Maria Antonia Rodriguez, Northcentral University – DASH Diet

It’s hard following a diet, even if it’s for medical reasons.

Maria Antonia Rodriguez, associate professor of psychology at Northcentral University, details a plan that helps to keep people on the straight and narrow.

Maria Antonia Rodriguez, associate professor of psychology at Northcentral University, has designed, implemented, and evaluated behavioral interventions to improve adherence to lifestyle changes in veterans with chronic illnesses at the New York Harbor Healthcare System in New York City. She taught at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru for five years until moving to Northcentral University, where she teaches masters and doctoral level courses in Health Psychology as well as serves on dissertation committees. She received her bachelor’s degree from Pace University and her MA and PhD from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University.

DASH Diet

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Following a healthy well-balanced diet can be challenging for anyone, and especially for those who are trying to manage a chronic illness. People diagnosed with hypertension are advised to follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet. This diet is high in fruits, vegetables, and grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. While physicians may discuss the importance of changing diet with patients and even refer patients to a nutritionist, nutritional education is often not enough to help someone change eating habits. Healthcare providers can use health behavior theories to counsel people to eat healthy and improve their blood pressure. The Transtheoretical Model is one such approach.

This model uses the stages of change to understand where someone lies on a continuum of change and then uses cognitive and behavioral strategies to help someone make changes. The stages of change range from precontemplation, not wanting to make changes, to maintenance, sustaining changes for more than six months. This model also explores dietary self-efficacy, one’s confidence in their ability to eat healthy despite barriers and decisional balance, the pros and cons of engaging in eating healthy.

One research project that I have been involved in at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Dr. Sundar Natarajan’s lab used the Transtheoretical Model to help veterans with uncontrolled blood pressure move through the stages of change and follow the DASH diet. We created a manual that was based on the Transtheoretical Model to deliver telephone counseling to veterans with hypertension. This approach significantly improves dietary adherence compared to a control group. In a follow-up project we trained nutritionists, pharmacists, and nurses to deliver the intervention with their patients. We will continue to explore how to incorporate elements of behavioral counseling in healthcare settings where there are many patients who need to make lifestyle changes, but few health psychologists to guide them.

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