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Anita hiking and mountain biking with her husband and son

Vegetarian, Keto, Atkins, vegan, low-fat, The Zone, Paleo, cabbage soup, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, DASH, Mediterranean and Dukan; if there’s a “diet” or food fad out there I’ve likely tried it. A few months later I’d inevitably end up discouraged and looking for the next magic cure to lose those stubborn 15 (okay, 20) pounds.

When I read about St. Luke’s new Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) I thought, why not try that, too! Three months later, and maybe for the first time in my 40-something years, I have a better understanding of the role nutrition (not a diet) plays in my overall health, along with the impacts of physical activity, sleep, stress, self-worth and happiness that I’ve all too often ignored on my health journey.

It’s important to explain what CHIP is and isn’t. First and most important, it’s NOT a diet. CHIP focuses on “whole person health.” You’re challenged to incorporate healthy lifestyle changes and shift your mindset regarding food and nutrition. 

It’s also not a vegan diet. The 18-course program encourages you to embrace a whole-food, plant-based diet filled with vegetables, fruit, high-fiber legumes, water and whole grains. The program, led by a dietitian, provides recipes to help you experiment and get creative with your cooking. I ate delicious things like vegetable chili, kale pesto zoodles, mac-and-cashew-cheese made with chickpea pasta, and butternut squash tagine. 

“I think the combination of whole grains with fruits helped curb sugar cravings, which I have always struggled with before on any other food plan. This has helped me cut down on my intake quite a bit and I am currently working on totally eliminating sugar,” said my classmate Linda Potts.

To convince you why vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains are so good for you, CHIP does a deep-dive into the evidence-based science around the healing properties of plants. By filling your plate with plants, research shows you can live longer while helping to reverse or prevent health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, depression, heart disease, and arthritis. 

“The first few videos and chapters were very eye opening. It’s building the case, scientifically, what different foods do inside your body,” classmate Andrew Aldrich explained.

In addition to better food and nutrition choices, CHIP participants are encouraged to move more, incorporate weights for stronger bones, get outside, find ways to relax and better manage stress, improve sleep, focus on the positive, and build supportive relationships.

Hearty bowl of lentils

“The 1st thing I noticed was the 2:30 p.m. daily slump was gone,” recalled another classmate. “Then the last lab results showed I was able to drop my cholesterol 14 points, lose nine lbs., and my LDL cholesterol dropped 11 points. I knew then this was something I was going to continue, especially since I found it easy to return to healthy eating even if had a so-called cheat meal.” 

I personally lost almost five pounds without feeling deprived or hungry. My waist is more than three inches smaller, triglycerides dropped 15 points, and my blood glucose and A1C went down. Turns out I was the underachiever in my class. Others celebrated weight loss up to 27 pounds, total cholesterol drops up to 43 points and waist sizes five inches smaller. In all, 13 people lost a combined 123 pounds and 37 inches in three months.

Those changes didn’t just happen in our own lives. Many participants say their spouses and children benefited from CHIP, as well.

“I enrolled in the class to better myself and learn how to live a healthier life. I am also excited to see my children go for fruit instead of fruit snacks or candy. I am leading by example and my kids are noticing.  I have lost well over 20 pounds and four inches off my waist during CHIP. I have more energy and feel more mentally alert,” said Aldrich.

Avocado salad

Continuing with this lifestyle was a reoccurring theme. 

“My doctor was very pleased with my blood test results when I was examined at my annual visit. My risk for heart attack is now 2.3%. Anything lower than 7% is considered good. I believe I could live my life eating this way because the effects on my body have been amazing and I find that I don’t really miss eating animal products,” Potts said. 

Through CHIP I’ve personally gained far more than the simple victory of the pounds I lost. The daily stomach aches are long gone, my legs are stronger from walking to meetings and getting outside more, I’m not nearly as winded going up stairs, and I’m actually happy to choose lunch from the salad bar rather than the grill. 

At the beginning of CHIP in May, I was asked why I started this journey. I wrote, “because I want to live a full life, disease-free, as long as possible for my son.” As an older mom, it’s important for me to keep my body young. I want to keep up with a five-year-old and be in his life for as many years as I can. I also want to hike, bike and paddle my way through all the outdoor adventure Idaho offers. I want to sleep better so I can be alert and engaged at work. Bottom line: I want to feel better. After only three months of this new lifestyle, it feels good to be able to say I do. 

- written by Anita Kissee-Wilder, St. Luke's public relations manager, September 2019

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