Eating well is a crucial part of living a healthy lifestyle, especially for people with diabetes. One way to eat well is to cook at home, but many people lack the confidence to create their meals from scratch. No one knows this better than Rani Polak, M.D., a research fellow at Joslin with degrees in both medicine and culinary arts.
That’s why Dr. Polak is proud to lead the new Chef Coaching program offered by the Joslin’s Institute of Lifestyle Medicine. “We help people improve their confidence in cooking,” said Dr. Polak. Open to everyone, not just Joslin patients, the program offers 12 half hour virtual sessions tailored to each individual’s needs with the aim of enhancing health through culinary teaching. The main goal is to help people, whether they have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, are looking to prevent it, or are cooking for a family member with the disease, cook more in their own home. It’s not that people don’t know how to cook, he says. They very often know how to do basic tasks in the kitchen, but hesitate to do so. This program aims to change that.
“There is a high correlation between home cooking and health,” said Dr. Polak when explaining the program’s focus on home cooked foods. Traditionally, nutrition counseling has been based solely on nutrients. People are told to have more vitamins and less saturated fat, but can’t translate the nutritional values they are learning to the foods they are eating. The program’s emphasis on home cooking and food rather than nutrients hopes to change that. “We talk to people about food so they understand how the nutritional guidelines set by their physician translate to different kinds of foods,” said Dr. Polak. The program is tailored to each client, making it easy to plan and prepare for disliked foods and family meals.
A common concern among families with diabetes is that the food suitable for those with diabetes won’t be sufficient for members of the family without diabetes. Dr. Polak rejects this notion, encouraging families to have as many meals together as possible. Healthy foods and eating habits recommended for people with diabetes and for diabetes prevention are almost the same as those recommended for non-diabetics leading a healthy lifestyle. “Healthy food for people with diabetes is healthy food for everybody,” said Dr. Polak.
The Chef Coaching program is already expanding its borders, although it’s barely three months old. Within the next two months the program will proudly award the first Chef Coaching certificate of completion. The program currently serves clients nationwide, but hopes to spread to clients globally. While coaching is presently offered over the phone, advancing technology means video calls could be an option in the future. The program is also planning on training health care providers outside of Joslin to deliver Chef Coaching, making healthy eating a more easily accessible widespread movement.
In addition to instilling cooking confidence in its clients, Chef Coaching has shown beneficial in ways Dr. Polak never expected. Clients who go through the program have a better understanding of what is healthy for them in general, despite the program’s focus solely on food education. This knowledge helps them in all aspects of their life.
“Most percent of the people that went through Chef Coaching exercise more,” said Dr. Polak. “One of the patients took his medication better because he started to think about his own health more.”
Dr. Polak chalks this unpredictable benefit it up to the confidence inspired by the program. “If I decided to make rice and I succeed with that decision, I could decide to exercise ten minutes a day,” said Dr. Polak. Having confidence in one area of life can be infectious, spreading to other areas for an overall healthier lifestyle. Dr. Polak summarizes this succinctly: “Usually, when a patient’s confidence improves, they do well in many aspects of their life.”
Click here to learn more about Chef Coaching.