Patient transitions from indulging to healthier habits

Working long hours, eating on the run and not having enough time for exercise: That is a dangerous trio when it comes to your health.

“Pablo” was taking that gamble every day when he first came to Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative (BVMI). Since emigrating from Peru 30 years ago, he had successfully worked in landscape construction in the U.S. But he found it harder to succeed when it came to losing weight.

Hearing about BVMI from a friend, Pablo became our patient when he was 53, weighing 215 pounds. Dr. Salvatore Laraia encouraged him to exercise more and cut down on simple carbohydrates and foods that have more sugar, less fiber and fewer nutrients. Dr. Laraia also encouraged him to lower his intake of fatty foods.

Change was not easy to adapt to. Pablo had very little time to prepare food and cook for himself. His preference for restaurants and convenience foods—coupled with a lack of exercise—made it hard to lose weight.

But he persevered. By the time he met with BVMI Patient Navigator Vicky Fliman, registered nurse (RN), in February of 2015, Pablo had dropped 21 pounds, to a healthier 194. He was proud of his progress, but with a diagnosis of prediabetes, he needed to stay motivated.

Speaking with the patient in his primary language, Spanish, Fliman made suggestions for ways that he could eat well at restaurants he frequented. She also offered ideas for preparing quick and healthy meals at home.

“It’s important to understand and respect the cultural food habits of our patients,” said Fliman. “Simple, gradual changes can be made. For example, if you eat rice and beans more than once a day, try making that second meal lighter on the rice and heavier on fresh vegetables.”

What about the expense of healthier eating? Fliman explained that healthy food does not have to cost more.

“I make it a point to know what’s currently in the local markets,” she said. “You can stretch your food dollars by what I call ‘eating from the earth,’ which means finding nutritious fruits and vegetables that are available at a good price because they are in season.”

Pablo’s journey to better health may not be over—it never is for any of us—but he has come a long way down that road so far.

Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative in Hackensack provides free primary care for low-income, working Bergen County residents who do not have insurance. BVMI does not receive payment from patients, reimbursement from insurance companies or government funding, and is supported entirely by private contributions. To schedule a tour or request more information, please contact Amanda Missey, CEO, at 201-518-8484 or

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Meadowlands USA

Meadowlands USA

Meadowlands USA is a North Jersey regional publication that reaches people who live and work in and around the Meadowlands (including the Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Passaic County corridor), as well as visitors to our region. The blog edition is updated regularly and the print edition is released six times a year.

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