Bad eating habits: Advice to help servicemembers eat healthier

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kenneth W. Norman
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

One fast food cheeseburger ... 900 calories

One large order of French fries ... 500 calories

One large soft drink ... 250 calories

Improving your eating habits ... Priceless

Obesity is a major problem in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bad eating habits affect both civilians and military members.

"Bad eating habits can lead to weight gain, health complications and decreased physical performance, such as during physical training tests," said Kara Compton, Health and Wellness Center nutrition program manager and registered dietitian. "It could also cause fatigue and seriously affect your sleep."

You do not have to be overweight for bad eating habits to affect your health.

"With or without weight gain, bad eating habits could lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high glucose levels, which are serious problems," said Master Sgt. Cristina L. Saguin, 97th Medical Operations Squadron NCO in charge and diet therapy technician at the HAWC here.

The eating habits people develop are usually related to their lifestyle, and the military life style is a busy one.

Poor eating habits come from people not planning and just letting life's busy schedule rule their food choices, Mrs. Compton said.

One tool people can use to get an idea of their eating habits is a self assessment, which is logging all foods and drinks being consumed for a few days and then reviewing it to see exactly what they have been putting into their bodies.

"I recommend anyone who thinks their eating habits are off, do a self assessment," Sergeant Saguin said. "A lot of times people under-estimate what they eat in terms of calories and also aren't getting enough of each food group."

There are resources available such as, which gives dietary guidelines and can also help assess how many calories and how much of each of the food groups are needed each day, Sergeant Saguin added.

It is recommended to eat five to six small meals throughout the day, instead of the traditional three.

"Five to six small meals a day keeps you in control of your eating. When you are very hungry you don't care what you eat as long as it cures your hunger," Sergeant Saguin said. "Eating frequently gives you more opportunities to fit all the food groups into your meals and keeps your metabolism and energy levels up."

"We encourage that at least half of your daily carbohydrates be complex carbohydrates such as whole grain and whole wheat products," Mrs. Compton said.

To change your eating habits, you may also need to change the way you grocery shop.

"Have a grocery list and stick to it," Mrs. Compton said.

"Eat before you go. Don't go to the grocery store hungry," said Sergeant Saguin. "Try to shop the perimeter of the store, which is where most of the healthier food is located. The center aisles usually contain less healthy food."

Watch out for empty calorie foods, as empty calories have no nutritional value to help your body, Sergeant Saguin said. Some empty calorie foods are cookies, candy, fast food high in fat, doughnuts and other foods very concentrated in fat.

When buying vegetables and fruit you can purchase them frozen, fresh or canned.

"Frozen is almost as good as fresh because it is frozen immediately," Sergeant Saguin said. "Canned foods contain more sodium than frozen or fresh."

"Frozen food is easy and quick to prepare. You can steam or microwave them and they won't lose their nutrients," Mrs. Compton said.

The last steps of eating healthier are preparing and cooking the food.

"Baking, grilling, steaming, roasting, and broiling are all good ways to cook," Sergeant Saguin said. "Pretty much any way but frying is fine."

"Even making your own chicken fried steak is healthier than ordering one at your local café," Mrs. Compton said.

"One reason we over-eat when we eat out is because the plates are so huge," Sergeant Saguin said. "Make sure your plates at home are no bigger than 9 inches in circumference."

It takes work and planning to change eating habits, but with support and determination it is possible.

For more nutrition tips, advice or information, call the HAWC at 481-5013