a registered dietitian working in the Washington, D.C. area.

Trocchio is also the nutrition director at the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research, which specializes in a team approach to weight management.

“Our brain wanders to something enjoyable and uses snacking as one of many distraction tools when we find ourselves stressed or bored,” said Trocchio.

To avoid that boredom, Vanderhaden suggests getting creative when cooking. “I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows and spending time trying new things in the kitchen,” he said. “Cooking has been a good way to pass time and exercise my brain and taste buds. It provides a good blend of art and science. It gives you an opportunity to learn new things and be creative.”

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jason Rohrs, lead chef for the flag mess at Coast Guard headquarters, said COVID-19 is actually helping him become more creative.

“We have a limited menu because shopping is so difficult,” said Rohrs. “We are continuing to cook with what’s fresh and local to bring more flavors out of the foods, but we are having to create items with only what’s in season.”

“When we cook with fresh foods, it’s natural for the ingredients to be already immunity-boosting because of the quality of the ingredients.”

“Try to find food items that increase your immunity – items that are more organic and less processed. It cuts out the additives and preservatives that don’t need to be in foods.”

If you’re looking for some creative ideas, try one of the snack recipes (below) from the Commandant’s culinary specialists.

Coast Guard members underway on cutters are affected by COVID-19 as well.

Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Pederson, a culinary specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick, cooks with all fresh ingredients also, including local produce.

“The week that the Coast Guard first started imposing social-distancing measures, I built a menu that focused on immunity-boosting items such as lots of garlic, broccoli, turmeric, fermented foods, ginger, etc.,” said Pederson.

Another way to avoid over-snacking is to employ some mindfulness techniques before eating.

Ask why are you eating, and how you feel. Are you hungry, bored, tired?  All of these things can give insight to keeping our diets and waistline in check.

Trocchio gives a great example about mindfulness in one of the videos on the Health Promotion web site.

“When you eat the snack, try some mindful eating.” Trocchio said.  “This means chewing the food extremely slowly.  Notice the textures, and try to name them (hard, soft, crunchy, juicy, moist, thick) the different flavors (sweet, chocolatey, sour, bitter, salty), and even the temperature (cool, hot, cold, warm).  You may notice that this technique will let the body tell you when you are full or had enough.”

Bottom line, we need to eat. It is the fuel that keeps us alive.  But if we think of ourselves as a biological machine, and recognize that fuel we put into it will determine how efficient the machine will run, it may help us make better choices. 

With that said, I’m going to grab that Oreo now.  But just one.  Stay safe.


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