By Kati Burton
CSKT Guided Care Dietitian
Dana Hewankorn has been on a roller coaster of a health journey over the last decade, from weight loss surgery to canning her own garden produce. A change in her diet and daily exercise has shown her how even small changes can make all the difference in preventing illness, finding stability, and feeling her best. Her goals have shifted slightly, however, as a mom and a grandma concerned about the next generation. In this interview, Dana humbly expresses how she “walks the talk,” ultimately influencing healthy habits in her family members. She is making a concerted effort to change health trajectories at home, at work, and in her community by cooking and teaching others about healthy garden and native foods, walking everywhere with her grandkids, and encouraging prevention before the health scare. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about this inspiring lady.
KB: Introduce yourself. Tell us where you are from and anything you would like us to know about you.
My name is Dana Hewankorn and I am a mom and a grandma. I live in Elmo. I have spent a lifetime combatting my own obesity and health issues and trying to prevent that in my children and grandchildren.
KB: Tell me a bit about your history with food and health.
I had kids and afterwards I got busy. I was a member of the “clean plate” growing up. When I had kids, I would finish their plates too because I don’t like food waste. It really affected me and I ended up getting to 316 pounds at my largest. As I improved, I had gastric bypass surgery in 2003 and I lost a lot of weight. Over the years some of it has come back, because it is a tool. If you are not using the tool correctly, it ends up not working. Two years ago I got this job working with high energy kids. I have made it a point to make serious changes so that I can keep up with them. It is slow and steady work, changing habits in the way of preparing and eating food as well as becoming more fit. People think I need a ride when I’m walking down the road, but I’m like, “nope, just out on a walk!”
KB: Can you share a story about when unforeseen circumstances got in the way of your health goals?
When I was caring for my mom this summer and winter, it required a lot of time so I didn’t continue walking but I still ate right. I was really surprised during those months that I did not gain any weight. It showed me that I made some sustainable life changes because it had been months away from my routine, and I didn’t get on the scale because I was afraid of what I would see. After she was gone, I crept back on the scale and peaked and was surprised that there was no gain. That is unusual for me because my weight has always fluctuated. It really showed me that the information I had learned about and adopted carried me through that hard time. Before it would have been easy for me to just gain that 30 pounds back.
KB: What health changes have you made that you are most proud of?
I ran a half marathon and didn’t die! I involve my kids to go on hikes. I got pre-teens hiking this summer and one of them was like, “your little hikes are like 3 miles!” So, its not really me keeping up with the kids, its more like they have to keep up with me. I’m not necessarily a fast hiker or fast walker, but I am steady. A lot of our kids are sedentary so they don’t do those long walks. I am trying to live my life in that manner; just move a little more. I gardened this year; I canned this year. Just trying to think of ways to stay busy in a healthy way. I found cool ways to prepare foods with new recipes.
KB: Do you feel that the way you care for yourself impacts others in your family and community?
Wow. I think so. I think that with my family—when I changed my habits, we all changed our habits. However recently, we had a health issue with one of our kids that is making me pay more attention because I was making those changes but not requiring others to do it. Now I really need to pay attention to the behaviors of my family members, just encouraging them to try it out too because it can’t hurt. We will be incorporating all of these concepts in our next chapter to wellness. We try new foods and new recipes. There is so much out there.
KB: If you were going to bring a new recipe to a potluck filled with vegetables that looks a little different but is also delicious, do you think that could impact people’s behaviors, even slowly?
I think if I were at a community dinner and I made a great big vegetable stew instead of the normal macaroni soup, being more mindful of healthfulness, it could be a better choice for more of the population than a starchy, less healthy, soup. But don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with macaroni soup!
KB: What health concerns do you have for your family and community?
Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, poor nutrition and having the availability to good healthful foods. Where we live, we don’t have a store so you have what you have unless you can make it to a store. We do have some good traditional foods that we eat, wild game, roots and berries. I don’t think enough of us eat those foods very often and regularly like our ancestors did, including myself. In fact, I think I’m poor if I have to buy meat. These other foods should be a treat vs. what we used to eat all the time, so maybe a goal for me might be to eat that way more. The produce I get is from the store or I’ll pick apples or pears seasonally, but those are not traditional.
KB: Do you feel like the other members of your family would eat more traditional foods too?
Some of it. I am really fortunate that my kids are not picky eaters so I have always cooked for them. They are used to having healthful foods, but I also show them fried potatoes. For them, its normal for them to eat homecooked foods. We don’t have that battle of eating frozen foods out of a box. I just need to continue to learn how to cook more healthy options. Using healthy grains, different beans, different kinds of options and switch to more of the whole foods vs. the processed stuff. I am on a no white bread campaign, which is hard. I am making that change because our family needs it too. Just get that loaf of bread out of here!
KB: Tell me about some actions you are taking to ensure a healthier life for your family members and neighbors.
I get up and I walk. I move and make it a point to be consistent. I am considering running but not sure about that. I may be on a strict walking regimen for a while. I try to be consistent with food with myself and the kids. We are using the MyPlate, we all have one. Trying to use that picture on the plate to make sure we have the right types of foods and portions. I think most kids are not getting enough fruits and vegetables. Fruit was something we never really put on our plate, so now we are trying to do that. Figuring out healthy snacks instead of potato chips. Trying to buy nuts and portion them out in single servings. I will have to learn new tricks all the time.
KB: If you had to give one piece of advice to anyone willing to make a difference in their own health, what would it be?
Start today, do not wait! Do not wait for the health scare or until you can’t move. Any little change can be the beginning to the next. Also, reach out to others that are on a similar journey—you aren’t alone. Shout out to Kidney Keepers!
KB: How does someone learn more about the Kidney Keepers group?
Facebook. Just look up the Facebook page and attend an event or get involved with one of their fitness challenges.
This column is a project of Kati Burton, CSKT Guided Care Dietitian. She hopes to bring local voices to the table to discuss food traditions and memories that reconnect us with our food history and help us to eat well.
If you have a food story you would like to share or want to connect, please contact Kati Burton at 406-317-3751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.