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Where's the Chow Hall?

Readjusting to civilian life after deployment

Leaving civilian life behind when you are deployed can be tough. But coming home can be even tougher. 

"The hardest thing to readjust to is getting back into society," said Diana N. Graham, an Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran and program support assistant with the Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (NCP) in Durham, N.C. "Everything you have to face is totally new because you come back changed. The change could be positive or negative."

Civilian life provides no easy chow line. Among the many things Graham had to re-learn was how to shop for food, stock her kitchen and cook for herself again.

Service member receiving food in a chow line

Civilian life provides no easy chow line.

"If you're in training or you're deployed, your meals are prepared," Graham said. Meals were labeled with the calories per serving, which combined with Graham's daily exercise regimen, kept her in top shape. Without the structure, drive and competition the Army provided, staying fit has been a challenge.

As of December, Graham has sworn off fast food and is revving up her exercise routine. "You have to make some choices," said Graham. "When I got back from Iraq, I was in the best shape. I may never be a size four again, but I don't want to go higher than the size six I am now."

Getting Back to Business

If you're trying to transition back to a healthy civilian lifestyle, VA can help. The NCP's Preventive Care Program has resources and services designed to promote healthy living among Veterans. In addition, the NCP's MOVE! ® Weight Management Program offers tips for eating wisely at home, at a restaurant or party and on a budget. MOVE! also has pointers for staying active, which goes hand in hand with a healthy diet for maintaining a healthy weight. And with the personal, online journals at My HealtheVet, you can track what you eat and the amount of activity you get each day to help you reach your goals.

To get you off to a good start, Lynn A. Novorska, RD, dietitian program coordinator for MOVE!, offers the following checklist to shop for food and stock your kitchen affordably:

  • Look for sales and weekly food specials in the newspaper.

  • Use food specials to plan a week's worth of meal menus, including snacks.

  • Make a grocery list from your menus and what you already have on hand before you go to the store.

  • When they are on sale, stock up on foods that won't spoil, such as canned and frozen items.

  • Do not go to the store hungry - you will spend more money and buy more junk food.

  • Stick to your shopping list.

  • Buy store-brand items when available. They are usually cheaper.

  • Use coupons for must-have, name-brand items.

  • Compare the cost of food items when you shop. Use the unit prices to see which items cost more per ounce or pound.

  • Do not buy too much. If items spoil, you will end up wasting food and money.

Service members shopping at the grocery store
Use food specials to plan a week's worth of meal menus, including snacks.

For Veterans who need help transitioning back to civilian life, Graham has this advice: seek help if you need it.

"The military has a built-in support system, which is very helpful," she said. "Vets think people don't understand, but there are people out there to help and guide you."

Read More

My HealtheVet - How food journals can help

MOVE!® Weight Management Program for Veterans
Information on Weight Management topics

Make the Connection
Resources and links to other Veterans who share your experiences

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Dietary guidelines from the USDA and Choose MyPlate
Information on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the new MyPlate food groups illustration

VHA Nutrition and Food Services
National Nutrition Month's Theme "Get Your Plate in Shape"

Created March 30, 2012; Updated January 10, 2018.¿