Kerri Whitley of Pritikin Foods: “Let Go of Worry”

Let Go of Worry — Do not stress about things you cannot control. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but letting go of things out of our control can help reduce stress. I constantly remind myself to only give energy to things within my control. Constant worrying leads to chronic stress, which can lead to health problems. […]

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Let Go of Worry — Do not stress about things you cannot control. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but letting go of things out of our control can help reduce stress. I constantly remind myself to only give energy to things within my control. Constant worrying leads to chronic stress, which can lead to health problems. Research has shown that about 85% of the things people worry about never even happen!

As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerri Whitley.

Kerri Whitley, MS, RD/LD, CCRP, EP-C believes that achieving wellness requires a three-pronged approach: eating well, moving well, and thinking well. She is a Senior Field Manager for Pritikin Intensive Cardiac Rehab (ICR), which takes traditional cardiac rehab a step further by providing healthcare facilities nationwide with patient educational content and best practices aimed at improving clinical and business outcomes. Through its comprehensive approach featuring regular exercise, a predominantly plant-based intake, and stress management techniques, Pritikin ICR helps heart patients recover from their heart event or procedure, and discover their full potential.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?

Growing up, I was a competitive gymnast, dancer, and cheerleader. These sports can put a lot of emphasis on one’s body weight and appearance. Consequently, I suffered from eating disorders, which led me to be hyper-focused on diet and exercise. Fortunately, through a lot of counseling, education, family support, and personal growth, I was able to recover. Obviously, it was not the best experience for the start of my career journey, but this challenging part of my life has been instrumental in my success. I firmly believe that knowledge and personal growth can be gained from both good and painful experiences.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Working for a food and beverage company, I had the opportunity to design coffee and tea product packaging. This packaging was chosen to be on the set of several TV sitcoms, like Friends, Frazier, and Two and a Half Men. It was cool to see my work on these sets!

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

When I was working in school food service, there was an older coworker that reported to me that was no longer able to perform her job duties. Her body was failing her — she was unable to lift anything heavy and was using the food cart as a walker to get around the kitchen. Evidently, her vision was failing her, too. Before I had the chance to talk with her (or get up the nerve), she inadvertently served students soy sauce with their pancakes. By mistake, she poured soy sauce into the little containers instead of syrup. Obviously, the students did not appreciate this food pairing! Now, I tackle concerns immediately to avoid dealing with potentially bigger issues down the road.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

Working for the Intensive Cardiac Rehab division of Pritikin allows me to impact the lives of cardiac rehab patients that have already had a heart event, but just as importantly, my colleagues and I can stress the importance of primary prevention. Our Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, Florida, is the only resort-based wellness program that offers scientifically-proven results under the eye of board-certified physicians, exercise physiologists, and registered dietitians. To help make healthy eating a reality for people on-the-go, our Pritikin Foods line offers a variety of chef-designed, dietitian-reviewed meals and condiments that follow the guidelines of the Pritikin Eating Plan. If you are like me and prefer to throw something in the oven or microwave for a quick meal, then you would love our meals that include minimal added salt, sugar, and saturated fats. In a nutshell, I am proud to help provide solutions for those recovering from a heart event, as well as those trying to avoid one in the first place.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Somehow, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing people over the years. For the most part, my direct managers have always been the most influential in my career growth. I have found that you can learn something from everyone — even managers and co-workers who seem less-than-ideal — so I approach every situation as a learning opportunity.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

  1. Living Environment — Creating a “safe place” that supports your goals is imperative. Depending on one’s goals, this might mean keeping ultra-processed foods or sweets out of the house and stocking up on whole grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies instead. Keeping a basket of fresh fruit on the counter — perfect for a quick snack — can also be helpful.
  2. Food Cost — Remove the notion that it’s “too expensive to eat healthily.” Many people are surprised to find out how affordable it can be to eat a plant-based diet. I love sharing how inexpensive some of the staple items are if you prepare them at home. For example, the cost of a cup of cooked beans is about 14 cents, a cup of oatmeal is about 13 cents, and a medium baked potato is about 25 cents. Cooking at home (versus dining out) can save you a ton of money.
  3. Planning — If you wait until the last minute to decide what to eat, you’re likely going to be “hangry” and not make a great choice. It’s important to plan ahead and have plenty of healthy, ready-to-eat options available.

Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)

  1. Build in Movement — If you have a computer job, invest in a standing desk. It is life-changing! Before I had one, my legs and feet would go to sleep because I was sitting for so long. Regardless of whether you’re sitting or standing for long periods, be sure to move a little every 15–20 minutes. Take a brisk walk around your office space, do squats, or stretch — just move!
  2. Lunch Break — If you’re working a full day, take a lunch break every day. It’s easy to eat at our desk or work through lunch, but getting away from the work environment and taking a mental break can work wonders. Haven’t you noticed that some of your best ideas come while you’re taking a shower or doing some random, non-work-related activity?
  3. Cook Efficiently — Unless you absolutely love to cook and clean, always look for ways to save time in the kitchen. For example, you can cook several servings at once and freeze or refrigerate the leftovers for a quick meal later in the week. Cooking a big batch of something doesn’t take much longer than a small batch.
  4. Let Go of Worry — Do not stress about things you cannot control. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but letting go of things out of our control can help reduce stress. I constantly remind myself to only give energy to things within my control. Constant worrying leads to chronic stress, which can lead to health problems. Research has shown that about 85% of the things people worry about never even happen!
  5. Lower Calorie Dense Intake — For weight loss, fill up on low calorie-dense foods. These are foods like fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber and water content. They provide a lot of satiety (feeling of fullness) without the calories. Also, if you finish your meal and you’re still a bit hungry, consider a serving of fruit for dessert.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?

  1. Boosted Mood and Self-Confidence — This can go a long way towards being productive and having a more positive outlook. The better we feel, the better we function.
  2. Better Sleep — With a more restful sleep, we have more energy during the day, which is always welcome.
  3. Independence as You Age — It is extremely important to address all types of physical fitness: endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. All these components are necessary for staying independent as we age.

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

  1. Basic Squat — This basic movement is necessary for so many activities in our daily lives — everything from sitting in a chair to lifting objects.
  2. Chest Press — This is a great exercise for increasing overall upper body strength. Having a strong chest can be beneficial for posture, breathing, and daily activities.
  3. Walking — The daily activity of simply walking is so important. I like to get creative (and reduce boredom) by walking backwards, or doing crossovers, side steps, arms movements, knee lifts, hamstring curls, etc. during my walks. Besides cardiovascular benefits, these variations assist with balance, agility, and core strength.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

The book In An Instant, by Lee and Bob Woodruff, is a powerful read. A co-anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight,” Bob Woodruff, was covering the war in Iraq when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off near the military tank in which he was riding. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that almost killed him. A similar incident happened to my Dad about ten years ago. He was involved in an accident that severed his internal carotid artery, causing a major stroke. He wasn’t expected to live. Thankfully, he survived, but he lost his speech and is a hemiplegic, meaning one side of his body is paralyzed. The Woodruffs’ book helped me to have courage and never-ending hope in the face of adversity. It is both scary and humbling to realize how our lives can forever change in an instant.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As a Registered Dietitian for Pritikin Foods, I assist with recipe development and creating frozen meals with minimal salt, sugar, and saturated fat. Similarly, I would love for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to put stricter regulations in place — especially when it comes to the sodium in our food supply. It doesn’t have to be anything drastic. It could be something as simple as reducing the sodium in processed foods by 5–10% per year over a period of 5 years. This would allow consumers’ taste buds to gradually adjust. This reduction in sodium would decrease our population’s risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and many other chronic diseases.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My life lesson quote is, “It never hurts to ask.” Now, it’s important to put this into context. I’ve seen situations in which people have asked for something completely unreasonable, which can make them appear incompetent. So, be sure that what you’re asking for is reasonable and you have a well-defined reason for asking. For example, at one of my previous jobs, I requested to launch a workplace wellness program for our 300+ employees. As a result, we had fantastic outcomes and received a national innovation and improvement award from our corporate office!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Nathan Pritikin, the namesake of our company. Pritikin was among the first individuals worldwide to assert that diet and exercise, not drugs and surgery, should be the first line of defense against cardiovascular disease. In 1957, at the age of 42, he was diagnosed with heart disease. At that time, treatment options were limited and most physicians were not aware of the relationship between nutrition and disease, so his doctor told him to get his affairs in order. Pritikin refused to accept this grim news, so he took it upon himself to research the lifestyles of world populations that live to be very old while exhibiting little to no heart disease. Pritikin found that these populations followed a largely plant-based eating plan and had regular physical activity. This research convinced him that his diet was the reason for his heart disease at such a young age. With this knowledge, he opened the first Pritikin Longevity Center in 1975. In 1981, he convinced researchers at UCLA to study the relationship between nutrition and chronic diseases. This led to more than 100 peer-reviewed published scientific studies over the course of the subsequent decades. The science behind the Pritikin Program is so strong that its Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation (ICR) program, which integrates science-based lifestyle education for those recovering from a heart event or procedure, is covered by Medicare and most private insurance carriers.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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