Breaking habits, building health: LSU AgCenter nutrition program inspires man’s transformation

(03/07/24) BATON ROUGE, La. — Walking through the woods on his weekend hunts was no walk in the park for Jason Wheat. After steadily gaining weight during his 40s, Wheat found the trek up the hills of his hunting area hard to manage. Even putting on his hunting boots felt burdensome.

“That was when I knew I’ve got to make changes,” Wheat said.

Wheat, who has diabetes, knew he would have to break his fried food habit but didn’t know how best to go about it. He met with his doctor and enrolled in the LSU AgCenter’s Dining with Diabetes five-part series in Clinton.

“I was all in,” Wheat said. “I went and committed myself to it.”

March is National Nutrition Month, and during this month, Wheat is sharing his story to show how implementing the nutrition lessons he learned in the class has drastically improved his health and well-being.

AgCenter Nutrition and Community Health agent Layne Langley taught the series of classes Wheat took.

“The class goes through meal planning and prep, how to read food labels, portion size, how do you count carbs, what is a carb, everything that deals with diabetes,” Langley said.

Early changes Wheat made included limiting his portions, adding in more vegetables and learning to read food labels to make better choices.

“The biggest thing that I took from it was the nutritional values that are on the labels of the products. How to read those, how to decide what's better for me, what's not. You know, what’s the good and bad?” Wheat said.

Dining with Diabetes is one of five signature classes of the LSU AgCenter’s Flavors of Health program. Others are Break Up with Salt, Smart Portions, Stay Independent, and Small Changes, Healthy Habits. Nutrition and Community Health agents teaching the lessons also partner with healthcare professionals in their area to answer medical questions participants might have.

For Wheat’s class, Langley recruited Karlyn Gerald, a registered nurse. Gerald serves as the remote patient monitoring coordinator for RKM Primary Care, a health clinic serving rural communities like Clinton. Her main role is to help patients with unmanaged hypertension or diabetes monitor blood pressure or blood sugar at their homes.

Gerald was eager to assist with the classes because reaching patients before their disease gets unmanaged is important to improving health outcomes in rural communities. She was scheduled to teach just the first class in the series but returned for the second class to continue discussions with the participants.

“I love to educate patients on their comorbidities, to see patients successfully achieve a better life because of the education provided is so rewarding,” Gerald said. “It makes me feel like I am doing something right and beneficial to patients’ well-being.”

In addition to medical advice and nutrition education, the classes also include cooking demonstrations and tastings so participants like Wheat could experience new foods. Wheat is a self-proclaimed picky eater and isn’t always open to new foods.

“If it didn’t come over on the Mayflower, I didn't need it,” he joked. “I didn't hear the pilgrims talking about kale or things like that. They talked about corn and potatoes and green beans.”

Wheat started with his first class in September and, while he admitted kale will never be part of his diet, he has since incorporated changes in his eating habits and the results are striking. He has lost 45 pounds, significantly lowered his A1C which measures blood sugar levels and lowered his blood pressure.

“Everything has gotten a lot better. I'm really excited about my overall health right now. I'm in my 50s, and I have plans to be around for a few years longer.”

And those walks in the woods?

“It has made a big difference in me being able to stay out in the woods longer, cover more territory than I used to, and I’m not nearly as winded. It’s also easier to put my boots on, too, so that has been a big help.”

The AgCenter offers nutrition classes in communities throughout the state. Nutrition and Community Health agents also work closely with leaders, healthcare providers and partners to take an innovative community-based approach to changing the environments where people eat, live, shop, work, learn and play to help individuals and families adopt the nutrition and physical activity principles. This is all aimed at lowering obesity rates across the state.

“Our goal is educating people, whether it be on diabetes, hypertension or general nutrition. Helping them realize they can make changes in their diets and habits even if in small steps is important to me,” Langley said. “I want them to know they are not alone in making changes. I want my clientele to live a long and healthy life.”

AgCenter agents are participating in National Nutrition Month with classes and events throughout the state. In Covington, Mayor Mark Johnson worked with AgCenter agent Valerie Vincent to create and adopt a proclamation that supports the need for continuing nutrition education and wide-scale effort to enhance healthy eating practices and increase opportunities for physical activity.

Similarly in St. Charles Parish, agent Rinalda Rocquin and the St. Charles Healthy Communities Coalition have worked with the St. Charles Parish government in Hahnville to adopt a resolution in support of National Nutrition Month.

For more information or to sign up for an opportunity, contact your local Nutrition and Community Health agent through your local LSU AgCenter office.

Jason Wheat Before and After.

Jason Wheat lost 45 pounds following principles he learned in the LSU AgCenter Dining with Diabetes class. With his lifestyle changes, Wheat has seen dramatic improvements in his health and well-being. Before photo at left provided by Jason Wheat and after photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSU AgCenter

Fruit Yogurt Parfaits.

Participants in an LSU AgCenter Nutrition and Community Health class work on a healthy recipe. Classes provide nutrition education, recipes and cooking skill lessons. Photo by Layne Langley

3/7/2024 3:44:16 PM
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