By Katrina Squazzin

EatingSOBER is not about losing weight; it’s about choices.

That’s the mindset of program co-ordinators Ben Labadie, 35, and Lindsey Vandersluis, 29, when they created the EatingSOBER course.

The new healthy eating program is designed to target Chatham-Kent’s high rate of obesity by challenging its participants to cut out unhealthy food, and exercise regularly. Emphasis is placed on making good choices as opposed to losing weight, an approach that differs from popular programs that emphasize pills or products.

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The free EatingSOBER program has been running for six weeks and has attracted 47 participants.

“We’re trying to change the way society views healthy eating,” explained Labadie, a personal trainer at Performance Fitness and Training. “We want to treat it like alcoholism. You won’t ask an alcoholic to have a beer because you know that’s not the right thing to do. We want people to stop pushing food on people that are trying to eat healthy.”

Participants attend a course once a week to discuss their health triumphs and struggles. Labadie and Vandersluis keep participants motivated by providing around-the-clock support and even text program members reminding them to go for daily walks.

There is also a Facebook group where members of the program can share recipes, discuss their daily food choices, and offer support to one another.

The meetings are held at the Active Lifestyle Centre to accommodate the growing number of participants.

What initially began as a 30-day trial has grown into something more, said Labadie.

“In the second week, we realized it was a little bit bigger than we first thought,” he said. “We saw the way that the program was impacting people … We enjoy it, it’s fun for us.”

Labadie’s fitness background, combined with Vandersluis’ experience as a nurse, has created a program they said is not a diet, but rather a lifestyle change.

All of the expenses for the course thus far, including program guides and bracelets for each member, have been paid out of their own pockets.

Although the program has only been around for a few weeks, the impact it has had on its participants is apparent. Just over a month ago, Rachel Laidler, 38, ate fast food three times a week, never exercised, and smoked nearly a pack a day.

Since joining the program, she has cut out big macs and bacon cheeseburgers from her diet, walks a minimum of half an hour a day, and has not touched a cigarette.

“At first I thought it was going to be a weight loss thing,” said Laidler, who learned about the program over Facebook. “I came to realize that it was more about a lifestyle change than losing weight and I really needed that too. It’s been helpful because I’m focusing more of my time and energy on planning healthy meals and being healthy.”

Each program participant wears an EatingSOBER bracelet to remind themselves to make smart food choices throughout the day.

“You think, ‘How do I make a decision easier?’ and that’s by simply looking down at my bracelet and knowing to make a better decision,” said Labadie.

Laidler says that she hasn’t taken her bracelet off since she put it on just over a month ago.

“It’s a reminder to yourself about what you’re doing,” she explained. “There’s a girl in the program that snaps herself on the wrist with the bracelet if she’s going to make a bad decision. It also makes people ask you questions. It gives you an opportunity to explain the program and tell them a little bit about it.”

Although Laidler often enjoyed fast food before joining the program, she said that it is becoming easier to curb the cravings. Her mother’s recent diagnosis of heart disease has given her even more motivation to continue with her healthy lifestyle.

“Every time you make a healthy choice, it becomes easier.”



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