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Emory Healthy Kitchen Collaborative launches with 40 Emory employee participants

Diet and exercise can often help mitigate the effects of some of the most costly and common chronic diseases. But how does Emory effectively teach those good habits and help them stick? 

One innovative response launched Aug. 10 with the help of 40 Emory employees who participated in the first session of the Emory Healthy Kitchen Collaborative.

These employees are on a journey to better health for the next 10 weeks, and their data and lifestyle changes are being tracked as part of a clinical trial. Both the program and trial are led by Sharon Bergquist, a practicing primary care physician and a medical director of Emory Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness.

She leads a multidisciplinary team from Emory Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness, Emory University Hospital Food & Beverage, Healthy Emory, the School of Medicine and Rollins School of Public Health. The program is supported by a generous grant from Ardmore Institute of Health, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving health and vitality by preventing and overcoming chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. 

“Among the biggest 21st century challenges is curbing the epidemic and unsustainable rates of chronic disease — conditions that are largely preventable through changes in lifestyle,” Bergquist says. “We will need creative and innovative solutions that currently do not exist in the health care system.”

Taking steps toward change

Emory Healthy Kitchen Collaborative is exactly that kind of innovative solution: a hands-on, 10-week course with continued support and resources for a duration of a year. Participants will attend five Saturday classes (one every two weeks) which will include a combination of lectures, cooking demos, skill-building activities and group discussions, covering topics of nutrition, exercise and mindfulness. 

During the first session, participants used their phones to complete surveys about what they are learning and how they will apply it to personal goals they set at the start. Bergquist emphasized the importance of evidence-based knowledge in her opening talk titled “Can We Say Which Diet Is Best?”

“Among the lifestyle risk factors, dietary intake seems to garner the most confusion and debate, so it’s a fitting place to start,” she says. “The dietary patterns that lead to the best outcomes have a common theme — of eating whole food rather than processed, with emphasis on incorporating more plant-based options.”

Shifting mindsets for success

Linda Craighead, a professor of psychology at Emory and an expert in the field of eating disorders, followed with a presentation on mindful eating. 

How we eat is just as important as what we eat,” says Craighead, who differentiated hunger, satiety and the roles of each in mindful eating. Her framework for kids (which adults use as well) is called “Training Your Inner Pup.” Like a puppy, she says, our appetites need to (and can) be trained to have boundaries that support healthy living.

“It’s interesting that the English language does not have a word to describe not being hungry,” says participant Michelle Hiskey, an editor in Emory Advancement and Alumni Engagement. “Dr. Craighead’s presentation about appetite was the type of solid information I’m looking for about how and what to eat. The hands-on cooking demo helped put new knowledge into practice.” 

Mike Bacha, executive chef at Emory University Hospital, and Caroline Collins, a practicing primary care physician at Emory who shares a passion for prevention of disease, taught the group to make healthy salad dressings from scratch. The dressings flavored salads that participants ate for lunch.

Bacha has become known for introducing locally sourced produce and a variety of healthy foods in the hospital cafeteria and on patient menus. He reflected on this opportunity to be part of research and teaching at Emory. 

“I felt super jazzed after the session,” he says. “Every group seemed like its own little family as they argued about taste and what ingredients to use more of in the salad dressings. That’s the beauty of creating recipes and working together. That’s how amazing food comes together.”

The program continues in September. Between sessions, participants can access apps and cloud-based support materials to begin incorporating changes in their daily food choices. 

“One of the strengths of the program is seeing the participants share their goals, challenges and solutions—and support and learn from each other,” Bergquist says. “We plan to share results from our outcomes and learn how to continually improve this new type of health-promoting program.” 

A starting date for the next program series has not been set. Email Emory Healthy Kitchen to be notified of future programs.

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