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Bite-Sized Lessons For The Two-Thirds Of Americans Who Are Overweight

By Eleanor Boudreau


Memphis, TN – James Johnson came to a Tuesday morning cooking class at the Church Health Center to learn how to cook, "And cook healthy," Johnson said.

Johnson is now a regular and a devotee who substitutes applesauce for oil in his cornbread recipe, but before coming to class his eating habits were very different.

"I would go out to Church's, and all that," Johnson said. "Fast food. I would eat a lot of that. I don't eat that no more. I haven't gone to a fast food place in I don't know when."

One in three Americans is obese and another one in three is overweight. That leaves only one in three Americans who is actually considered at a "normal" weight. The health-risks associated with obesity rival those of smoking and include--heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and liver disease. No one loses weight without making changes and healthy cooking classes in Shelby County give their participants recipes to do just that. Thousands of low-income Shelby Countians attend healthy cooking classes every year. Some of the classes are funded with federal dollars, some get state money, and some, like Johnson's, are funded mostly by donations to the Church Health Center.

Johnson leans back in a tall chair at one of the many islands in the Church Health Center's spacious kitchen. Thirteen other adults trekked to the class this morning. They sit two or three to an island and face their slim-and-trim instructor, Rebecca Greer. Greer is a registered dietitian. She stands with the oven as her backdrop and starts talking about radishes. Today's dish is radish chips.

"Everyone is skeptical," Greer says above mutters from her students. "That's good."

Greer explains to her class how to choose and store fresh radishes, but she says, even she doesn't like radishes raw. That's why she cooks them. Prior to class Greer sliced the radishes into coin-sized discs and steamed them in the microwave.

"So now all we have to do is just toss 'em with some olive oil and some spices," Greer says as she demonstrates, "And we always measure our oil, right?"

"Right," her class says.

After a few minutes in the oven Greer passes the radish chips out and Johnson tries one. "Delicious," he says.

Johnson pats his stomach, which still isn't svelte. I asked his instructor Greer if she thinks a few healthy recipes, a few radish chips, applesauce instead of oil in cornbread--in other words, small changes--can really make a difference for the two-thirds of Americans who aren't at a healthy weight.

"I think that's really one of the only ways," Greer says. "For most of our members, making small changes week by week, learning something new in class, or maybe just increasing a piece of fruit a day, I think that's really the best way for long-term big changes."

In other words, bite-sized chunks.