Emory Healthy Kitchen participants end a course, begin a journey

By Krystyna Rastorguieva | Emory Report | Oct. 24, 2019

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The inaugural Emory Healthy Kitchen pilot program has concluded, with employees experiencing hands-on learning in nutrition, culinary arts, exercise, yoga and mindfulness. The 10-week program also is part of a clinical trial overseen by Dr. Sharon Bergquist.

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Saturday, Oct. 5, marked the completion of the Emory Healthy Kitchen course for the inaugural group of participants. The course is a series of interactive classes that teach skills related to food choices, cooking and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Emory Healthy Kitchen is part of a year-long worksite wellness pilot program funded by a grant from Ardmore Institute of Health. The Emory Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness team partnered with Emory University Hospital Food and Nutrition, Healthy Emory, the School of Medicine and Rollins School of Public Health to bring the program to life.

Over the past 10 weeks, 40 Emory employees have met for bi-weekly Saturday classes with faculty from diverse disciplines. The class included educational sessions rooted in science, combined with experiential learning and hands-on culinary demonstrations, yoga, group exercise sessions and meditation.

Sharon Bergquist, the founder and medical director of Emory Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness, is the leading physician of the pilot, which is also a clinical trial.

“The goal of this program is to teach people skills that can change their habits for life,” says Bergquist. “Part of the way we’re different from other programs is that we’re focused on skill building. For example, we’re not just giving people a recipe to follow. We want to help them learn how to cook.” 

The final class included two more didactic sessions, an active stretch break and a culinary session with Emory University Hospital Executive Chef Mike Bacha and primary care physician and plant-based nutrition advocate Caroline Collins. Participants made chili, learned about ethnic spices and explored the diversity of flavors and health benefits that come from them.

“It is amazing to see the progress and excitement of everyone in the cooking demo,” Collins said. “I even heard participants discussing what they were going to make at home this weekend.” 

The class concluded with a small but special celebration featuring decadent plant-based desserts and a graduation certificate award ceremony. 

Valuing shared experiences 

Participants found the course educational and motivational.

“This program was wonderful,” said Nikita McCage. “I learned a lot and have incorporated the lifestyle changes.” 

“It really helped me bring focus to my health goals and the ways to implement them,” added Myrriam Zion. 

Natalie Boruk, administrative fellow at Emory Healthcare, helped participants reflect on their experience during class discussion. “The participants had a sense of togetherness throughout the whole process,” she said. “This perfectly aligns with Emory’s theme of ‘We’re are all in this together.’ By immersing everyone in group activities and encouraging collaboration through cooking, fitness and class discussions, there was a sense of camaraderie that beautifully developed.”

Bergquist elaborated on the power of the group. “When people come together in a group, something really magical happens. The camaraderie, the amount of support, the whole process of sharing challenges and successes is very powerful.”

Measuring their progress

While the interactive course portion has ended, for the participants, this marks beginning of a lifetime journey. For the next nine months, participants can access numerous resources that help them continue the progress, skills and changes they made during the course. These include the Full Plate Living learning and coaching platform, weekly yoga classes at the Emory University Hospital Tower and Healthy Emory Connect challenges customized to the group. Participants will attend three more visits with a wellness coach for biometrics measurements and will visit with a registered dietitian to help troubleshoot any issues.

“At the last Saturday class, many participants said they have already seen positive results in weight, blood pressure and energy levels,” says registered dietitian Jenny Bilko. She is one of the faculty members who took participants on a virtual grocery store tour and taught them how to meal prep. “Participants are excited about their post-program biometric screening to see how their measurements have changed over the 10 weeks.” 

Emily Walker, a wellness coach who is the research coordinator for this clinical trial, was the first person participants saw when they came for the initial visit to test their baseline body composition. “As they continue to implement healthy changes with their lifestyle, they will be able to see the improvement at each follow up visit,” Walker says. “I am thrilled to start the three-month visits to see the progress everyone has made.” 

Next steps in the journey

Participants also will have each other. They can connect, share wins and keep each other accountable through a Facebook group. They also will continue to receive newsletters full of tips, recipes and events from the Emory Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness team.

“It’s all about building communities, cooking together, learning from one another and sharing food,” Bacha says. “We’ve gotten away from that as a society. This program brings people together. Participants have shown how building relationships and partnering with groups builds a strong working community.”

“As a chef, it is rewarding to see students pull off amazing recipes each and every week,” Bacha continues. “I loved listening to them argue about what ingredients to use in the recipes and in the end laugh and enjoy their work together as a group. It was truly a great leaning and life experience, not only for them but me as well.” 

During the next several months the program team will reflect on the program and determine the best approach for when and how to offer this program in future. (Stay tuned for updates.)

If you are interested in learning more and participating in future programs, email HealthyKitchen@emoryhealthcare.org.