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Family Fresh dietician helps customers stay on track with new health goals

Mary Jo Brunner, the Well Balanced Dietician at Family Fresh Market in New Richmond and Hudson, helps a customer by pointing out nutrition information on a box of cereal on Dec. 22. (Photo by Micheal Foley) 1 / 4
Mary Jo Brunner, the Well Balanced Dietician at Family Fresh Market in New Richmond and Hudson, offers her services free of charge, and she can usually be found at the dietician desk at the front of the store. (Photo by Micheal Foley) 2 / 4
Brunner says many people avoid avocadoes over a fear of eating too much fat, but avocadoes are a heart-healthy fat. (Photo by Micheal Foley)3 / 4
Brunner helps Family Fresh customers make healthy purchasing decisions that will fit into both their lifestyle and their budget. (Photo by Micheal Foley)4 / 4

Gyms aren’t the only places that see a huge influx of business shortly after the new year begins. Mary Jo Brunner, the Well Balanced Dietician at Family Fresh Market stores in New Richmond and Hudson, is bracing for her busy season as well.

“I feel that people get this idea that they have to eat a bunch of salads, and I don’t even recommend people start eating salads,” Brunner said of the post New Year health rush. “It’s more about eating sensible foods that taste good.”

Brunner is a registered dietician who has worked at Family Fresh Market for the past six years.

“I’m basically here to educate people about how to eat better,” Brunner said. “I think the grocery store is the perfect place to do that, because you have all the foods at your fingertips versus being at an office, at a clinic or hospital.”

Brunner gave the example of a customer who says he eats the bread with the red label.

“We can actually walk up to the bread and look at it, look at the nutrition facts label, look at the ingredients, look at the price and help people make choices that are better for them,” Brunner said.

When a customer first approaches Brunner for assistance, she asks questions to get a sense of how he or she is currently eating, which she says isn’t always information people are willing to share. Brunner also attempts to gauge customers’ goals, and finds that they often have unrealistic expectations of how much weight they can lose and how quickly it will come off. She blames extreme fad diets and media hype with the distorted perceptions people have.

“I don’t think people know what realistic means anymore. It’s all extreme,” Brunner said.

The advice she gives customers comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate guidelines. The MyPlate icon was released in June 2011 and replaced the familiar food pyramid that many people grew up with.

“It focuses on portion control,” Brunner said. “We’re using a plate and not a pyramid. We’re teaching people how to eat off of a plate. The plate is divided up into different sections focused on different food groups.”

She also acknowledged the impact exercise can have on health. She said that people don’t have to completely cut out some of their favorite foods, as long as they enjoy them in moderation and are willing to put in work exercising the extra calories away.

“Sometimes I exercise so I can eat,” Brunner said.

After gauging a customer’s current diet, goals and expectations, Brunner works with the individual to identify healthy food options that fit into their lifestyle, taking into account the person’s tastes, cooking abilities, budget and other factors.

“I love to follow up with people and kind of be a coach with them along the way,” Brunner said. “I’ve had people ask if I could follow them around all day long.”

In addition to providing grocery customers with free advice, Brunner also teaches classes, performs cooking demonstrations, presents information elsewhere in the community, sets up field trips for kids and administers competitive group weight-loss challenges multiple times per year.

“Last January, I had a really amped up group here in New Richmond,” Brunner said. “It’s competitive, and they were really going with one another on it. At least two of them kept winning the prizes over and over. They keep coming back to see me, and they have kept the weight off.”

The store’s next Well Balanced Challenge is set to begin Wednesday, Jan. 21.

“It’s a 10-week competitive program where you’re in a group environment for support,” Brunner said. “The idea is to teach people to eat better. It goes through shopping tips, learning about portion sizes and MyPlate in hopes that they change their eating habits and lose weight.”

It costs participants $55 to enter the challenge, and that money goes to pay for prizes that find their way back to the competitors over the 10-week period. Individuals also have the chance to earn coupons to save on their groceries every week based on percentage of body weight lost.

Since January 2010 Brunner has completed 18 challenges at the New Richmond store, with 162 participants who have lost a total of 910 pounds.

Those interested in free health and nutrition advice can stop by the dietician desk at Family Fresh Market or email Brunner at mary.brunner@spartannash.com.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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