man wearing brown suit jacket

Make Your Employee Wellness Program Effective

How can you make your employee wellness program effective?

Last week we talked about ways to measure the effectiveness, but we need to know the components of effectiveness as well.

Understanding Employee Needs & Goals

First and foremost, you must understand your employees’ needs and goals in order to create a program that caters to them. Regardless of whether your goals are to reduce healthcare costs, decrease absenteeism, or something else, the program must result in changes in employee behaviors and health to achieve those other goals. Understanding employee needs provides direction for your program design. What health issues do your employees struggle with? What obstacles prevent them from reaching their health goals? Where is there room for improvement in daily habits? Gather this information and build your program around it.

Participation

If your employees can’t or don’t want to participate in your wellness program, it can’t be effective. You can’t reap the benefits without participating.

You’ve taken care of step 1 if you’ve designed a program around employee needs because Step 1 is to get employees to want to participate. The programming must appeal to them.

But wanting to participate is very different from being able to participate. If workloads are out of control, employees feel pressured to skip their breaks, or are generally overwhelmed and burned out, they will not participate. Part of planning your program is to make sure employees can actually participate in it.

Another component of the ability to participate is the inclusivity of the program. Not all employees may be able to participate or feel comfortable participating in certain activities. Take those needs into account so you can offer alternatives.

Follow Through

Just as you need to make participation in the program feasible, you need to make follow through on program action items as feasible as you can as well. This could mean the provision of tangibles, such a fitness trackers or food journals. It could also mean encouraging breaks or better managing workloads. Or it could mean new initiatives, like an employee walking group. Remember, because of the tremendous impact work has on our lives (we easily spend up to 30% of our time at work), the onus cannot fall solely on employees to make healthful changes.

Assess and Reassess Regularly to Make Your Employee Wellness Program Effective

Waiting until the conclusion of an employee wellness initiative to find out that it wasn’t helpful is useless. Instead, check in regularly on the effectiveness of your program so you can course correct before it’s too late.

There are many components that contribute to your ability to make your employee wellness program effective. But if you are organized, methodical, and take these factors into account, you will be able to create a more effective program.

yellow and red round fruit on brown and white weighing scale

Is 1200 Calories Enough?

Is 1200 calories enough? If you spend time on social media, you may be a bit confused on this issue. On the one hand there is a crowd that is vehement that 1200 is plenty (it’s actually a hashtag). And on the other hand, you can find loads of posts about how 1200 is sufficient for a toddler. So which is true?

(Click here if you’d prefer to listen to this instead of reading it)

Content Warning: Discussion of calorie restriction, dieting, and weight loss

To answer whether 1200 calories is enough, let’s look at an example of calorie restriction from the past. During WWII, researchers conducted the Minnesota Starvation Experiment in which study participants underwent 6 months of strict and heavily monitored calorie restriction. As a result of that starvation period, researchers noted the following changes in study participants: decreased energy, increased fatigue, increased moodiness, decreased libido, decreased energy and strength (~20%), slowed heart rate and decreased heart size, and decreased blood volume. They also noted that participants developed an obsession with food. Participants talked incessantly about food, dreamed about food, and ate painstakingly slowly so as to make each meal last as long as possible.

During the re-feeding period that followed, researchers noted that participants regained the weight they lost but it took much longer for them to regain the lean body mass they started with. As a result, by the time participants regained that lean body mass, they weighed more than they did before the study.

The results of this study lead one to believe that these participants were hardly eating anything at all. But, on the contrary, they were consuming about 1550 calories per day.

How many calories per day should an adult consume?

From this we can surmise that if 1550 calories per day elicited that response, then 1200 calories per day certainly can’t be much better.

So if 1200 is not enough, then how many calories should an adult consume per day? According to the FDA, adults assigned male at birth ages 21-35 should consume 2400-3000 calories per day. After the age of 40, the FDA recommends 2200-2800 calories per day. For adults assigned female at birth ages 26-50, the FDA recommends 1800-2200 calories per day. How many an individual should consume within those ranges depends on factors such as: body size, activity level, underlying conditions, goals, etc.

What about weight loss?

We typically see 1200 calories set as a limit in low calorie diets. However, you do not have to stick to 1200 calories to lose weight. You simply must maintain a small calorie deficit, meaning consume fewer calories than your body uses. Please note, that weight loss is not as simple as calories in < calories out, however, as factors such as hormone status, hydration, underlying conditions, environmental factors, and more exert an influence on our weight. However, you do need a calorie deficit to lose weight.

I have several issues with 1200 calorie diets. First, it is extremely difficult to obtain the nutrition your body needs in just 1200 calories per day. Second, that few calories will not only leave you hungry, it’s just not sustainable. Our bodies respond to intense calorie restriction like this by reacting as though we are starving. That reaction includes slowing down our metabolic processes and also enacting a series of responses that drive us to find and consume food. As a result, you can only maintain a low calorie diet for so long before you overeat or binge. This is why dieters experience weight and diet cycling. Those periods of intense restriction AKA dieting can only be sustained for so long. And when they end, the dieter regains the weight they lost (and then some) and starts a new restrictive diet. And so on and so forth.

If you seek intentional weight loss, I recommend working with a professional who can set an appropriate caloric goal personal to you.

woman wearing black bra and white tank top raising both hands on top

How to get motivated

“I just can’t get motivated.” “I want to start but can’t get going.” I hear things like this a lot from my clients and I agree that it can be very hard to get motivated to do what you need to do to reach your goals.

Many people think that motivation strikes like lightening. But that’s not the case. Motivation doesn’t just appear out of the ether…most of the time, anyway. Most often, action must precede motivation. In other words, we need to so something to get motivation going. And, once we do, it can snowball from there.

Exercise illustrates this point very well. Have you ever noticed that getting to the gym is the hardest part? And once you’re there, you just get to work and typically feel good? Exercise might seem like the last thing you want to do, but by taking that action of getting yourself to the gym, you’ve got the motivation flowing to start and finish your workout.

So what can you do to get the motivation flowing for your wellness goals?

Start small and just do something. If your goal is working out, commit to pushing yourself just to warm up. And, after that, if you feel like you can keep going, go for it. If not, that’s OK! Try again another time. if your goal is cooking balanced meals at home, start searching for yummy recipes online. If you want to be more active or walk more, start by just putting your sneakers on. Give yourself the nudge to take a step to start.

There will be days when that motivation just doesn’t show up and that’s OK. But just waiting for it to show up on its own decreasing the chances of it happening.

women having exercise using dumbbells

Add virtual fitness classes to your employee wellness program

Virtual fitness classes are a winning addition to any employee wellness program for a number of reasons. In fact, it’s predicted that employers will be adding more virtual fitness classes to their programs this year. Read on for some reasons you should consider incorporating these classes into your programs.

Virtual Fitness Classes are Convenient

Who wants to get sweaty right in the middle of their workday and then go back to their desk? Most people probably don’t. Providing a workout opportunity to folks while they’re working remotely is much more convenient as they don’t have to worry about being in the office and they are able to hop in the shower afterwards.

They Make Movement Easier

We all know that we shouldn’t sit for too long and should take breaks to move around. However, this can be very challenging when we are left to our own devices. Offering a structured opportunity for movement makes it more likely that employees will take a break from sitting.

Virtual Classes Take the Pressure Off

The thought of participating in structured physical activity with co-workers can intimidate a lot of folks. And doing that activity in fitness clothes makes it that much more daunting. Participating from a location away from co-workers and also being able to turn off the camera may make folks more likely to participate. This also puts folks at ease in terms of going at their own pace and choosing different variations for each exercise based on their level.

They’re Adaptable for Hybrid Teams

If you have a hybrid team, you can provide a fitness class for folks on and off site very simply thanks to technology. This could look like gathering on-site employees into a common space to participate in a virtual class with the remote team or it could be on-site folks taking a live class that is streamed to the remote team.

Affordability

Virtual fitness classes often cost less than other on-site activities.

I’ve had a lot of fun teaching virtual fitness classes to employees over the last several years. I’ve taught teams who all have their cameras off and I’ve also had teams that chit chat the whole time and sing along with the playlist. Either way, I love doing it and it’s been a fantastic benefit to the teams I’ve worked with.

View my virtual fitness class offerings here

bread food healthy beach

3 Myths about Gluten

Myths about gluten have been circulating more and more over the last several years. Indeed, as awareness of celiac and the popularity of gluten free foods have increased, myths have been multiplying. The potential to make money off this awareness only increases the potential for misinformation to crop up. In this post, I break down the 3 myths about gluten that I hear most often.

Myth 1: Gluten sensitivity and celiac are the same

Gluten sensitivity is characterized by discomfort, such as gas and bloating, following the consumption of gluten. Generally, the symptoms are not as severe or lasting as those of celiac. Furthermore, gluten sensitivity is not a gluten allergy because with a sensitivity gluten does not trigger an immune system response. There is no reliable test for gluten sensitivity.

With celiac disease, an autoimmune response to gluten causes inflammation and severe gastric symptoms. Over time, repeat exposure to gluten in someone with celiac will cause intestinal damage and related issues. To treat gluten sensitivity and celiac disease as the same trivializes the severity of celiac as even trace amounts of gluten can cause devastating symptoms in someone with celiac.

Myth 2: Gluten free foods are healthier

As awareness of issues around gluten rose, loads of gluten free fad diets and “detox” programs emerged and production of gluten free products skyrocketed. And with all of that came this idea that gluten free foods are healthier for you than foods with gluten.

The fact is that, unless you have gluten sensitivity, allergy, or celiac, there really isn’t any benefit to be gained from choosing gluten-free versions of food products. And if you’re seeking weight loss by eating gluten free foods, there really isn’t much calorie difference.

Myth 3: Gluten is unhealthy and we should all avoid it

This myth rests at the crux of the gluten-free detox fads and there is no evidence backing it up. Consuming gluten is detrimental if you have sensitivity, allergy, or celiac. However, for someone without these conditions, consuming gluten causes no harm.

If you suspect you are reacting to gluten in some way, please consult with your doctor for testing and diagnosis.

red white and yellow medication pills

MLM Supplements: Why I’m not a Fan

MLM supplements are a big thing now. Dozens of MLM companies are churning them out alongside their beauty products and essential oils. They come with loads of promises about what they can do for you, their purity, how they were tested. But are they worth it?

As a rule, I suggest my clients avoid MLM supplements. Ultimately, everyone can choose what they do and do not ingest. But for me, the risks involved here are just not worth it.

Minimal Regulation of the Supplement Industry

Here in the US, there isn’t much regulation of the supplement industry. This means that the FDA does not require supplement products be tested before hitting the market. Instead, it’s not until an issue arises that the FDA investigates. Because of this, there are supplements for sale that: a.) are more or less potent than they claim to be; b.) are adulterated with substances not listed on the label, or c.) bear inaccurate labels. Additionally, supplement companies cannot make unsubstantiated claims about the effects of their products. However, that does not stop numerous MLM distributors from doing so. In fact, from April to June of 2020 alone the FDA sent warning letters to 16 different MLM companies for their distributors making false claims about their products’ ability to protect against Covid-19. As I stated before, these issues aren’t reeled in until the FDA receives complaints.

Supplement Interactions

Many folks fail to recognize that dietary supplements are not totally innocuous. Several vitamins and minerals run the risk of toxicity when taken in excess. Additionally, some supplements can interact with prescription drugs. For these reasons, I recommend that my clients work with their physician and avoid independently starting a supplement routine.

MLM Company Structure

MLMs or Multi-Level Marketing Companies have a structure that differs from other business models. Just below corporate are the top sellers in the company. These are the lucky ones who got in early and have developed extensive downlines – or a network of sellers beneath them. Each of those sellers has their own downline and so on and so forth. Those at the top make money from the work of all the sellers beneath them.

Sellers can make money selling the product, However, it’s not very much and most MLMs require sellers to make their own monthly minimum purchase. Where the money is truly made is in recruiting more sellers to your downline. There is typically a significant recruitment bonus to be had plus the commission of the starter kits the new sellers must purchase to join. To make any significant money in an MLM, a seller must have developed a large downline with several levels of sellers.

Thus, in an MLM structure, the money is made from recruiting more sellers, not from selling products. Therefore, an MLM company has very little reason to invest in creating quality products. As MLM reps are told, it’s about selling the “opportunity.”

Do I feel OK about buying a product with little to no regulation from a company with little to no incentive to make a quality product from someone with little or no training in nutrition? No. Not at all.

MLM Supplements from Untrained Sellers

The vast majority of MLM sellers possess no training in nutrition and, yet, they sell nutrition products. So who do you go to when you have a bad reaction to that product? Who do you go to when you have questions about it? Exactly. You can’t ask the seller. And corporate certainly won’t respond. And doctors can’t be knowledgeable about every product on the market.

For these reasons, when it comes to MLM supplements, I advise avoiding them. I also recommend speaking to a physician before supplementing. Finally, I recommend consulting independent resources such as www.labdoor.com or www.consumerlab.com to choose a reputable product.

women performing yoga on green grass near trees

Engage remote workers with wellness programs

As the pandemic shifted our workplace paradigm to include working from home, many managers have been left asking how to engage remote workers.

Indeed, many employers are struggling with employee engagement in a remote world. Solutions to this issue require some creativity and commitment but it can be done. Incorporating an employee wellness program can be a great way to kill two birds with one stone: offer a new enticing benefit and use it as a way to engage remote workers.

Here are some ways you can use your employee wellness programs as a tool to engage or re-engage your remote team.

Engage remote workers by making your wellness programming a group activity.

For example, hold a virtual healthy cooking class where employees can prep the food along with the host and include time for socializing while folks enjoy their final products.

Theme your virtual fitness classes.

Encourage participants to turn on their cameras, dress to the theme, and have fun with it. Maybe the soundtrack could be all contributions from the team.

Involve your workforce in the planning process.

Engage remote workers by asking them what types of programs would meet their needs. Then use those suggestions in planning your programs. Alternatively, create an employee wellness committee that meets regularly to plan out programming.

Keep programs as interactive as possible.

No one wants to sit and listen to someone talk on Zoom for 50 minutes or even 30 minutes for that matter! Work with your wellness program provider to make sure that there are interactive components like break out rooms, polls, games, and group activities included in their sessions. The more opportunities to hear from and interact with their colleagues the better!

Add a special touch.

Provide yoga mats, wooden utensils with your company logo, or another small gift as a reminder of the community you and your employees belong to. Check out my friend Gail Zona for some great, handmade, personalized corporate gifts.

Solicit feedback from employees after each session.

This can reassure employees that you want to make sure the programs are supportive to them. It follows, then, that their feedback should then be taken into account in the future.

Make participation feasible and desirable.

Low turnout is a very common issue reported by employers regarding their wellness programs. And an empty wellness program doesn’t help engagement very much. It’s important that employees understand the value of the program and are actually able to participate in it. So clearly communicate how the wellness programs will support your remote workers’ specific needs and ensure they have the time and opportunity to join in.

Avoid activities that could be exclusionary.

For example, virtual wine pairings could leave some team members out but maybe a virtual mocktail/cocktail class could work. Exercise challenges also tend to be an exclusionary program. Aim for variety in your offerings so there is something for everyone. 

woman sitting in front of macbook

How to help employees manage workplace stress

Since April is Stress Awareness Month, I think it’s worth looking at how managers can help their employees manage workplace stress.

Prior to the pandemic, a Metlife survey found that 60% of employees believed supporting mental well-being should NOT be an employer’s responsibility. However, their most recent survey found that now 62% DO believe it should be an employer’s responsibility. And I agree!

Think about it:  Let’s say you work 40 hours per week. Multiply that by 50 (assuming 2 weeks vacation), that’s 2000 hours per year which is about 23% of your year. But, realistically, many of us, perhaps most of us, are working more in the range of 50-60 hours per week (or we don’t have or use our PTO). So that is about 1/3 of your year spent at work! That translates to tremendous potential for work to impact your mental well-being.

Furthermore, we know that employee burnout is not only a massive problem but also that it’s a systemic issue, not an individual employee issue. This further underscores the need for employer support for mental well-being.

How to Manage Workplace Stress

I think of stress management as a 2-part process:

  1. Minimizing the stressors within your control
  2. Mitigating the effects of the stressors outside of your control

As you can see, part 1 is proactive and part 2 is reactive. Very often we only think about the reactive part because the proactive part has a lot to do with saying “no” and having boundaries, which can be uncomfortable.

It can be extremely challenging for employees in particular to take action on part 1. But it’s essential because reactive stress management can only get you so far. Once the waters get too deep, you can’t get your head above them. And we know that unrelenting and unmitigated stress is a major contributor to burnout.

Employees must be able to advocate for themselves when it comes to their workload and managers must make that doable. This comes from open communication, workplace culture, modeling balancing behaviors, among other strategies.

So, as part of Stress Awareness Month, I encourage all managers reading this to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your employees feel empowered and comfortable to turn down tasks they don’t have to take on immediately?
  • Do they feel like they are able to approach you and ask for help prioritizing their workload?
  • Are they able to ask for support with their workload without fear of adverse consequences?

If you answered no to any of those, how can you make the workplace more amenable to help employees proactively manage workplace stress?

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Does the alkaline diet work?

Does the alkaline diet work? Is it safe? How does it work? Here is what you need to know.

What is the alkaline diet?

The alkaline diet is based on the debunked theory that the foods we eat can alter our body’s pH. Essentially, eating acidic foods decreases your body’s pH (making it more acidic) and that makes it a more amenable environment for cancer and other health conditions. Additionally, alkaline diet proponents claim that acidic foods leave behind “acid ash” in your body which promotes conditions like osteoporosis.

In order to promote better health, the alkaline dieter severely restricts or eliminates “acidic” foods like meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, and alcohol. Neutral foods like ‘natural” fats, starches, and sugars, and basic or alkaline foods like fruits, nuts, legumes, and veggies are OK.

The alkaline diet emerged in the 90s as the creation of a man named Robert Young who claimed the diet could treat cancer. He was later sued and arrested for practicing medicine without a license. So…that says something about his diet creation.

Is it safe?

The alkaline diet comes with its share of risks, as does any diet that requires you to eliminate large numbers of foods from your diet. The most obvious risk is nutrient deficiency, such as iron, B12, B6, and protein. In addition to the issues that deficiencies in those nutrients can cause, there is also a risk of muscle loss with this diet as well.

Does the alkaline diet work?

The short answer is no. You simply cannot change your body’s pH with the foods you eat and that’s a good thing! The pH of our blood falls between 7.35-7.45 and the pH of our cells falls between 7.0-7.4. So our body’s pH is actually already slightly alkaline! That pH MUST stay within that range or else our cells cannot function properly. You can’t alter your body’s pH with food. If it were that easy, we would all die.

There is 0 scientific evidence to back up the alkaline diet. In fact, the WHO actually advises against the consumption of alkaline water.

Proponents often claim the alkaline diet promotes weight loss. However, any weight lost during the alkaline diet does not result from a change in body pH but rather an increase in produce consumption, which is less caloric. You can eat more produce without eliminating large swathes of foods from your diet and risking nutrient deficiency.

So the short answer to the question “does the alkaline diet work” is a resounding no.

group of people watching on laptop

Fixing low turnout for your employee wellness program

One of the objections to employee wellness programs that I frequently hear is previously they experienced low turnout.

As a wellness program provider, I have heard this several times from businesses of different sizes and across different industries. Getting solid participation in employee wellness programs can be a challenge. And creating incentive to participate without crossing over into coercion can be equally challenging. 

So what is an employer to do to increase low turnout?

The first step is to really be in touch with your workforce.

  1. Survey your workforce to determine which wellness topics and program types appeal to them the most.
  2. Pay attention to workloads and deadlines. You can have the greatest program lined up, but if employees don’t feel they can attend because of deadlines or an overwhelming workload, they won’t make it. You need to be strategic about the timing of your programs and/or find ways to make it easier for staff to attend. 
  3. Don’t forget about the quiet ones. There tends to be a group of frequent flyers in every office – the outgoing, more gregarious employees who live to participate in group activities. How can you reach out to the quieter, less outgoing staff members to encourage them to join in? This could mean personal invitations, different types of events where the social pressure isn’t so high, or asking them specifically what they are looking for. 
  4. Aim for more variety in your offerings. There are many reasons why folks opt out of participating in wellness programs. For example, a healthy eating seminar could be triggering for a staff member who is in recovery from an eating disorder. A group fitness classes may be intimidating to staffers with diverse bodies or abilities. Offering variety ensures you’re not alienating subpopulations of staffers from an entire series. 

Offer incentives to participate

But be sure those incentives don’t turn into penalties for not participating.

  1. One type of incentive is to simply make it easy for staff to attend. This could be blocking off time on the calendar for everyone to avoid meeting conflicts, frequent reminders of the program, making a live and a virtual option available, to name a few.
  2. You could offer small prizes for participation, like entry into a raffle or small gifts like a yoga mat. Keeping it small is ket not just for your budget but for also ensuring participation is still optional.
  3. Avoid the participation challenge approach where the more events attended increases an employee’s odds of winning. This approach can expose disparities in the workplace, engendering resentment among staff (ex. Why is his workload so light?). It can also alienate certain staff members if not enough variety is offered.
  4. Do not make participation mandatory. Sure this is a great way to get your attendance numbers up, but folks may not get much out of the program and you also run the risk of unwittingly doing harm to staff members who would otherwise have not participated for personal reasons (see point 4 above). 

Keep in mind there are a number of reasons for historically low turnout and many have nothing to do with the program itself. Rather than giving up on offering something of value to employees, troubleshoot the situation and seek out creative solutions.

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