For as long as she can remember, Beth Bennett has been enamored by health and healing. A lover of cooking and exercise, Beth says she became fascinated by the relationship between eating, moving, and healing while she was studying to become a physical therapist in the late 1970’s.
“I was working in a community based cardiac rehab lab,” she says, “and I was discovering a lot about people’s eating habits and lifestyles. Learning about nutrition while studying physical health led me to the concept of wellness, and the idea of taking a ‘whole body’ approach to health.”
Today, as the Chief Program Officer at The Gathering Place and alongside her colleague Stephanie Hopkins, RDN, LD, Beth helps communities and health care professionals understand the relationship between nutrition, lifestyle, and health. As one of the Foundation’s leaders, Beth has helped develop a number of impactful programs that help cancer survivors make healthy lifestyle choices, and encourage cancer prevention through healthy living.
When we connected with Beth last spring, she gave us a peek behind the curtain at The Gathering Place and shared some stories about how she uses AICR resources, and about how our research has benefited her community.
Q: Can you tell us about The Gathering Place and how the organization serves the cancer community?
A: Since opening our doors in 2000, The Gathering Place has served over 47,000 individuals who have made over 400,000 visits. Our mission is to support, educate and empower individuals and families currently coping with the impact of cancer in their lives through programs and services delivered free of charge.
We like to say we meet our participants wherever they are in their cancer journey. This is one reason we find the New American Plate (NAP) from AICR so helpful for many of our participants. Everyone has a different starting point when working towards a heathier lifestyle and the New American Plate provides the perfect opportunity for individuals and families to get on board with a healthy nutrition plan, without having to cook separate meals based on a particular diet.
For example, coming from the Midwest a common adage is meat and potatoes (and a side vegetable). With the NAP, we talk about the same combination of foods but in a different ratio – vegetables and potatoes or favorite grain or legume with a side of lean animal protein. This is a very easy concept for most families to grasp.
Throughout the year, almost all of our healthy lifestyle groups incorporate some nutrition component. We use the AICR guidelines for cancer prevention and survivorship, as well as the Continuous Update Project (CUP) for each specific group as a framework for discussion. These groups are a combination of hands-on cooking classes, cooking demos and discussions that incorporate an AICR test kitchen recipe or healthy recipe that meets the AICR guidelines for participants to prepare. This is a nice way to get participants interested in our hands-on cooking class.
Q: What are other ways The Gathering Place uses AICR’s resources?
A: As a nonprofit, we do not have a lot of expensive handouts and material to give our participants. In fact, when we meet with someone, we ask them to write their nutrition questions in a notebook and bring it to their meeting.
As the nutrition consultation progresses and their top concerns are addressed including “next steps” in their lifestyle behavior plan, most times we can find a specific AICR infographic, recipe, blog, or program such as iThrive or NAP for their survivorship tool kit.
We’ve always used AICR as a barometer for fact checking nutrition information. For example, the infographic for the CUP is a wonderful tool to help cancer survivors understand the difference between correlation and causation, and that no single food is a cause or cure for cancer. The CUP infographic also illustrates the importance of healthy weight management for many cancers.
We continue to use AICR resources for developing new ideas for cooking classes and incorporate the iThrive or NAP into our programs to help promote a lasting healthy behavior change for cancer survivors and their family. When promoting one of our new programs, such as Healthy Weigh or Whole Food Lifestyle, we add “this program will follow the guidelines recommended by AICR” to any flyer or email.
Q: How have your cancer survivors and other audiences described their experience using AICR’s resources?
A: Here is a quote from a participant who used AICR’s iThrive program:
“It has definitely made me move toward healthier choices. I really like it. It has manageable bits of information and tips on helping the whole person. I have been very consistent in logging in and reading my daily challenges and I feel as if it’s making me more conscious of better and more enjoyable choices. The tone of the program is supportive and understanding of human foibles and seems to nudge the user toward better choices rather than “laying down the law.” As you say, progress not perfection. I hope they keep the program going.”
Q: What benefits do AICR’s resources provide to you and the rest of The Gathering Place’s staff?
A: We do not have to “reinvent the wheel.” AICR’s resources sum up the information on cancer prevention and survivorship and provide great themes and recipes for our Hands-on Cooking Classes. In fact, many of our ideas for our cooking classes have been generated from the Foods the Fight Cancer section on the AICR website.
Q: What benefits do AICR’s resources provide to your community of survivors, caretakers, loved ones and others?
A: Helping participants navigate the AICR website empowers them to fact check all the lifestyle information they read on other websites or in magazines and newspapers. There is so much misinformation floating around that can create a fear around food for cancer survivors. Having evidence-based resources cancer survivors can trust to fact check any article they read is quite empowering.
For example, soy and breast cancer has been a hot topic for well over a decade, yet there is still confusion around whether or not it’s safe for women with an E/P positive breast cancer to consume soy. For our participants, AICR succinctly sums up the research and takes the fear out of soy consumption while offering “next steps” for incorporating soy into their diet, as part of a healthy lifestyle. The same scenario can be said for sugar and cancer.
Q: How do AICR’s resources help The Gathering Place fulfill its mission?
A: AICR continues to be our “go-to” source for educating the population we serve to help them feel more empowered about their lifestyle choices for themselves and their loved ones. We are able to provide support by downloading a free AICR infographic that resonates with a cancer survivor and their family or directing a cancer survivor to a free of charge program like iThrive or NAP. This helps reduce some of the barriers the cancer community faces as they move towards a healthier lifestyle that’s sustainable for the whole family.
For more information on The Gathering Place, you can visit their website.
Share your Story
If you share our passion for cancer prevention and quality survivorship, we would love to hear from you. Whatever your experience has been — whether you are a patient, caregiver, or loved one — AICR would be happy to add your story to this tapestry.