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Building a legacy of nutrition — and giving back

By The Health News Team | May 22, 2017
Building a legacy of nutrition — and giving back

Marilyn Biggica, local chef and philanthropist, with Pablo Velez, CEO of Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center (left), and Bill Littlejohn, CEO of Sharp HealthCare Foundation (right), at the hospital expansion groundbreaking in November 2016.

Marilyn Biggica is not only a chef and associate professor of food and nutrition at San Diego Continuing Education, she's also a contributor to the Above and Beyond Campaign, which supported the building of a next-generation hospital at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. The project was the South Bay's first new hospital in more than 40 years and the single biggest health care project in the region.

In honor of her contributions to the Sharp HealthCare Foundation at Sharp Chula Vista, the seventh floor rooftop café in the hospital — with panoramic views — was named in her honor.

She recently shared her approach to food and health, and the reasons why she supports Sharp Chula Vista.

What is your approach to food and nutrition?
The best eating plan should be the one you can maintain for life. A healthy diet is a lifestyle, not a fad, and it shouldn't be difficult to maintain. The key word that I use all the time is balance. To me, balance means that you should not deprive yourself because you are setting yourself up for failure. With balance, you can have the pizza and the ice cream every now and then, and look to the next day to balance those choices with regular exercise.

I was a morbidly obese person for most of my life. Once I focused on weight loss and made it a lifestyle change, not a diet, I was successful. When I got to my goal weight, I had to maintain that lifestyle change. I changed my teaching emphasis from gourmet cooking to food and nutrition. I'm happy to share my story with my students. They can see that I am a real person who has overcome obesity and made myself a healthier person through diet and exercise.

What do you see as the link between nutrition and health?
When I was working with Sharp Chula Vista as part of my six-month sabbatical, what impressed me the most in talking with the nutritionist at the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center is the relationship between lifestyle and cancer. We can prevent 30 to 40 percent of cancers by maintaining a healthy diet, healthy weight and physical activity. Eating well can also delay the start of cancer and play a significant part in maintaining remission. Lifestyle is something that is in our hands. We have control over it.

How can hospitals improve the way they use food to heal?
At Sharp, they emphasize that it's not about diet, it's about lifestyle. They use words like balance and mindful. If you are positive with patients and model that in the cafe by sharing nutritional information about the food you serve, that will certainly help patients make good choices while they are in the hospital and when they leave.

What is it about the rooftop café at Sharp Chula Vista that inspires you?
The rooftop café is on top of a facility that is healing, mending and caring. I know from meeting the nutritionists, dietitians and the cafe manager that Sharp has made it a priority to promote health and wellness. I think that the rooftop café is a good central point for
mindful eating.

In 2014, Pablo Velez, former CEO of Sharp Chula Vista, invited me to spend part of my six-month sabbatical at the hospital, learning from their dietitians and nutritionists about the role of nutrition in health care. I met so many wonderful people in both nutrition services and the foundation. They are like family to me. The more people I met, the more connected I became to the hospital. When the hospital expansion plans were ready, and I saw the drawings of the café, I knew exactly what I wanted, and there was no stopping me. All of the people I met inspired and influenced my decision to make a $1 million gift to name the café and to continue giving to support the hospital. I wholly believe in Sharp and believe they are worthy of this and other future gifts.

It is with joy that I give in support of Sharp Chula Vista. And when I walk into the rooftop café, it feels like the closest thing to heaven.

To learn more about making a philanthropic investment to support Sharp Chula Vista and the health of our community, email Sarah Cantu, Sharp HealthCare Foundation, at or call 619-502-4369.

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