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West U Fitness in Houston, Texas, has taken nutrition education a step further. About a year ago the club installed a “Teaching Kitchen” inside the facility and now brings in local chefs, farmers, registered dietitians and nutritionists to conduct cooking demonstrations and seminars for members.
According to Brent Gallagher, this move was needed, as nutrition was one of the biggest aspects of fitness his members struggled with. “We kept telling people, ‘If you get it right with food, 30 minutes [of exercise] is enough.’ But people kept working out longer, because they were trying to out-train a bad diet. So we kicked around this crazy idea: What if we put a kitchen in here?”
So Gallaher carved out enough space to install a kitchen similar to what would be found in many of his members’ homes. “When you walk in, it literally looks like what you would find at your house,” he said. “We have [conversations] around a dinner-like table so people can learn in a circle, versus sitting in rows or sitting in the middle of a gym. It takes their mindset and places them in a good, ideal setting [for learning].”
Now, West U Fitness’ members can no longer say they don’t have the resources available to learn how to eat well. Between September and December 2014, the gym hosted around 30 classes ranging the gamut of nutrition education. “We’ve started bringing in dietitians and nutritionists, local people who are really big in the food scene and chefs from all the restaurants that our community goes to on a regular basis,” explained Gallagher.
However, Gallaher explained he does like the seminars to keep one key aspect in mind. “Everyone knows what they should eat — it’s their behaviors towards their foods [that cause them to fail],” he said. “They eat too fast, they’re mindless or they grab things out of comfort. We try to break down that behavior and start talking more about the behavioral aspect of [nutrition]. It’s pretty eye-opening.”
Although West U Fitness has seen some monetary benefits as a result of the “Teaching Kitchen,” Gallaher said his definition of success goes beyond that. “From a business standpoint, what’s hard to put your finger on is the community aspect of it all,” he said. “From the classes that we’re hosting, more people are starting to get connected. We have a city of millions of people and what we’re trying to do is create a small connection for a small group of people.”
In the end, Gallagher’s “crazy idea” has paid off, and he believes approaches like this are needed to help members achieve optimum results. “We want to help people understand you can do it: You can prepare real food and you can do it on a budget and you can do it when you have a busy schedule,” he said. “We want to help them understand small, little steps will lead to big results.”
By Rachel Zabonick