I was very fortunate to have amazing parents who instilled three values in my two sisters and me: family, faith, and food. Those “3 Fs” helped shape who I am today and also made for a family that did not have health or weight issues. We did not deal with the issues I see in patients today—obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and fatty liver.
I believe the “3 Fs” can provide a good foundation for overall health for every member of today’s families. In fact, I talk with my patients daily about the “3 Fs” because I see them as keys to turning back the tide on the health problems I treat people for every day.
Research has shown that today’s fragmented family unit—the result of divorce, single parents, and working parents—has all but eliminated the planning of nutritious meals, cooking at home, and eating a meal together. America has become a society of “fetch-for-yourself” eaters that make poor food choices, resulting in an obesity epidemic. That’s leading to all the associated problems that make up metabolic syndrome.
As for faith, I’m talking about respect for self and others, spreading optimism (not gloom), and taking responsibility for our children, spouses, and friends. That includes considering their health through good nutrition.
Finally, food. Who prepares the weekly menu (does one even exist)? Who shops? Who cooks? These are the questions I ask my patients. I want to know what challenges they have to overcome to eat healthier. One of the challenges I’ve found is that, in today’s world, many patients don’t even understand that manufactured, processed foods are not healthy choices. They don’t realize how much fat, salt, and sugar they have in their diets, and how their food choices and their lifestyle is contributing to their own poor health and creating a future of problems for their children.
One simple way to incorporate the “3 Fs” is with the family meal. A family that gathers for a nutritious meal will build closer bonds and have healthier eating habits because such a meal takes planning, creates structure, instills a sense of accountability—in general, just makes for a positive experience. Here are some tips I share with patients to help make the family meal a success:
- Plan ahead. Set aside a portion of one day each week to plan the menu for the week’s family meals and then check the cabinets for ingredients and go shopping for any needed food items.
- Set a schedule. Set a time for everyone to gather in the kitchen to help with food preparation before the meal. Also, set a time for the meal to be on the table, a “dinner bell” of sorts so that even members of the family for prep time can attend the meal. Even if all you have is thirty minutes together three times a week, that’s a start.
- Avoid distractions. Adopt a “no TV, no gadgets” policy during the meal. That way everyone can focus on the conversation.
- Maybe throw in a prayer. If everyone has to sit at the table anyway, consider starting off with a prayer or even a simple round of describing what they were blessed with that day.
As a liver specialist, every day, I have complicated discussions with patients who are on the path to life-threatening illness. Most of the time it’s because they simply don’t understand how a lifestyle that centers on family, faith, and food can help them and their family be healthy for life.