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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Transition to a Healthier Lifestyle: Local health practitioners offer suggestions for incremental steps

Feb 29, 2012 10:34PM ● By Linda Sechrist

In this month’s Conscious Eating department, Natural Awakenings examines concepts illuminated by the film, Forks Over Knives, which features pioneering researchers and thinkers that have examined the claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases afflicting humanity can be controlled or reversed by avoiding animal-based and processed foods. These individuals make a compelling case that switching to a whole-foods, plant-based diet can restore health.

With such undeniable evidence, why isn’t everyone quick to embrace this way of eating and adopt a healthier lifestyle? One answer may be found in a study conducted by the Scripps Research Institute on rats and junk food. The researchers discovered that junk food—high in fat and dense in calories—stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers and changes its chemistry, eliciting addictive behavior in rats that is similar to what humans experience with cocaine. Rats that were fed Ho-Hos, sausage, pound cake, bacon, cheesecake and the like soon developed compulsive eating habits and became obese. Rats accustomed to junk food continued to eat, even when given electrical shocks, and starved themselves for two weeks when their only option was healthy food.

Deborah Lee
Deborah Lee
Although shifting the preferences of our taste buds or committing to a healthier lifestyle is challenging, area health practitioners suggest that it can be done in incremental steps. Deborah Lee, founder of Better Choices Health Coaching, in Naples, and an integrative health coach trained at Duke University, says, “Change isn’t easy; our mind prefers the status quo.” Lee suggests that her clients design and follow a weekly plan of small action steps. “Research supports that having a plan and taking small steps increases the likelihood that people can make and sustain behavior change,” she says.

Attaching a price or personal value to prevention might inspire an individual to make healthy lifestyle changes. According to Stacy Revay, Healthy Communities coordinator for the Collier County Health Department, and Diane Holm, Healthy Communities Healthy People coordinator for the Lee County Health Department, the abstract concept is too challenging for most people. However, local governments are envisioning a major economic dilemma that looms in their future: meeting the costs of medical care associated with overweight and obese residents. In 2010, a Florida Department of Health Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey revealed that a shocking 61 percent of Lee County adults and 59.6 percent of Collier County adults, as well as 65 percent of all adult Floridians, are overweight or obese.

In a recent New York Times article, “Communities Learn the Good Life Can Be a Killer,” an alarmed cadre of public health experts reports that our built environments—where we live, work, play and shop—are vehicle-dependent and foster obesity, poor health, social isolation, excessive stress and depression. To offset the gloom of projected possibilities, the Lee County Health Department organized a comprehensive, community-based action plan to promote physical activity and good nutrition. Led by a group of community leaders and local businesses, the Fit-Friendly Southwest Florida Initiative aims to sustain a community culture of healthier lifestyles by helping residents achieve a health and wellness mindset, improve nutritional habits and increase their physical activities.

Axis Natural Medicine, a Fort Myers Fit-Friendly Coalition member, was inspired by Lee Memorial Health Systems’ Walk with Leaders program, which encourages its employees to walk 15 minutes a day with members of management. Katie Romano-Griffin, a licensed practical nurse at Axis, decided to spearhead an incremental change in the exercise habits of office colleagues, as well as individuals employed in surrounding office buildings. “My 30-minute Walk and Network, on Fridays at noon, has shown people that walking, talking and networking is healthier than networking over calorie-filled cocktails or lunch,” she advises.

Debi Grillo, a yoga teacher at Bala Vinyasa Yoga Studio, in Naples, is introducing students to incremental change with lasting results using Baron Baptiste’s book, 40 Days to Personal Revolution. The six-week program includes a daily yoga practice, principles to cleanse the body, an eating plan, instructions for a meditation practice, questions that expose unconscious limiting beliefs and patterns and journaling, as well as personal and group support. “By week three, participants are becoming aware of cravings and learning how to observe and breathe through them,” says Grillo.

A personal chef that prepares delicious vegetarian or vegan meals can jumpstart incremental change, according to Reid Frauen, owner of Health Artisan, and Tina Bland, owner of Tina’s Table. These

Reid Frauen
Reid Frauen
two experienced personal chefs introduce good food into their clients’ menus a little at a time, and slowly phase out junk foods. “A tasty Greek yogurt is a good substitute for a donut,” notes Bland. Frauen’s gentle, healthy start for beginners often includes the addition of fruit, a salad with sprouts, and a fermented food such as miso, which he uses to make fresh soups and salad dressings. “Fruit adds fiber, sprouts increase nutrition threefold and miso provides healing probiotics for the intestines,” he explains.

Dee Harris
Dee Harris
Dee Harris, a registered, licensed dietician/functional nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, associated with the Perlmutter Center for Health, in Naples, has discovered that many of her patients appreciate having their journey to a healthier lifestyle demystified. “People who have just recognized the very first step—‘I don’t feel as good as I think I could’—generally don’t know where to start,” says Harris, who takes the mystery out of what to do first using blood chemistry work. “One step at a time leads clients to eventually laugh at how they once thought fruit roll-ups—processed, faux food in a box—were real food,” she enthuses. Sometimes, “Start here” is as simple as replacing soda with a refreshing homemade drink of mint, lemon and lime slices, steeped in a container of water.

Harris has compassion for beginners, and tries to help them realize they aren’t giving up things that are good for them. “It’s why I have them focus on the positive: what they can eat, rather than what they can’t,” she says.

Carol Roberts, a medical doctor also associated with the Perlmutter Center for Health, notes that every person is an individual, with a history and a personal belief system rooted in misconceptions about health. “Like Dee, I show patients evidence from lab tests and talk about what they need to do first,” says Roberts, whose goal is to raise

Carol Roberts
Carol Roberts
her patients’ level of awareness about the connection between diet and health. “Most patients I see don’t know about health food stores, what books to read or where to search on the Internet for information. They are confused, and want to turn to someone with a medical degree who can tell them which incremental steps to take,” she advises.

Ursula Kaiser
Ursula Kaiser
Ursula Kaiser, author of My Journey to Wellness: How I Beat Cancer Naturally, lecturers locally on alternative healing modalities such as easy cleanses, detoxing practices, nutrition, supplements and the metaphysical basics, all protocols she used to heal herself of cancer. Like Harris and Roberts, Kaiser meets a lot of confused audience members looking for answers. “My diagnosis happened before I had a computer, which is why I had to read books and do my research at the library,” says Kaiser, who today directs seekers to the Internet and recommends a list of movies for viewing. “After watching Forks Over Knives, Food Matters, and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, people are often motivated to learn how to transition to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, which can take a while for your taste buds to get used to,” she says.

Online comments from Yelpers are helping to replace the “tasteless healthy food” stigma. An inspired labor of love regularly transforms healthy ingredients into delicious and nutritious food at local cafés such as those at Food & Thought 100% Organic Farm Market and Whole Foods Market, in Naples; For Goodness Sake Organic Marketplace & Café, in Bonita Springs; and Chef Brooke’s Natural Café, in Fort Myers. Individuals that relish wholesome food and helpful information appreciate these venues’ scrumptious meals, local organic produce and educational classes, such as For Goodness Sake’s How to Transition to a Healthier Lifestyle, to be held March 29.

Shifting to new ways of eating and increasing physical activity to enjoy better health are achievable, if challenging, goals and like every worthwhile journey, begin with a first, small step. Southwest Florida’s health practitioners and marketplaces offer a helpful guidepost: Start here.

For more information about the Fit-Friendly Southwest Florida Initiative, contact Diane Holm, Healthy Communities Healthy People Coordinator, at the Lee County Health Department at 239-332-9561. Also visit


Local Resources Help You Take the First Steps

Axis Natural Medicine, 7680 Cambridge Manor Place, Suite 100, Fort Myers; 239-288-0900.

Bala Vinyasa Yoga Studio, 6200 Trail Boulevard North, Naples; 239-598-1938.

Better Choices Health Coaching, Deborah Lee, Ph.D.; 239-580-7333.

Chef Brooke’s Natural Café, 1850 Boy Scout Drive, Fort Myers; 239-332-2433.

Food & Thought 100% Organic Farm Market, The Gateway of Naples, 2132 Tamiami Trail North, Naples; 239-213-2222.

For Goodness Sake Organic Marketplace and Café, 9118 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs; 239-992-5838; and Berkshire Commons, 7211 Radio Road, Naples (Marketplace only; no café); 239-353-7778.

Health Artisan, Reid Frauen; 239-297-0883.

Perlmutter Health Center, Carol L. Roberts, MD, ABIHM and Dee Harris, RD, LD/N, CDE, 800 Goodlette Road North, Suite 270, Naples.

Tina’s Table, Tina Bland; 239-403-9860 or [email protected].

Ursula Kaiser, 239-594-1201.

Whole Foods Market, The Mercato, 9101 Strada Place, Naples; 239-552-5100.

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