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September 28, 2010 > It's True - You Are What You Eat!

It's True - You Are What You Eat!

Nutrition Education and Therapy Help You Discover a Healthier You

In the 1820s, French lawyer and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin proclaimed: "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."

Since that time, numerous scientific studies have proven him correct - what you eat can have a profound impact on your physical and emotional health. That's why Washington Hospital offers a comprehensive array of nutrition education programs and classes, as well as medical nutrition therapy for people with a variety of health conditions and illnesses.

"Making lifestyle changes and learning how to eat well is important for controlling many medical conditions," says Kimberlee Alvari, RD, Washington Hospital's Clinical Manager of Food and Nutritional Services. "Nutrition education plays a vital role in helping to improve the overall health of our patients."

With nine registered dietitians on staff, the hospital offers nutrition services for a variety of diseases, conditions and situations:
* Disease prevention and general wellness
* Cardiovascular disease such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and congestive heart failure
* Diabetes, including Type 1, Type 2 and gestational
* Gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease, cirrhosis of the liver and Crohn's disease
* Oncology, including nutritional support for chemotherapy side effects
* Pediatric conditions such as failure to thrive and inborn metabolism abnormalities, as well as general infant/child feeding issues
* Pulmonary (lung) disease, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
* Renal (kidney) disease such as renal insufficiency, chronic failure and transplantation
* Weight management and eating disorders
* Women's health concerns such as pregnancy, osteoporosis and anemia

"Our patients' nutritional needs are not one-dimensional," Alvari notes. "Some patients with heart conditions may also have diabetes, for instance, so there are areas that overlap in our programs. Also, we try to meet patients in an appropriate setting where their needs can be met best. Some patients work better in one-on-one counseling sessions with a dietitian, while others prefer the interaction and mutual support found in a class setting."

Alvari explains that Washington Hospital's nutrition education efforts focus heavily on outpatient programs and community outreach. "Research has shown that the hospital bed is not the best place for conducting nutrition education," she says. "That's why we focus on providing continuity of care through medical nutrition therapy counseling once the patient is dismissed from the hospital. We offer general nutrition education classes for the public at large, but when a person has one or more medical conditions, we need to take into account the person's therapeutic diet needs because proper nutrition is part of managing the condition."

When patients' conditions warrant medical nutrition therapy, registered dietitians perform comprehensive nutrition assessments to determine the nutrition "diagnosis." The dietitians then plan and implement nutrition "interventions," using evidence-based nutrition guidelines to recommend behavioral and lifestyle changes required to impact long-term eating habits and health. The dietitians then monitor and evaluate patients' progress over subsequent visits.

"We tailor our services to each patient's individual needs," says registered dietitian Anna Mazzei, RD, who works in the Outpatient Diabetes Education Center as well as in Food and Nutrition Services.

"For example, anyone who has diabetes can enter the Diabetes Education program, and people with heart disease can take part in the quarterly Cardiac Nutrition Education classes provided by Cardiac Rehab," she says. "But many people with heart disease also may discover they have diabetes, so they would benefit from both. Women with both conditions also might enroll in the Right Weigh weight management course offered through the Women's Center.

"We also recently started offering nutrition classes and individual counseling in Pulmonary Rehab," she adds. "Because being overweight may result in shortness of breath, pulmonary patients may want to enroll in the Right Weigh course, too. Even the staff at the Wound Care Clinic may refer their patients to the Diabetes Education Center if their wounds are healing slowly because of diabetes."

Mazzei notes that the dietitians consider not just the patients' medical diagnoses, but also a variety of other elements that have an impact on how they can improve their eating habits.

"We look at whether they have a lack of financial or transportation resources, an inability to exercise, or even cultural dietary preferences or constraints," she explains. "Then we help them understand how they can incorporate our dietary recommendations into their lives. It may be as simple as enrolling in Meals on Wheels. The approach needs to be individualized for each person's circumstances."

Many insurance providers, including Medicare, provide coverage for certain nutrition therapy and education services. "In many cases, the Right Weigh weight management course is not covered by insurance unless there is another medical condition present besides being overweight," Alvari says. "Nevertheless, even if the insurance provider doesn't offer coverage, our weight loss program is priced competitively with other community-based programs.

"Any person in the community - regardless of insurance coverage - can attend our free community seminars on nutrition-related topics," she adds. "Or they can access videos of the seminars on our web site,, or view them on InHealth, Washington Hospital's cable channel on Comcast 78. They even can check out seminar videos from the hospital's Community Health Resource Library."

Washington Hospital's commitment to nutrition education doesn't end with its classes and counseling efforts. It continues right into the hospital cafeteria.

"We run a variety of special programs and events in the cafeteria to promote healthy eating and nutrition," Alvari says. "In September, we had 'Safari Month,' showcasing healthy meals from a variety of cultures. October will be 'Think Pink Month,' focusing on nutrition that supports breast health during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We try to teach people about proper nutrition at any and every opportunity we have, offering food samplings and giving out recipes. We want people to know that if you eat healthy foods, they don't have to taste bad!"

Washington Hospital Nutrition Education Resources

Outpatient Nutrition Counseling
(510) 745-6597 or visit

Washington Outpatient Diabetes Center
(510) 745-6556 or visit

Washington Women's Center
(510) 608-1301 or visit

Pulmonary Rehabilitation
(510) 494-7025 or visit

Cardiac Rehabilitation
(510) 494-7022 or visit

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