by Kory Waschick
Last October, my husband and I sat down to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. More and more people I know have friends and relatives who are getting diagnosed with serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Over the years, the question has been on my mind, “What is it that people are putting in their bodies that is making them so sick?” This documentary spoke to me in a way that made me examine (and ultimately, change) what I was eating. Due to its influence, I have almost entirely removed meat from my diet. When people ask me why, I tell them this:
Once every sixty seconds, somebody dies of heart disease. Another 1,500 people die from cancer each day. That’s about 1 million deaths every year, combined. The statistics presented made sense. It went on to suggest that in order to prevent, and even reverse, many of these diseases, a whole foods, plant-based diet can make a huge contribution. It was a convincing argument, and I decided to give it a try.
The typical American diet is the result of a life of convenience, confronted with a never-ending buffet of calorie-rich (but nutrient-poor) foods. How are we able to change the way we eat when many of our choices can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes or some other unknown ailment? And, even if we are motivated to make good choices, who has the time to follow through? It got me thinking about when we actually make the bad decisions. Rushing out the door to get to work, trying to fit a lunch in between the many distractions of our busy day, or eating a reasonable dinner that isn’t prepared too late at night – and like anything, it’s even more difficult when you’re on your own.
Over the past five years, companies have begun to make an effort to support their employees by offering healthier eats. Many are large companies, with thousands of people, but we can all learn from the programs that are being established. Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, for instance, has 15 different on-campus eateries, each with its own theme and menu, and an emphasis on locally-grown ingredients.
Hopefully as time moves forward, more companies will begin offering healthy meals on-site. It’s an investment, but employers who have implemented these programs attribute an increase in their workforce's productivity. They save time by eating at work, rather than leaving and picking up fast food. They also save money by keeping employees healthy and curbing healthcare expenses.
A commitment to wellness isn’t all about food, either. Having a well-balanced workday is also key. Here are some ideas to start creating your own healthy guidelines and program within your organization.
Focus on overall employee wellness. Establish a wellness committee to assess the nutrition and physical activity within the workplace. Survey employees about their needs and interests, so programs and appropriate changes can be implemented.
Institute “healthy” meetings. Create a corporate policy that provides guidelines for food, beverage and activity breaks during longer meetings. This can help employees stay healthy, focused and alert.
Provide healthy snacks. Making such food available at work is one way to address weight problems and enable employees to make better food choices. Start stocking fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and dried fruits, multi-grain breads, and low-fat and no-sugar spreads.
Include health breaks during the work day. Build good behaviors by incorporating 10-minute physical activity breaks or stretching into the day. Encourage those around you to take simple opportunities to exercise, like using the stairs instead of the elevator. Also, collaborate with each other to mix in stress management and wellness workshops.
One of the main messages I took away from Forks Over Knives is that every person has the ability to be more responsible for their health than they have generally been taught. By adopting better eating habits, we can own this responsibility and become healthier and happier. In this culture of cheap and easy food, we can all use someone to watch our backs and defend against the temptation of convenience.
Since much of our lives are spent in the workplace, let's help companies recognize the benefits (both physical and financial) of supporting employees with the decision to take better care of themselves. Ultimately, such an effort will keep costs down, and positive energy up.
The biggest challenge of establishing new policy changes in any workplace is getting everyone on board. We've found that building an internal campaign to rally the troops and get the word out is the best approach. If your new healthy programs are well presented, you’ll have everyone asking, “When do we start?”