Beyond fitness standards: A Navy retiree’s nutrition wheel

Beyond fitness standards: A Navy retiree’s nutrition wheel

by Lisa Smith Molinari
The Meat and Potatoes of Life

This month, the Army is implementing new Combat Readiness Testing (ACRT) that eases fitness standards for soldiers struggling to pass the former gender- and age-neutral test. After a long period of canceled testing due to COVID-19, the new Navy Physical Readiness Test (PRT) is being implemented during the April 1-Sept. 30 Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA) cycle. The Air Force also rolled out a new PT test in 2022, as did the USMC. The Space Force is expected to launch its new PT program in 2023.

Although the new fitness policies aim to provide safer exercises and fairer scoring, all branches still require that service members pass weight standards. *Groan*

During his 28 years of active-duty service in the Navy, my husband, Francis, sweated when the PRT rolled around. Although he exercised regularly and could pass the physical skills with flying colors, Francis carried a few extra pounds. A big eater who stretched the limits of his Navy-issue polyester khakis, Francis dreaded the PRT’s body composition testing.

About two weeks prior to each test, Francis would starve himself, hit the sauna and pop diuretics in a desperate effort to make weight standards. He didn’t fit into the Navy’s standard height/weight charts, so he had to submit to tape measurements to determine the ratio between his neck and waist circumference. Francis employed any means necessary to endure this humiliating body composition test, including sucking in his gut, bulging out his neck and shamelessly schmoozing the testing official.

Miraculously, he always passed.

Upon retiring from the Navy five years ago, Francis finally experienced life without military fitness limitations. Like many fresh retirees, he felt a new sense of liberation when answering questions like, “Would you like a side of fries with that?” and “Seconds, anyone?"

Naturally, Francis gained weight. Although his doctor ordered him to drop 40 pounds, Francis lacked the motivation to restrict his calorie intake, especially now that he'd finally unleashed and expanded his culinary repertoire. After 28 years of Navy weight standards hanging over his head like a guillotine, Francis wasn’t about give up his newfound freedom.

But then, his college roommate made him a bet that if he lost 25 pounds on the South Beach Diet, he'd take him to South Beach in Miami. Soon, boxes of frozen meals, shake packets and portion-controlled snacks arrived at our house. It cost a small fortune, but Francis won the bet and had a blast in Miami, where he ate enough pork Cubanos and drank enough margaritas to gain the pounds back.

To his credit, Francis walks 10,000 steps every day, and has created his own version of the nutrition wheel to keep his post-retirement health in check.

The standard USDA "My Plate" food wheel recommends a 2,000-per-day calorie intake that includes 5.5 ounces of protein, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 6 ounces of grains and 3 cups of dairy. It warns against excess fats, sugar and sodium, and is primarily intended to promote good health and longevity.

Francis' nutrition wheel is somewhat different. It blatantly ignores calories and encourages cocktail pairings. Like a pizza (which Francis loves), it is divided into generous slices of Francis’ favorite foods in unrestricted amounts. Some wedges are small, like “Vegetables,” for example, which wouldn’t be on the chart if it weren’t for onions and tomato sauce. “Fruit” made the wheel mainly due to Francis’ raisin intake.

On the other hand, “Meats” comprise a large wedge, generally in the form of cheeseburgers, sausages, bacon, meatballs and Slim Jims. “Grains” are also a significant piece of the pie, although the included foods — crackers, tortilla chips, hamburger buns, sub rolls, popcorn, and oatmeal cookies — are only technically associated with grains.

Francis’ dairy intake is covered by three distinct wedges labeled “Cheese” (eaten with crackers or melted on anything), “Half-and-half” (guzzled with coffee throughout the day), and “Ranch Dressing, Mayonnaise, and Creamy Dips” (no explanation needed). Finally, “Peanuts” make up the last slice, because Francis enjoys the salted legumes every night in front of the television.

All this talk of slices has me hungry for dinner. Pizza, anyone?


Read more at, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email:

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