I knew we lived in the desert, I didn't know it was a food desert.

If you watch the news at all, you will undoubtedly have seen the first lady talking about "Food Deserts." But what exactly is a food desert and why do I care?

Put simply, according to the USDA, a food desert has 33% of its population more than 10 miles from a supermarket or large grocery store, and has at least 20% of its population with incomes below the federal poverty level. Apparently this describes a small portion of our local economy. For more information go to usda.gov and click on the Food Desert Locator link.

This information seems strange to me since I live in the area and only drive a few miles to one of three local grocery stores. There are also farmers markets and Bountiful Basket's that provides an affordable source of healthy food.

While I may not understand why we are considered a Food Desert, I do understand the importance of access to healthy foods. I have in the past few months been made painfully aware of the fact that I do not eat enough of the right food. My waist continues to expand, my joints hurt and I have not slept well in months. Working at the Health Department, with people who really care about health, has been a real eye opener.

Eating "healthy food" doesn't necessarily mean you go all fruits and veggies but it does means that you cut down on the amount of fast food you eat and get the apples instead of french fries with your kid's meal. It doesn't have to be a massive change, it just has to change.

According to ChooseMyPlate.gov eating better food isn't really all that difficult. "You can still enjoy your food, just eat less" the website states. Start by avoiding oversized portions, make half your plate fruit and vegetables, use whole grains whenever possible and switch to fat-free or low fat (1%) milk. None of these things are impossible, or even cost all that much more, they just require a change in the way we think about the food we eat.

We all get busy and we all enjoy the convenience of fast food but we also know it isn't always the best option. If once in a while, instead of going for a fast food fix, you go to the grocery store and buy a salad, you will feel better, and more importantly be teaching your kids good eating habits. They may think you have lost your mind the first few times you offer them a salad, but they will adapt. If you find yourself hungry a few hours after eating your salad remember; it may be good to be hungry. It makes you appreciate and enjoy your next meal all that much more.

I am not saying it will be easy but there are ways to make it a little easier. If you are a new mom the WIC program (Women, Infants and Children) can help you not only with what to buy, but may also be able to provide you with checks to purchase the right foods. For more information on WIC, and to find out if you qualify, call 928-771-3138.

For everyone else, go to ChooseMyPlate.gov for a personalized eating plan, to either stay at your current weight, or move toward a more healthy weight. This site has among many things, healthy eating tips, how to plan a healthy menu and pages to print for tracking your meals and daily activities. This will help you see where you are succeeding and where you can use some help.

The most important, and probably the most effective way to get on the health food band-wagon, is to find someone to take with you. I would bet that if you asked the people you work with, live next to, or hang out with, if they felt great about the food choices they make you would get a resounding NO. So take this opportunity to start something great and help those around you feel better and possibly even live longer.

Start working on changing the way you think about food now so when the holidays come you will be prepared and won't overdo it. The key to successful healthy eating is moderation and making wise food decisions. You will thank me later.

For more information visit YavapaiHealth.com or if you want to know if I really stand behind these words, post your questions about my own eating habits and I will be happy to respond.

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