The holidays are upon us, and even though many of us will not be engaging in our regular traditions due to the pandemic, the temptation of food is still there.
From sweet treats to salty sides, the food selections traditionally tied to holidays are known to be high in sugar, fat and sodium. While most of us fear an extra few pounds once the New Year hits, for those undergoing cardiac or pulmonary rehabilitation, it can impact their overall health and progress.
Ruth A. Rasmussen, MS, said it is something she tackles every year. A registered dietitian and educator with the Oklahoma Heart Hospital, Rasmussen said it is important for CR/PR professionals to be positive cheerleaders and resources for patients.
“My patients often say, ‘I know what I need to eat,’” she said. “Our role is to really be the cheerleaders. We should provide inspiration and encouragement, not just education and information.”
The first step is to listening to your patients. Understand your patients usually know the components of a healthy diet, but notnecessarily how to apply those changes during the holidays. She will ask her patients about their food favorites and give them healthier recipe versions of those foods.CR/PR professionals need to make sure they provide patients with tools to succeed. This includes not just general heart healthy diet education, but guidance on how to read labels, easy recipes, and meal plans.
Rasmussen provides a monthly newsletter to her patients that includes healthy recipes, and during the holidays, she makes sure to provide some healthy alternatives to holiday favorites. She also provides different handouts with healthy recipes that are simple to make. Simplicity is key—for many, their indifference toward a healthy diet is the perception that certain recipes are hard to make. Giving patients easy ways to make simple adjustments can help them feel empowered to make a healthier choice. She also recommended staff trying the recipes themselves and sharing their experience with the process and the final product—sharing pictures of those items too.“You become the support and also the encouragement because you’re leading by example.”
It’s also important to talk to patients about how they interact with the food. When discussing eating, Rasmussen said CR/PR professionals should broach the topic without judgement Rasmussen recommends talking through a patient’s overall motivations before the holidays. What are your long-term health goals? What are you most excited about for the holiday? What makes you nervous about it? Once you get a sense of where their trepidation lies, you can help make an action plan going into the holiday meal.
“It might be something as simple as, ‘I am going to exercise in the morning before I eat, eat a salad first before the main meal, or, I am going to have a small slice of pie instead of a big slice.’ We should encourage our patients to have a sustainable mindset, to be intuitive. That’s part of being mindful.”
And if a patient falls off the wagon, CR/PR professionals can get them back on track. Rasmussen said it is important to make patients feel like they didn’t “fail,” but rather to help them understand that everyone has setbacks, and to motivate them to move forward.
“Every day is a new day to make a new decision,” she said. “Do not let whatever your regrets or choices are hold you back. Use what happened to strategize on what you want to do differently, and encourage people to get past that block. Sometimes you fail forward—you fail but you learn and grow from it, and that is part of growth for everyone.”
what is most important, Rasmussen said, is to be proactive in giving your patients resources to make healthy choices, while giving them room to engage in beloved holiday traditions.
“We have to look at patients as an individual,” she said. “We have to really get to know them and let them tell us their story. Then we do what we do best—and that is encouraging them on their journey.”