Sharing a good read with members of a book club. Bragging about a full house with your poker buddies. Having good conversation over the fence with your neighbor.
Sharing with like-minded individuals builds camaraderie that only adds to an experience.
That’s certainly been the case for a group of St. Luke’s employees who recently graduated from a St. Luke’s sponsored Community Health Improvement Program (CHIP) class.
The CHIP program focuses on incorporating healthy lifestyle changes and shifting the mindset regarding food and nutrition. And it isn’t just for St. Luke’s employees; members of the community can attend an info session, take courses and participate in local events with others who’ve gone through the series.
The eight women who participated in the class together lost more than 120 pounds and enjoyed additional health benefits as the series went along.
“This was an awesome class, because they had such energy and they built such a connection with each other,” said Charmin Aschenbrener, a registered dietician who works in St. Luke’s Lifestyle Medicine department and was the facilitator of the class. “This was very much a special group.”
Aschenbrener taught members of the class about the benefits of eating whole foods and a plant-based diet; it’s a lifestyle she practices, and she shares tips about her latest finds in local stores and cookbooks with program participants.
“Charmin’s enthusiasm is contagious,” class member Anne Marie Engel said.
Group member Rebecca Schaeffer came away thrilled by her own transformation.
“I lost 30 pounds in the two and a half months I’ve been doing the plan,” she said. “I also have my husband and two kids on board. They’re 7 and 5, and they’re doing it.
“My son’s super excited. He’s type 1 diabetic, and we’ve reduced his insulin in half. We’re eating as many carbs, if not more, but they’re healthy carbs now.
“My husband wasn’t so sure about it at first. He was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do no meat.’ But then, a couple weeks ago he was like, ‘I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to eat meat again.’ So, we’re plant-based forever now. Especially with my son. There’s no reason not to. His insulin levels aren’t spiking anymore.”
Schaeffer’s story is one of many successes of the group, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some missteps. When asked if there was any cheating, the room filled with laughter.
Engel, for example, jokingly said she put her foot down when it came to cream in her coffee.
“I like to think of it as a continuum,” fellow class member Heather Geile said. “You have eating meat completely on one side and then more plant-based on the other. … I just had to focus on moving my family’s continuum more toward plant-based.
“I realize I’m not going to get there 100 percent of the time, so I try to focus on a few meals a week and continuing to introduce new things to my family.”
Her fellow class members supported her efforts, just as they supported Tami Norvell when she went to Disneyland.
“I recently agreed to go chaperone the Timberline High School’s music department to Anaheim for a competition,” Norvell said. “I was panicked before leaving because of my new eating patterns. I knew there was going to be a lot of junk consumed by teenagers. But everyone (in the class) pitched in.”
Her classmates gave her healthy snacks for her bus rides and emailed ideas for maintaining her diet on the road. That camaraderie became Norvell’s defense against temptation.
The group also had powerful support in the form of Jake Bowman. Bowman manages the kitchen at Café 720 in the Washington Group Plaza building complex, where the class met on a weekly basis.
“We’ve been trying a lot of plant-based recipes in our cafeteria (at WGP) since we opened in September,” said Bowman, who has changed his own diet to about 80 percent plant-based. “What I wanted to bring to the table for (the class) was just making it easy for them to plan out their meals for the week. … I would send out an email every week, kind of letting them know what their diet should be for the week. It seems like that’s getting a lot of traction.”
His efforts contributed to the sense of teamwork among the group.
“I think I speak for all of us in the room when I say that we love this guy, Jake,” Norvell said. “He has been on board with putting these options in the cafeteria for us. I know when I go in there and I’m at a loss as to what I should eat, I can find him and he’ll help with some good options.”
The members recently celebrated their graduation over plant-based lasagna that Bowman prepared, but Aschenbrener didn’t think it would be the last time they will gather together.
“We have an e-mail chain, and they’ll be able to tell each other what’s going on in the cafeteria,” she said. “They can also use it as a way to get together and go for a walk. … I feel like this is a group that can change the culture at Washington Group Plaza and keep building the CHIP movement.”
Those interested in participating can attend a free info session in person or online. The 18-session CHIP program takes place in multiple locations, and graduates can become a part of CHIP Club to stay engaged.
Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.