Interview With Nutritionist Alexandria Hardy, Part 2

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For Part 1, click here.

What are some recommendations you can give seniors or their family members to help them with successfully transitioning maybe from one phase of their diet to what it needs to be going forward?

“I think finding the right motivation first of all, right? Because we can have all of the good intentions in the world. And I mean, especially it’s January right now, and how much messaging have we all seen? Probably about new year, new you, or make over your diet, try these three things.

But I think especially for seniors, because sometimes they do have to make pretty big shifts if they’re diagnosed with a heart condition and all of a sudden we’re having to limit sodium and saturated fats and all these different things. I think for them it’s important to really figure out why do I want to do this? Is this important to me? And for some of them, honestly, the answer might be no, it’s not worth it.

But I think the vast majority, they find that reason, they find that purpose, whether it’s they really want to be thriving in their later years, they have some travel they want to do and they don’t want to be limited by maybe mobility issues or other health conditions. Maybe it is just being there for those grandkids and wanting to get down on the floor and play with them.

That’s always the first thing is trying to figure out, why do you want to make the change that you want to make? And it might take a little time.”

A lot of people, when they think about eating healthy, think they’re going to lose out on flavor, taste, they’re going to lose out on the fun of eating. How do you approach that with people”

“That’s a great question because especially as we age, we lose some of those tastebuds. That’s why seniors so often are drawn to processed foods because they’re saltier, they’re sweeter, they have that stronger flavor profile, and that’s really appealing and attractive.

And so I say the number one thing is just exploring different seasonings, and it doesn’t always have to be fresh. I know some people hear that and they think, well, it’s hard to get fresh herbs or spices where I live. And that can be really expensive and they’re hard to store, and that’s okay. You can grab, even at the Dollar Store or Walmart, you can find a whole bunch of different seasonings that you can use in both sweet and savory cooking. They have a lot of great salt-free blends now. Also, gluten-free blends if anyone would need that for a dietary restriction.

And then I think too, pairing different food combinations together can sometimes bring out new flavors. We all know tomato and basil tastes great together, but what about tomato and tarragon or tomato and thyme, something else that is in that same sort of Italian family, but might just give it a little extra thing or kick.”

Throughout your time as a nutritionist, is there somebody who is a success story that you look at, someone you’ve worked with who really made a positive change in their life with their nutrition?

“There’s a client that I’m thinking of who was very resistant to change for a very long time. His doctor and family members had recommended he lose a little bit of weight. He spent on cholesterol medication for years and years and just really could stand to make some dietary changes. His background socially and emotionally was that he grew up in a very unstable household, didn’t ever have any sort of nutrition education or even regular food coming in as a kid and teenager, and then went straight into the army, and was just on marine rations essentially. And then he got married, so he really never had to figure out how to shop for food, prep for food, or put a meal together because either there wasn’t food or someone else was taking care of that for him.

And he is near retirement age now, and that is something that has become a priority. And for him, snacking is a big part of that, especially those evening hours when we’re kind of relaxed… And the all or nothing approach was something that he really bought into for a long time, ‘Either I’m eating 100% clean, no carbohydrates, or I’m eating whatever I want, whether that’s six donuts in a night.’ And so we really had to work to narrow that down, that nutrition is a spectrum, and it’s okay if you want to have a donut, but maybe we stop at one donut. Or it’s okay if you feel good when you’re eating a low carb diet, but let’s also figure out some really nutrient dense, fiber rich carbohydrates that you can include that don’t have to be white bread or chips or crackers, but that maybe do support your energy levels and gives you the vitamin B12 that you need.

And so he’s still on a journey. We all are, but I think at least now, he’s really been able to identify the why of, okay, ‘I’ve got grandkids, I’m close to retiring, I’m seeing my siblings travel and do all of these really neat things, and I want to do that too, but it hurts right now to get up and down off the ground, and I’ve been on these cholesterol meds forever. Is there a way that I could maybe get off of them?’ And so by putting that piece in place, he’s really been able to work and try to figure out what does moderation look like and how can I continue to practice that every day?”

You mentioned moderation, so how do you find that balance with clients, seniors in particular, as far as things they enjoy that might not be healthy?

“It varies so much depending on if the person is a diabetic or if they’re generally healthy and they’re just hoping to maintain that or if they have a cancer diagnosis or something like that. But I think in general, getting old is such a privilege, and once you have worked in so many aspects of your life, you just want to take a little bit of a break and a breather. And I think we should reward that in people.

So for you, if that’s a glass of wine every day, that’s great. There’s a lot of studies that show that resveratrol can really improve heart health if it’s consumed regularly in a wine. If it’s a donut, if it’s a bag of chips, if it’s a candy bar, there’s definitely room for that.

I view nutrition as a spectrum. There’s not this binary of, either you have to be perfect or you have to eat fast food all the time, and there’s nothing in between. I think there’s definitely balance. For some seniors, maybe it’s a comfort food from their childhood or maybe it’s they really love a canned soup, and that is an easy lunch option for them. So maybe we keep that in and we just figure out how we can work on other parts of the day to make sure that they’re still consuming what they need.”

One thing that is a challenge for a lot of people is the often conflicting messaging that comes from experts. How do you help clients cut through the noise and really focus on how they can help themselves?

“It goes back to what’s important for them. I have some clients they could care less about alcohol. Maybe they drink it, but it’s not important. So for them, we wouldn’t really focus on that. And then I have others that literally, that’s one of the first things they’ll say to me in a session is, okay, I really like my beer. Are you going to ask me to give it up now?

And I say, no, absolutely not. I’m not your food police. I’m not going shopping with you or for you unless you’re asking me to do that. I’m not coming over to look over your shoulder at what you’re cooking or what you’re consuming. I want to give people tools to essentially free them from a lot of this, but then to support them in the specific ways they need.

And so if it’s someone who is diabetic, I want to help them hone in on carb counts and eat in a way that is great for their blood sugar, which then hopefully gives them more energy, helps them to feel more stable, and they don’t have those spikes or those crashes throughout the day. And then hopefully by figuring out some of those patterns, they’re encouraged to continue that.

But if it’s someone who has congestive heart failure, we’re not going to talk about carbs as much. We’re going to be looking more at that salt and their fluid intake and some of the fats.

And if it’s someone who is in generally good health that just wants to maintain that, then it’s a much broader palette of, okay, let’s just see what you’re doing and let’s see what you’re willing to tweak and what’s working well. And we can play around a little bit more.

But yes, you could talk to a dozen different dietitians and they would give you a dozen different answers and tell you, oh, coffee is great, coffee is terrible, alcohol is great, alcohol is terrible. And I think I’m just very moderate and middle of the road. Different people need different things, and I don’t think we should have restrictions unless there’s some sort of life or death, food allergy or something like that.”

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