Based in Richmond, Va, Catherine is a freelance writer specializing in stories about the arts, parenting, health and wellness, aging, and fascinating people.

Roanoke Entrepreneur Helps Roanoke Residents Eat Healthy

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After graduating in 2012 from Virginia Tech with a degree in cellular biology, Jim Thomas, now 33, had planned on becoming a doctor. In fact, he was working on his applications for medical school when a revelation stopped him in his tracks. “It was like an electric bolt went down my spine,” Thomas says. “I knew my purpose in life, and I knew immediately I was going to pursue this instead of attending medical school.”

At that moment, Thomas decided he needed to find a way to provide affordable, fast, healthy food to combat the country’s growing obesity problem. He felt confident that he could achieve more by helping people eat better than he could as a doctor prescribing medications for preventable diseases. If he could help people eat healthier foods, he could help prevent high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease before they even started.

Obesity Rates Have Quadrupled in the Past 65 Years

As a former bodybuilder, research student and someone who was looking to enter the medical field, Thomas is passionate about helping people eat better. He talks at length about our country’s obesity problem, concerned that obesity rates have quadrupled in the past 65 years. He blames the increase in obesity on lack of time to prepare healthy foods, less education on what “healthy” is and less time engaged in physical activity. The health problems resulting from a decrease in time spent cooking and exercising have been exacerbated by the prevalence of cheap, fast, processed food. As Thomas explains, this glut of processed food means people are eating more calories than ever before.

“If there’s an affordable place to eat with proper portions of healthy foods, people won’t have to think about it.” - Jim Thomas

“No company says, ‘I’m going to make a little less money’,” Thomas explains. That’s why fast food restaurants continue to sell highly processed foods. Those foods are much cheaper to prepare than healthier foods and enable companies to make a bigger profit. They also allow people to consume many more calories than they need in a given meal. While most people need to consume between 1500 and 2000 calories per day, some fast-food combos contain that many in just one meal. “We’re eating ourselves to death,” he says.

Digesting Whole Versus Processed Foods

“You also need to factor in the thermic effect of food,” Thomas notes, which refers to the percentage of calories you use digesting your food. For whole foods, your body uses a much larger percentage of the calories digesting the food than for highly processed foods that are already broken down. “If you eat 2,000 calories of whole food, you might be able to use 1,200. If you eat 2,000 calories of processed food, you could have 1,800 usable calories,” Thomas explains.

While most people need to consume between 1500 and 2000 calories per day, some fast-food combos contain that many in just one meal. We're eating ourselves to death.

Thomas used to joke that he needed find a way to provide healthy food on the cheap. At the time, he was working for Complete Nutrition, a nutritional supplement retail store, helping customers lose weight. So many would come in wondering why they weren’t getting the best results, even though they weren’t following the food and exercise advice. “I was doing everything in my power to help them, but they weren’t putting in the effort to change their diets or exercise more,” he said.

When his own long-time friend, Jay Coe, struggled with obesity, Thomas was excited to help him. He put Jay on a fitness regimen, meal plan and worked out with him daily. Jay lost forty pounds over four months. Unfortunately, after moving back to North Carolina, his friend gained the weight back and more. At only thirty-six, Jay had a stroke and passed away. That solidified my mission to make healthy food convenient and cheap,” Thomas says.

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