Waynesville Fire Chief Joey Webb has been working as a firefighter since the late 70’s. This last summer, at age 61, he found himself in a doctor’s appointment learning he had high blood pressure and was borderline diabetic. “I was also having pain in my legs from the extra weight I was carrying so I knew I had to do something.” His doctors told him that if he lost some weight the issues would improve. After doing a little research Joey learned that his insurance company would cover visits to a Dietitian so he started working with Lauren Teague at Haywood Regional Health and Fitness Center. “I told her: I don’t want to die. I want to change my habits and lifestyle.”
Lauren reviewed nutrition guidelines, highlighting things like portion sizes, protein and carbohydrate ratios. She gave him handouts, told him to look at them before going out to eat and told him to come back every two weeks for more information and to check in. According to Joey: “It was about portion size and balance, more than anything else.”
Lauren commented on her work with Joey, saying: “He is the model patient. He came in with a goal to improve his health and he has not deviated. We were able to work around his busy lifestyle as the fire chief and allow him to still eat certain foods and enjoy life. Here we are 5 months later and he has not wavered, even through the Christmas season.”
WATER SAVES LIVES
After meeting with Lauren a few times Joey decided to switch from drinking cola to water. “I realized I was not hydrated enough and that water was a healthier choice.” Some benefits of adequate hydration include improved muscle performance, better cognitive function, and even a more balanced mood. Water intake is also crucial for cardiac functioning. Heart.org reports: “If you are well hydrated your heart doesn’t have to work as hard.”
Adequate hydration is beneficial for everyone, and for firefighters it is even more likely to make the difference between life and death. Ironically, while firefighters are using water to extinguish fires and save lives, one of the reasons they are more likely than other first responders to die of heart attacks is due to lack of hydration. According to the United States Fire Association, 44 percent of all line-of-duty firefighter deaths from 1995 to 2004 were heart-related. Studies show that fluid loss resulting from extreme heat exposure is one of the contributing factors resulting in elevated cardiac risks for firefighters.
According to the British Heart Foundation: “It’s essential that firefighters are aware of this risk and take simple steps such as taking time to cool down and rehydrate after tackling a blaze.” Joey Webb echoes this sentiment, saying “It is important for firefighters to stay hydrated at all times.” In addition to increased fluid intake, the National Volunteer Fire Council advises increased education and awareness about fitness, nutrition, and cholesterol levels. The same preventative measure utilized by firefighters to prevent heart attacks can also be employed by everyday citizens to reduce risk of cardiac episodes.
BUILD YOUR FIRE IN THE MORNING
It’s easy to get up in the morning, have nothing but a cup of coffee and run out of the door towards the many awaiting tasks. Breakfast is easy to skip. Joey looks at it like this: “Mountain folks know what I mean when I say that you build your fire early in the morning and keep it going all day. Start off warm right from the get-go, then you keep adding logs to that fire, maybe every 3-4 hours in order to keep it burning.”
Joey was used to skipping breakfast and eating a heavy dinner or grabbing fast fried food on the go. “This pattern was putting stress on my liver and putting me in a pre diabetic cycle. Now I eat first thing in the morning. I don’t go hungry. Just like I would add logs to the fire, I put food in my body to keep the metabolism burning. I eat way more than I used to, but now I eat the right things so I have lost forty pounds.”
ADVICE FROM LAUREN TEAGUE, LOCAL DIETITIAN
“My advice to someone that is ready to make a lifestyle change is to be goal-oriented. Having a target to reach for is very powerful. Also, allow yourself to make mistakes. Many people think that when they mess up one time on a diet it’s all over. One meal is not going to sabotage you! Secondly, finding a dietitian to work with is very important. In today’s society there are many fad diets and online health coaches that do not have proper credentials to help someone in a safe way. So do your homework and find a nutrition based professional to help you set up a meal plan to meet your health needs as well as your goals.”
(See below for Lauren’s contact information.)
KITCHEN TIPS FROM THE FIRE CHIEF
- You can’t stay on a diet forever, but you can stay with a new lifestyle. Make lifestyle changes instead of following fad diets.
- Switch plate sizes. Restaurants tend to use a 6 inch plate for salad and a 9 inch plate for the main course. Reverse those plates and then you can fill them both.
- Fast food is convenient but stay away from it or choose grilled instead of fried or opt for small instead of large. Last week I enjoyed a Jr. whopper and small fry instead of the larger versions.
- Find a fitness APP that you like and use it, especially before going out to eat.
- Last but not least: Do not leave cooking food unattended. Use a timer if you have to leave the room because cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires. That goes for candles as well. Do not leave them unattended.
Joey continues to meet regularly with Lauren to weigh in and review information. Reflecting on his progress, he noted that it was simple and cheap. “I am not spending extra money and I didn’t even have to join a gym. It was very helpful that my insurance paid for my meetings with Lauren. Otherwise I don’t know that I would have done it.” Joey was encouraged when the dietary changes resulted in weight loss so he stuck with it. “I don’t have leg pain or digestive issues any more, and I don’t crave sweets anymore either. I am hoping that soon I will be able to decrease my blood pressure medication. I feel tons better.”
See below for more information.
LOOKING FOR A DIETITIAN: Use this link to find a registered Dietitian or contact your insurance company for a list of approved providers: https://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert – Haywood County Residents: contact Lauren Teague at 828-452-8092 or firstname.lastname@example.org
FIREFIGHTERS: Heart health and fitness for firefighters: https://healthy-firefighter.org/