A Step Ahead of Yesterday

Mar. 18, 2015

A photograph of A Step Ahead of Yesterday

Small changes result in steady progress on the path to wellness

Lie to yourself.

It’s not the first thing you expect to hear from your doctor, but for Dr. Parker Panovec, it works.

“Tell yourself ‘I’m just going to walk a quarter of a mile.’ Once you get out there, odds are you’ll feel OK, and you may walk the whole mile,” he says.

“Lie to yourself and get out the door. The first step is really the hard one.”

The idea of just getting started is big at Nashville’s Faith Family Medical Center (FFMC).

As a primary care medical clinic serving the working uninsured, they treat it all — diabetes, hypertension, skin problems, stress.

Journey to Health, a program to improve overall health and reduce the risk factors for diabetes, makes it easy for people to take those initial steps to eat right and get active.

Improvement, not perfection

Once they sign on, participants get a one-on-one assessment to discuss expectations and set goals.

They take classes on nutrition, stress management, diabetes and exercising at home.

They participate in walking groups and take a grocery store tour. Throughout these activities, the focus is on making realistic changes.

“It’s about trying to be better today than you were yesterday,” says Dr. Panovec.

Journey to Health participants learn about healthy food first-hand in the community garden.

“A lot of times people think ‘I have to become a vegetarian’ or ‘I have to work out seven days a week,’ but it’s OK to start small.

“If you’re drinking six cokes a day, try drinking just one or two. It’s not cheating to do the easy stuff first! Shoot for improvement, not perfection.”

For 52-year-old Dawn Dopson, that approach made sense.

A patient at FFMC for more than a decade, she had rheumatoid arthritis and neuropathy, a diabetes-related condition that causes painful burning in the hands and feet. When her weight reached 204 pounds last January, she was ready to make a change.

“Even back when I was 42, I had aches and pains like I was 92,” she says. “Since I joined Journey to Health last year, I’ve lost over 45 pounds. It didn’t take long at all!”

Dr. Panovec stresses to his patients that it's not cheating to do the easy stuff first — it's smart.

A new perspective

Dopson’s success comes from taking small steps that build toward bigger goals, and knowing she’ll have support all along the way.

“When they send us home with things to do, they make sure we understand how and why we’re doing them,” she says.

“They ask, ‘What can we do to help you do better?’ When people throw too much stuff at you at once, you get overwhelmed and you push away. But here they make sure that never happens. Here, it’s personal.”

That personal interaction drives many Journey to Health activities, including grocery store tours.

Rather than give people a list of foods to eat or avoid, they’ll go to the store and look at a can of pinto beans.

They’ll break down the protein, the fat and the salt, and they’ll teach people how to read a label on their own.

“That was really enlightening. A lot of things I thought were healthy really weren’t,” Dopson says. “Now I get vinaigrette instead of ranch dressing, or use herbs instead of salt.

“If you read the label and you can’t pronounce it, it doesn’t need to go into your body. That made a lot of sense to me.”

Lessons in healthy eating start with a supermarket tour.

Getting active, the other necessary step to feeling good again, felt more like a social gathering than a chore.

“A group of women would meet three times a week in Centennial Park to walk and get ready for our first 5K,” says Dopson. “When you have somebody there who will miss you if you don’t show up, you look forward to doing it that much more.”

That’s how Dopson and Cindy Tucker became friends.

Tucker serves as a stunning example of what can be accomplished with the right knowledge and attitude — and a little help from friends. In the two years she’s been enrolled in Journey to Health, she’s lost 200 pounds and found a group of people she knows she can count on.

Participants are given water bottles, T-shirts, shoes, a pedometer & race entry fees to encourage exercise

“My husband passed away four years ago and I didn’t have a lot of friends my age to hang out with,” says Tucker. “I joined Journey to Health to get healthy but I ended up meeting so many nice people.”

After their first 5K, the pair kept trying new things. They signed up for a kettlebell class and loved the weight workout. Now, when the teacher is running late, she asks Dopson to take her place until she arrives.

Exercising achievements give people confidence, and that turns into action that can inspire others.

“Journey to Health is well worth the time you put into it,” Tucker says. “Last week at Big Lots I saw a family I met back when I started. When the wife saw me she said, ‘Cindy, oh my God!’ and started crying. She couldn’t believe how much weight I’d lost. Her family had been trying to lose weight, but they’d fallen off track.

“I told her to come on to the house and work out with me! And I told her to remember: it’s never too late.”

To learn more about healthy living in Tennessee, click here.

Photos by Sheri Oneal.