Proper nutrition improves transitioning Soldier readiness

WTU Force Structure Proper nutrition can aid in the recovery for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and offset the weight gain that often results from decreased physical activity. (Photo courtesy Department of the Army)

By John M. Rosenberg, Warrior Care and Transition

January 23, 2017 – Diet and nutrition play an integral role in maintaining Army readiness. This applies to the force as a whole, but is especially relevant to Soldiers serving in Warrior Transition Units who have expectations of returning to active duty.

“There are a lot of nutrition goals that wounded, ill and injured Soldiers can use as a starting point in their recovery,” says Lt. Col. Annie Cichocki, Action Officer, Clinical Liaison Division, Deputy Chief of Staff, Warrior Care and Transition. “The bottom line is to eat healthy.”

How do Soldiers in Transition, especially those who are young, know what is and what is not healthy to eat? According to Cichocki, there’s no such thing as good foods and bad foods, it’s just a matter of overall caloric intake. “It doesn’t mean you can never eat cake and ice cream,” says Cichocki, a certified dietician. As with the U.S. population as a whole, Cichocki recommends that Soldiers follow the ‘MyPlate method’… a nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that replaced the long-serving food pyramid.

“The premise behind MyPlate is that half of your plate should be fruit and vegetables, one- fourth is meats and other proteins, and the other fourth is starches such as whole grains and potatoes,” says Cichocki. “Potatoes are not bad. What makes them bad is what we put on them, loading them with sour cream, butter and bacon bits.”

Cichocki says wounded, ill and injured Soldiers can eat the same thing as everyone else, so long as there are no underlying medical issues such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol. “For most of the WTU population I recommend the MyPlate method whereby one eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, moderate amounts of whole grains and good starch,” explains Cichocki.

Sometimes Cichocki’s dietary suggestions are met with resistance. She cites, as an example, Soldiers who are meat-and-potato types who insist upon maintaining their diet. “They can still have what they want, but they need to limit the frequency with which they eat these foods,” says Cichocki. “It’s the same thing, for example, as a Soldier who likes rice… it’s okay to have your rice, but just cut back on the amount and limit the sodium intake.”

For many wounded, ill and injured Soldiers a subsequent decrease in physical activity can lead to weight gain and other problems. Although dedicated dieticians are not among full-time staff within the WTUs, Cichocki says they are available at the medical treatment facilities if needed.

“When I was a dietician at Fort Carson we saw a lot of WTB Soldiers,” says Cichocki. “While they’re recovering, they may fail to adjust their caloric intake and they should always remember— it’s calories in, calories out.”

In explaining why she entered the dietary field Cichocki cites her love of food and eating. “I was also fascinated by sports nutrition and how food can fuel the body,” says Cichocki. “Nutrition has a role in everything. If a Soldier is in the hospital and is provided with foods that are appropriate for them at that period of time, the decreased physical activity doesn’t have to result in weight gain and it can aid in their recovery.”