Wellness Committee Update: Focus on Food

Kevin Kriso Features

The members of the Wellness Committee now present the second report on the feedback from our recent provincial Wellness Survey. The first report showed encouraging indications that the friars are positively and proactively involved in their health assessment and management.

In this second report, however, we note some concerns and challenges based on the survey results. The data seem to indicate that we, as a Province, need to address poor eating habits, misuse and abuse of food and, in some cases, even addiction to food.

A minority of the friars, 25% describe their eating habits as “very healthy,” Forty-four percent describe their eating habits as “generally healthy” and a substantial 33% note there is “room for Improvement.” In addition, 46% of the friars report they “sometimes” or “never” exercise. These statistics themselves cause concern, but when compared to statistics in the next paragraph, we see how the eating and exercise habits of many have affected their health.

Many Friars Report Health Conditions
Only 39 respondents (of 310 responding) describe themselves as being on a “special diet.” Yet, 107 friars report they have high blood pressure, 40 have Type 2 Diabetes, 50 have high cholesterol, 53 have heart disease, 44 suffer from acid reflux and 85 say they are overweight. All of these conditions are affected by a poor diet and/or lack of exercise. Of course, there is overlap of these conditions in some friars. However, the data suggest the poor eating and exercise habits of many are contributing to serious health issues. Given these statistics, how can the Province help motivate and support needed improvements?

Some of our poor eating habits mirror what is going on in American society in general. Indeed, obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. Because we friars are so busy in ministry, like our contemporaries, we do a lot of “eating on the run.” The food that is most quick and convenient to eat tends to be high in fat and calories. Another cultural influence is the increase in portion size and in quality of foods in restaurants. This raises our expectations of what kind and amount of food we should get at home (in the friary).

However, a big part of the issue is the “culture of food” we ourselves have developed. We, as a province, like to show “jolly” Franciscan hospitality and make people feel welcome by having lots of snack food available in our friaries. Also, one of our major ways of sharing in community is our preprandiums that usually revolve around food and drink.

While it is a good intention to want to offer people “the best,” sometimes we go to the point of overdoing it. The motive might have been good, but it is not wise. The wisest choice is giving ourselves and others what is best, i.e., health. At the same time, if we take in a wider world-view, we see there are many places where people don’t have enough food, while we Franciscans have to battle diseases caused by eating too much.

Approach to Food Needs Review 
The data suggest we need to have a conversation about food and our approach to it. Each community will need to look at the culture of food it has developed. We can ask the question: “Is this the way we want it to be?” 
Communities can look at their menus. There are many tasty and healthy ways food can be prepared. There are also ways to celebrate community that don’t revolve as much around eating and drinking.

At the same time, individual friars need to look at their own attitudes and habits about food and exercise. Are they overeating to mask difficult feelings and issues? If so, they should feel free to come forward to seek help. Tackling a food problem without professional and personal support is a lonely business. However, with such support we can find healthier ways to address difficult feelings and issues.