Get Healthy Marshall Promotes Nutritious Eating For The Town
Although January often arrives with a re-evaluation of old habits and enthusiastic resolutions to do better, those promises to eat wisely and exercise more have a way of disappearing — sometimes even before the dip and party decorations are put away.
Ed and Amanda Smith of Marshall are well acquainted with the pitfalls of less-than-nutritious eating and the difficulties of making drastic dietary changes. The former five-term mayor of the East Texas community and his energetic wife admit to years of struggling with weight gain and “being unhealthy,” Amanda says.
That all changed in 2008 when a health crisis for Ed gave them a wake-up call, forcing dramatic action and transforming the way they ate and viewed food. With a diagnosis of prostate cancer, Ed chose to treat it with aggressive dietary changes, limiting his nutritional intake under a doctor’s supervision to whole grains, nuts, fruits, legumes, and fruits and vegetables. And the cancerous growth disappeared.
Today, the couple proudly promotes a belief in “eating clean,” offering an impressive example of what it looks like to pursue change with purpose, passion and persistence. As founders of a nonprofit called Get Healthy Marshall, they preach the idea of a healthy diet to friends, neighbors and pretty much anybody who will listen.
“It keeps your arteries clear, prevents or reverses type 2 diabetes and reduces your risk of cancer,” Amanda says. “No drug on earth can do all of that.”
Creating A Community Movement
Each spring, Get Healthy Marshall hosts a Healthfest event, inviting nationally-acclaimed medical and nutrition experts as well as chefs, athletes and others to gather and share their knowledge and expertise. Scheduled March 31-April 2 this year, the ambitious event draws growing crowds to the town for the active, informational weekend, some 600 attendees are expected for the 2017 event.
In addition, Amanda publishes an online publication called VegWorld, further sharing information with an international audience about healthy eating and the merits of eliminating processed foods from the American diet.
Locally, the couple keeps the “get healthy” dialogue going with popular healthy pot-luck dinners and also works with nearby restaurants to encourage more vegan menu offerings. The goal, Ed says, is to make it easier for people who follow a healthy diet to dine out with friends who don’t.
“Eating is such a social activity, and sometimes when people are following a really strict regimen, they don’t feel like they can go to restaurants and find anything that fits their diet,” he says. “So, we’ve worked with a lot of local restaurants to help change that.”
Meeting the need, a growing list of Marshall eateries have tasty healthy options. For instance, R & R Bakery & Coffee Shop has veggie burgers and a vegan creamy enchilada casserole, and The Blue Frog Grill has its own plant-strong menu with a grilled avocado lettuce wrap that earns raves on the Get Healthy Marshall website. Similarly, Os2 Restaurant & Pub has a full vegan menu upon request, with quesadillas, pasta marinara, veggie burgers, grilled portobella and other healthy offerings. Central Perks has a whole separate vegan menu with more than 15 made-fresh-daily options of sandwiches and salads.
Along with Healthfest’s growth, Get Healthy Marshall’s influence on its community has expanded in subtle and significant ways. Residents impacted by the nonprofit’s healthy dietary lifestyle include Reggie Cooper, Marshall’s fire chief and a man who earned the nickname “Veggie Reggie” after he embraced this new way of eating and reversed his type 2 diabetes. Reportedly spending 28 days making the switch — “detoxing” and changing his palate — he stayed with the program, eventually losing 50 pounds and discontinuing his medications.
A range of other Marshall residents and friends report similar successes like arresting or positively impacting disease progression or lowering blood pressure and being able to discontinue medications they’d expected to stay on for the rest of their lives. “And they always lose weight,” Amanda says. “That’s a happy side effect of getting healthy.”
Amanda and Ed also help guide residents through the sometimes-painful process of making dietary changes right where it starts: at the grocery store.
Every month or so, Amanda says they conduct free Get Healthy Marshall store tours at a local grocer, leading small groups in an aisle-by-aisle review of what’s on the shelves and discussing the differences between what the labels say and what they mean, and sharing tips on how to make wiser food choices.
“Biology causes us to crave fat, salt and sugar whenever we’re stressed out or if we waited too long to eat,” she notes, “so there are a lot of challenges.”
For those who find the concept of such a drastic change of focus toward food daunting or even scary, Amanda offers quick pointers like simply avoiding the junk food aisle in the grocery store and making healthy homemade meals in large batches and freezing them in portion-sized containers for convenient consumption during the week. She also suggests looking for food items with less than 10 ingredients on their labels, or fresh vegetables that are label-free.
“If it comes from a field and not a factory, it’s a better choice,” she explains.
The biggest obstacle to changing eating habits is “environment, not willpower,” Amanda adds.
“It’s hard to get clean when you’re surrounded by all the junk,” she says. “But if you fill your house with clean options, that’s what you’ll eat.”