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Healthy habits taught here

A class teaches about how much of which foods will be better.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG- Angelica White enjoys the foods of her native Panama - and the vast abundance of her adopted homeland.

In the years since she moved to America, White has gained weight.

"At home," she said, "we walked everywhere."

For the past eight weeks, White has been learning to make healthy changes. She has lost 8 pounds.

"I'm getting away from refined sugar. I've learned portion control," she said.

White was among 16 people who completed a class to help adults learn how to choose healthy food, increase exercise and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Over an eight-week period they scrutinized supermarket shelves, learned foods to buy or avoid, reworked recipes and dissected food labels. The Real Solutions class, offered by Pinellas County Extension through a grant from the Steps to a Healthier Pinellas - a program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - ended last Monday with a potluck meal. The next class starts on Jan. 28.

For instructor Karen Saley, it is all about encouraging healthy habits. Sometimes, that calls for unpopular pronouncements: "You cannot eat at a fast food restaurant if you want to lose weight," she said one night.

Saley instructed participants to keep food diaries, offered tips on how to fix meals that are both quick and healthy and urged them to eat fruit and vegetables.

"When you want to eat healthy, you are really making an investment in yourself," she said.

Mostly, people came to lose weight, but Clyde Ables, 75, joined the class to support his wife, Mamie, 65, who had a brain aneurysm a few years ago.

He has made changes in what he prepares for meals.

"We are going mostly with vegetables. Every once in a while, we will have meat, but mostly it's chicken," Ables said.

He said smoked ham hocks and smoked neck bones no longer flavor the collard greens they eat. These days, Ables adds the greens to tomatoes, onions and garlic sauted in olive oil.

"It's good," he said.

Terri Porter, 48, a server at Beak's restaurant in St. Petersburg's Grand Central District, has Type 1 diabetes. She wanted to learn to eat better.

Barbara Murtagh, who has struggled with weight most of her life, found the class so helpful when she took it a year ago that she signed up again in September.

"At Thanksgiving 2005, I weighed 215 pounds. I had no clothes to wear and I was seeing everybody and everybody was seeing me and realized I was not my best," she said, recalling the family gathering in Burlington, Vt.

"It was cold and snowy and there I was with stretch pants and a shirt to cover the bulges," said Murtagh, 53, who lost 5e pounds during the recent class.

"I am down to 159 pounds. I'm so pleased. In a year and a half, I've lost 55 pounds."

Herb Contos, 61, a computer software engineer, lost 16 pounds in the past two months. The program motivated him to continue a weight-loss program he'd already begun.

"It kind of gave me a little extra information and an extra boost," he said of the class that met Monday nights at the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center in Midtown.

Participants are going into the holidays armed with survival strategies.

"I got through Halloween without having any candy," Contos said.

Porter, who is encouraging her husband, Wayne, to adopt new eating habits, will adjust her recipes.

"I'm probably going to cook a traditional dinner, but I'm just going to try and make it healthier, more vegetables, fruits," she said.

"I will not go overboard in denying myself," Murtagh said.

"But I won't go overboard in eating too much. You can have anything you want, as long as you don't overdo it."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or 727892-2283.

Fast Facts:

By the numbers

36.5percent overweight Americans

36.5percent overweight Floridians

23.1percent obese Floridians

25.1percent obese Americans

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Tips for the holidays

1.Don't try to lose weight during the holidays. Aim to maintain current weight.

2.Plan time for exercise.

3.Don't skip meals or go to parties on an empty stomach.

4.Keep an eye on portion sizes.

5.Balance party plates with fruits and vegetables.

Source: Pinellas County Extension

Healthy eating and activity classes

Real Solutions, 6 to 8 p.m., beginning Jan. 28, Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center, 1344 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg. Eight weeks. Free.

Family with children ages 8 to 12, 6 to 7:30 p.m., beginning Nov. 29, YMCA, 3200 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Eight weeks. Free.

For other classes and information, go to or call (727) 582-2122.

[Last modified November 10, 2007, 21:48:03]

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