Are Processed Foods Bad For You (or is this just another diet fad)?

We’ve been through the low-fat-high-carb and the low-carb-high-protein phase.  We’ve read about Paleo, intermittent fasting and green coffee beans. Now ‘experts’ are telling us to forget everything we’ve learned so far.  What we need to do is remove the processed foods from our diet and eat ‘real’ food.

That sounds pretty simple but what exactly does that mean? And, more importantly, is this just one more fad that we’ll find doesn’t work either?

This is where it all began.

This is where it all began.    Flickr photo by (Bayswater 97)

Is Swanson To Thank (or blame)?

When the Swanson TV dinner made its debut in 1954 the convenience food blitz began.  The Swanson TV dinner was a novelty and  moms that needed a break from the kitchen were crazy about them. Mom would heat up the frozen meals (on occasion) as a treat to dad and the kids for dinner.  More than 10 million TV dinners were sold during their first year in production.

The spin-offs that came from the original Swanson turkey and dressing dinner with corn that was packaged in a tin foil tray are beyond imagination. Today supermarkets are lined with heat-and-eat dinners and other easy-to-prepare packaged foods that provide meals for millions of Americans three times a day (plus snacks) every day.

Each time you buy one of these easy to prepare food you’re getting more than you realize.  Along with your Swanson turkey and dressing and Kraft mac and cheese you’re getting preservatives to keep the food from rotting, colorants that increase eye appeal, flavor enhancers for taste, and texturants that make the foods more palatable.

Processed foods also contain varying amounts of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sodium, and vegetable oils. Processed foods are typically low in fiber and nutrients and are easy to digest so we want to eat again sooner than we would if we ate a whole food.

To top that off, researchers are now convinced that these foods that we’ve all become so accustomed to are addictive.  People that eat them develop cravings that keep them coming back for more. The more you eat the more you want and the harder it is to stop.

Processed Foods and Chronic Disease

There’s some pretty compelling evidence that shows the impact that the deluge of processed foods has had on our health since families sat down to the Swanson TV dinner 40 years ago. Over the last four decades there has been a sharp increase in the consumption of processed foods.  Processed foods now make up 70% of the Americans diet.

The rise in overweight, obesity and chronic disease runs parallel to that trend.  Diseases that were at one time associated with aging – diabetes, fatty liver, cardiovascular disease and cancer– are now being diagnosed in children as young as three and four years old.

Scientists have also linked processed foods to autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, alopecia, asthma and eczema.  And a 2012 study suggests that the epidemic of autism in U.S. children may be associated with the American diet.

Not All Processed Foods Are Bad

Most foods that you purchase have been through some processing. Whether it’s a bag of fresh-cut spinach or a container of frozen blueberries, something has had to take place to get the food from the farmer to the grocer.

Frozen and fresh packaged fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are minimally processed foods that have been prepped for packaging. There’s no reason to avoid buying and eating these foods unless you have access to fresh foods all of the time.

Foods with ingredients added for flavor, texture, and preservation are more heavily processed. These foods may not need to be completely avoided, but a quick look at the label will tell you if they contain ingredients that are risky to consume. A long label with a list of ingredients that you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce is a red flag. So are foods that have added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sodium, and trans fats.

The most heavily processed foods are the most convenient.  Ready-to-eat foods like frozen pizzas, microwave meals, and foods that can be prepared by adding boiling water all indicate that they have been through a radical procedure and are the farthest away from resembling a real food. A dependence on these foods increases your risk for obesity and chronic disease.

Take Care Of Yourself First

The idea that eating ‘real’ food is the solution for weight management and overall better health is here to stay.

The correlation between processed foods and poor health has been proven. What you can do is look at what foods you’re eating and feeding to your family and decide if that’s the healthiest choice you can make.  It’s up to each of us to stop buying the crap that the food industry is trying to sell us.  That alone will inspire them to change.

If you want to learn more about the food industry and the products that are on the shelves of groceries everywhere, check out the trailer of the documentary “Fed Up” that reveals how processed foods have led to one of the largest health epidemics in American history.

If we are going to change our health, we have to change the way we eat. Giving up convenience foods might not be easy but it will be worth it. To get started, head over to the 100 Days of Real Food web site and sign up for the 10 Day Challenge. If you take it 10 days at a time you’ll find it’s easier to get off the heat-and-eat-train and on the road to better health.

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Be Part of the Solution. Join The No Fast Food Challenge!

Americans have an infatuation with fast, highly processed food that has resulted in a health care nightmare that amounts to 0 billion a year in medical costs according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Did you know that:

  • Americans consume more packaged food per person than our counterparts in nearly all other countries?
  • Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food?
  • The average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar and upwards of 2 pounds of salt each year?
  • Epidemiologic studies have shown that diets with higher levels of fat, salt and sugar lead to higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity?
  • Americans die earlier and live in poorer health than people that live in other developed countries
  • 59 million Americans suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which is caused from excess fat in the liver.  Each year 29,000 Americans die from NAFLD.
  • More than 3,000 food additives are added to our food products?

Fast Fool Collage 2.jpg

But Americans don’t want to be told what they should and should not eat.  I recently read an article called Cheesecake Factory On The List of Caloric Food Porn at  The article was about outrageously unhealthy restaurant foods.  At the top of the list was The Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta made with a butter and cream sauce, topped with battered fried shrimp.  Total calories were a whopping 3,120 with 89 grams of saturated fat and 1,090 milligrams of sodium.

Other food items mentioned were the Cheesecake Factory’s Crispy Chicken Costoletta with 2,160 calories, 89 grams of saturated fat and 2,720 milligrams of sodium, and Smoothie King’s Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie which comes in at 1,460 calories, 22 teaspoons of added sugar and 29 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar.  (I’ll let you do the math on that one.)

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Make Your Own ‘Lighter’ Version of McDonald’s Shamrock Shake

Minty Breath Might Mean You’re Indulging In Shamrock Shakes On The Sly

Save Some Calories and ‘Extra’ Ingredients When You Make Your Own Shake

Seasonal, Minty and Hard To Resist

Every morning on the way to work I hear the McDonalds Shamrock Shake commercial where the husband/boyfriend/whatever gets out of the car and the significant other is upset because she can smell mint on his breath.  He stopped at McD’s and got a Shamrock Shake.  But, oh, wait!  He bought a Shamrock Shake for her too.  Crisis averted! He really does love her after all.

Believe it or not, advertising is so effective that I’ve been craving a seasonal, once a year Shamrock Shake. Before giving in, I thought I would try making my own, which turned out to be delicious.  It was even better than McDonald’s.  I used four ingredients.

Shake Ingredients:
Vanilla Ice Cream – 4 scoops (about 2 cups)
Skim Milk – ¼ cup
Green food coloring – several drops
Spearmint or Peppermint Extract – ¼ teaspoon

Mix it all together in a blender, or smoothie maker, and enjoy.  It’s easy and would be a great treat for a St. Patrick’s Day party for kids or adults.

Is My Homemade Version Healthier?  You Decide.

A McDonald’s medium, 21ounce shake has 740 calories, 18 grams of fat, 240 mg of sodium. Here’s the list of the ingredients:

Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream: Milk, sugar, cream, nonfat milk solids, corn syrup solids, mono- and diglycerides, guar gum, dextrose, sodium citrate, artificial vanilla flavor, sodium phosphate, carrageenan, disodium phosphate, cellulose gum, vitamin A palmitate.

Shamrock Shake Syrup: High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, sugar, natural flavor (plant source), xanthan gum, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative), yellow 5, blue 1.   — from the

My version would be about 540 calories, 20 grams of fat and 200 mg of sodium.  I saved 200 calories and a little sodium.  That’s a plus. Using a low-fat ice cream would have helped out quite a bit in the fat category. I also feel okay about missing out on all of the extra artificial ingredients tool. The minty fresh breath is a bonus!


Nineteen Days Into The New Year. Are The New Year’s Resolutions Still In Tact?

Flickr photo by juliejordanscott

Create Your Vision.  Reach Your Goals

I’ve been trying to get the hang of Pinterest.  I’ve only pinned a couple of things so far but I’ve looked at some of the boards and categories.  To me it looks like a huge collection of vision boards.  It’s fun to look at how creative and unusual some of the boards are and how revealing they are as to individual personalities.  No two boards look or feel the same. It is quite a remarkable concept and may help people reach their goals and make their dreams reality without them even realizing it.

Universal Law of Attraction

Vision boards have long been used for various reasons, but primarily to provide visual inspiration to help people stay on track with their goals.  Some people adamantly believe that if you create a vision board filled with the things that you want to have or achieve in your life and put it in a conspicuous place where you’ll see it daily, the images on the board will begin to become realities in your life.

The theory is based on the Law of Universal Attraction.  Simply put, “like attracts like”.  Positive and negative thinking bring about positive or negative results.  The way to change the outcome of a situation or turn a dream in reality is to create positive emotional energy around it.  If the images that have been placed on the board generate passion in you when you look at them, you’ll be more successful in making those visions come to life.

Remember “The Secret”?

“The Secret” was based on the Law of Attraction and was rampantly popular a few years ago in both book and movie form.  “The Secret” proposed that people have hidden, untapped powers that when discovered and applied in a positive way will change every aspect of their life for the better.

People believe that applying the principles in the book are life-changing.  I recall meeting some friends after work one evening for a glass of wine a few years ago at the time when the popularity of the book was at its height, and one of my friends brought the book with her to show the rest of us.  She was reading “The Secret” and applying the principles and absolutely believed that her life was changing as a result of it.

Flickr Photo by WiseWellWoman

I remember creating vision boards when I was in junior high school.  I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, but I loved to look at magazines and would cut out pictures of clothes I liked, guys I thought were cute, my favorite musicians, the car I wanted to drive and the collie dog I wanted to have when I got married.  I would place the pictures on a poster board and hang it in my room where I could enjoy looking at all of those pictures of things that inspired me every day.  Every few months I would change some of the pictures or the color of the board. I had no knowledge of the theories surrounding vision boards, but undeniably, the boards gave me energy. Why else would I have continued to create them?

How Are Your Resolutions Holding Up?  

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:

Do you remember what it was on December 31, 2011 that you decided you wanted to change by December 31, 2012?

For the remainder of the year, if you keep doing what you’re doing now, will you be successful in achieving what you resolved to?

Are you already feeling less motivated in reaching that goal than you did 18 days ago?

To secure your success with reaching the goals you’ve set for 2012 it may be that a concept as simple as a vision board will help you channel that positive energy so that you’ll continue to tackle those resolutions and you will get the change that you want in your life this year and in years to come.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, my goal is to give up ‘fast food’.  That means no drive-throughs, heat and eat stuff from the grocery or processed grains.  My vision board around that goal would be filled with pictures of delicious looking fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and pictures of families sitting together at mealtime eating beautifully prepared dishes that I imagine coming from my own kitchen.  I might have photos of fabulous, healthy looking people that eat a healthy diet.  Maybe even some images of the things that I will reward myself with every time I reach a milestone.  I might fill the board with other things that inspire me and will help move me towards my goal as well. There are no limits to what can go on the board.

You can go at this the old way.  Visit the local Wal Mart or art store and purchase foam board, construction paper and two sided tape.  Then start going through some of your favorite magazines and cut out the pictures that inspire you and place them on the foam.  Hang the board in a place where you will see if every day; by the bathroom mirror, near your desk at work, in front of the treadmill.  Put it in a place where you can rely on it for constant encouragement.

There are some techier ways to create a board via dowloadable Smartphone and iPhone apps. Vision Board Deluxe can be downloaded from the Happy Tapper for $.99 for iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad  and the Intention Vision Board Deluxe app for smartphones for $1.99.

I’m not sure the phone app would trigger the same emotions as a board I made myself would.  Creating the board is similar to scrapbooking.  The process of finding the pictures and building the collage is powerful in itself.

Or, you can set up an account in Pinterest and utilize the tools that are provided there to make a vision board that the world can see.

If you feel you’re losing your momentum on your resolutions less than a month into the new year a vision board can be one more tool in your arsenal of self-improvement weaponry.

Are Americans Getting Too Healthy For Twinkies and Ho Hos?

Flickr Photo by Like_The_Grand_Canyon

Hostess Has Filed Chapter 11. Have Americans Eaten Enough Crap?

Hostess, the makers of Wonder Bread and Twinkies, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  According to the Washington Post, Hostess cites high labor costs and the rising costs of sugar and flour as the reason for the filing.

Some web sites are posting articles that express fear that Americans are getting so healthy they no longer want to eat white bread and Ho Hos.  I have a feeling the company’s financial woes has more to do with the cost of labor and sugar, as the Post stated.

One article on Yahoo News states that health nuts and unions have caused Hostess’ bankruptcy and the author goes on to say that they don’t buy Twinkies anymore because they don’t want their children to eat them and that there are healthier choices. I think some of Hostess’ problem may be revealed in the last part of that statement. There are healthier options.

What’s in a Twinkie?

Here’s the list of the 37 ingredients that go together to make a Twinkie.  The list comes from from  If you visit the web site you’ll find a visual of all of these ingredients.

Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour [Flour, Reduced Iron, B Vitamins (Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Folic Acid)], Corn Syrup, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable and/or Animal Shortening (Soybean, Cottonseed and/or Canola Oil, Beef Fat), Whole Eggs, Dextrose. Contains 2% or Less of: Modified Corn Starch, Glucose, Leavenings (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), Sweet Dairy Whey, Soy Protein Isolate, Calcium and Sodium Caseinate, Salt, Mono and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60, Soy Lecithin, Soy Flour, Cornstarch, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sorbic Acid (to Retain Freshness), Yellow 5, Red 40.

There are 150 calories in one cake.

You Can’t Unknow What You Know

A few years ago Steve Ettlinger wrote the book “Twinkie, Deconstructed” which broke down the ingredients in Twinkies and other highly processed foods.  Up to this point people may not have given too much thought as to what was actually in a Twinkie, but the book was quite an eye-opener. It revealed that some of the ingredients are derivatives of petroleum and gypsum. For Hostess to undo the damage of that information becoming public would be nearly impossible.

Flickr photo by carringtonvanston says that over the next few years the current diet craze will swing to the other end and people will start eating white bread and cupcakes again. She thinks that until then we all need to support Hostess.  Apparently, she’s not up to speed on the health problems of the country and the rising cost of obesity and diseases linked to it that are largely due to the rampant consumption of highly processed foods.

People are wary of eating foods with ingredients they can’t pronounce and because there are so many healthier snack choices on the market, they don’t have to. Now that we’ve learned that a ‘food’ that contains 37 ingredients isn’t good for us why would we continue to eat it?

Who cares that Hostess has filed for bankruptcy (again)?  Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call to a company that continues to churn out crap like Twinkies and Snowballs.


Getting A Handle On Sodium, Sugar and Fats Can Be Easy. There’s An App For That!

Sodium, Fat and Sugar.  How Much Is Too Much?

Now that we know what exercise regimes some of our favorite celebrities are doing, you just have to figure that besides the yoga, Pilates and Budokon, what they’re eating  is playing a huge role in their overall health and wellness plan.

It’s a new year and many people have resolved to eat better than they did last.  But what exactly does eat better mean?  More fruits and veggies, whole grains instead of refined flours, less sugar, salt and fat?

Setting a goal to add more fruits and vegetables to the diet and replace white bread with whole-wheat is probably easier than reducing fat, sugar and salt intake.  But cutting back on the three diet wreckers can be easier than you think!

First, let’s look at the guidelines for the three nutritional ‘evils’ in our diet so we have a place to start.

Sodium – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets the guidelines for recommended amounts of sodium.  The USDA has set the maximum amount at 2,300 milligrams a day and 1,500 mg/day for people that have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  The at-risk group would include people middle aged and older, African-Americans and people with high blood pressure.  It is worth noting that the American Heart Association says the amount should be set at less than 1,500 for everyone.

It’s easy to spot some high-sodium offenders like pretzels, salted peanuts and canned soups but some seemingly healthy foods are deceiving.  Lean Cuisine’s Baha Style Chicken has 690 mg of sodium, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran has 350 mg, and a Lender’s Whole Grain Plain Bagel has 490 mg.  So selecting foods that appear to be low-fat, high fiber, and otherwise good for us may still have too much salt.

Sugar – The average American consumes more than 20 teaspoons of sugar per day.  Although there is not an official recommendation by the USDA, the agency suggests a  maximum of 40 grams or about 10 teaspoons per day.  The guideline is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet.

Just to give you an idea of how hard it might be to stay within that guideline, there are 59 grams, or about 14.5 teaspoons, of sugar in McDonalds sweet tea.  Yoplait yogurt has 27 grams and a bottle of Vitamin Water has 33.

Fat – The USDA recommends that Americans consume less than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fatty acids, less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fats to an absolute minimum. Here’s a breakdown of fat consumption recommendations:

  • Total fat intake should make up between 20 – 35 percent of our daily calories. Most fats should be the polyunsaturated and monounsatured kind that are found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
  • Saturated fats should make up 10% or less of  our daily caloric intake.  Saturated fats are found in meat, cheese, ice cream, butter, full-fat milk and yogurt.
  • Trans fats are the big no-no. There is a zero tolerance for trans fats because they can lead to high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease.  Trans fats are found in foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils including many baked goods, crackers, chips, margarine and fast food product. These fats are fairly easy to recognize because they become solid at room temperate.  Some oils, however, are considered ‘solids’ because they contain trans fats:  coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil.

So now that we’re armed with information and are aware of the USDA guidelines it should be easy to figure out how much sodium, sugar and fat we’re ingesting everyday and cut back on them.

Traffic Light Shopping Card Shows Us The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly

There’s An App For That!
All of the above may seem like a bunch of gobbely gook to someone that’s not familiar with USDA guidelines, doesn’t have a degree in nutrition, and can’t spend valuable time tracking everything they eat. There’s a tool that simplifies the process and alerts us to foods that are too high in sodium, sugar, fat and saturates a glance.

The Traffic Light Food Shopping Card, a well-known visual tool, uses the colors red, yellow and green to designate high, medium and low levels of sodium, sugar and fat.  The good news is that it is now a Smartphone and iPhone app.

Download the Traffic Light Food Tracker app, use it to check out some of the labels on the foods that you have in your pantry, and take it to the store to see what you’re getting before you buy.  Enter the data from the label and the app tells you if you’re in the good, the bad or the ugly zone.  It can help you quickly deicide whether or not the food in question should be on the shopping list or in the kitchen.

Here’s Another Quick and Easy Nutrition De-Coder

Fooducate is another place to get feedback about nutrition. You can enter a food name, or scan a bar code and Fooducate gives the product a grade of ‘A’ through ‘F’.  It also alerts you to high sugar, sodium and fat content, food additives, and even refined flours. Fooducate has a web-site as well as a phone app.

I ran a few of my favorite snacks through the web site and was disappointed to the learn that the Fiber One Chewy Bars that I like so much gets a grade of D+ because of food additives, sugar and processed flour.  For anyone starting the No Fast Food For 10 Days Challenge, this would be an incredibly helpful app to have.

Do you have a favorite nutrition app that takes the guesswork out of the daily guidelines or helps you track your calories without pulling your hair out?  Drop a comment in the reply box and share.


Start A Workplace Wellness Program: Will Provide Arm Bands and Inspiration!

Jump-Start Your Workplace Wellness Program With A Wrist Band Give-Away

Workplace Wellness Programs Lead The Way In The Fight For Healthier Communities – There’s no doubt that working in an environment that supports healthy behaviors helps us reach our own wellness goals.  If you work for a corporation or organization that supports walk breaks, healthy vending machine options and donut-free meetings it’s much easier to gain the momentum you need to reach your own exercise and nutrition goals.  Believe me, with the rising cost of healthcare and the statistics that show how a well-run workplace wellness program can help offset some of those costs, getting the Human Resource Director on board is not all that hard.

Zero Trends and The Don’t Get Worse Philosophy – In 2009 Dr. Dee Edington, PhD published the book Zero Trends which has since become the workplace wellness bible.  In the book, Dr. Edington discusses the rising cost of healthcare which, in part, is due to the declining health of Americans.  The book also outlines a strategy for the workplace to reverse the downward trend, and includes a call to action inviting employers to take a leadership role by implementing changes that will support their employees’ efforts towards healthier behaviors. His philosophy has two strong messages that he believes will lower healthcare costs and increase workplace productivity:  “Don’t get worse” and “help healthy people stay healthy.”

Don’t Get Worse – America Needs You!

Don’t Get Worse? Over time, relatively healthy people that participate in unhealthy behaviors, such as eating a high-fat diet, smoking, and not getting any physical activity, shift from the ‘feeling okay’ bucket into the chronic signs and symptoms bucket.  Eventually they wind up in the ‘premature sickness and disabilty’ bucket where implementation of high cost disease management begins and absenteeism and presenteeism become noticeable.

We all work with someone that could take better care of themselves.  They may be running through the fast food line to pick up lunch every day, sit at a desk for eight hours without giving much consideration to the need for physical activity, and continue to smoke. During the early years of their life they will probably be able to work and engage in outside activities without difficulty.  Over the years, however, symptoms begin to appear – hypertension, high blood sugar, steady weight gain, shortness of breath.  Eventually, they have to begin to limit their activity and don’t seem as productive at work.

Dr. Edington believes this seemingly natural gravitation from wellness to sickness that has become so prevalent in our society is because of a ‘do nothing strategy’.  Our healthcare system does little to help healthy people stay healthy.  This ‘do nothing strategy’ is also what is driving the cost of healthcare as more and more people migrate into the chronic disease pool.

The Do Something Strategy – If the high cost of healthcare isn’t what’s fueling your desire to create a culture of health where you work, but rather your own desire to spend those eight to ten hours a day in a place where the aroma of McDonalds cheeseburgers don’t overwhelm you every day at noon and cream filled donuts aren’t standard fare at morning meetings, the ‘don’t get worse’ philosophy is still relevant.  The Zero Trends viewpoint will help you establish programs that are designed for all health and fitness levels; from your marathon runners to your couch potatoes.

Put That Cookie Down Now! Can Help You Get Started

Put Down The Cookie was the name of the Maintain, Don’t Gain holiday program that I introduced at work last year prior to Thanksgiving and it has now evolved into our wellness slogan and this web site, which was originally started for the purpose of supporting the workplace wellness efforts.

The task of creating a workplace challenge is not that scary.  It just needs a super-motivated, organized wellness champion like you!  Invite your co-workers to participate in a weight loss competition, physical activity program like 10,000 Steps a Day or Couch to 5K or join a No Fast Food For Ten Days Challenge.   Tell them you’re going to all work together to put down the cookie in 2012.

Bracelets Anyone?  Once you’ve decided to lead the charge on your workplace wellness program, I’ll send you bracelets for you to give away to the first 10 people that sign up.  Just send an email to me at  and tell me what you’ve got planned for your program start-up along with an address or P.O. Box to receive the bracelets.

Good luck!  America Needs You!!

Take The Lead And Launch A Workplace Wellness Challenge. It Will Help You Reach Your Goals Too.

Donuts Don’t Have To Be Part of Morning Meetings

You Can Lead The Charge To A Healthier Workplace

You’re committed to losing twenty pounds, eating more fruits and vegetables, and walking a minimum of four days a week during lunch.

Your co-workers, however, are still bringing donuts to morning meetings, watching “Days of Our Lives” on the TV in break room, and the office smells like Taco Bell and McD’s at noon on most days.

If your co-workers are getting in the way of your weight loss and fitness goals, starting a workplace wellness challenge will benefit you as much as it will them.

I know you’re thinking that you already have enough to do at work, you don’t have time, and your co-workers won’t get on board.  Let me get you started with a few ideas that will encourage your co-workers to be part of the solution and keep you from feeling like you’re swimming against the current during the workday.

Workplace Challenges That Are Nearly Maintenance Free 

Ten Day No Fast Food Challenge – This is a good one to start with.  If nothing else, it will help reduce the amount of junk food at the office for at least ten days, plus much of the work has already been done for you and can be found on this web site.

Invite people to sign up as a team.  Send out a set of easy to follow rules and each day e-mail a daily tip to participants. (If you want to use this site’s tips, you can find them under the Ten Day Challenge tab).  At the end of the challenge celebrate the group’s success by having everyone bring in a healthy fruit, vegetable, or whole grain snack to share.

Walking Program – Launch a four week walking program that doesn’t require using a pedometer or anything else that has to be purchased.  Many of our workplace walking programs are based on time rather than steps.  Once again I would encourage employees to participate as teams, but individuals can also join.  Have people log how many minutes they walk each day and have the team captain send the amount to you at the end of the week.  Send out a weekly e-mail to let everyone know which team is ahead; people love competition.  Encourage employees to walk for a portion of their lunch hour, on their ten minute breaks and initiate walking – as opposed to sitting – meetings.

Couch to 5K – This is a wellness program that has been such a hit where I work.  It is very
rewarding to see people set a goal to run a 5K and share the excitement they feel once they have accomplished it.  The weekly workouts can be found at Cool Running.  The facilitator of this program needs to do little more than send out the workout each week to participants along with some words of encouragement.  If you have time to send out articles on hydration, motivation and injury prevention those can be helpful to keep people involved too. Again, Cool Running is a great resource for informational articles. If your workplace has a bulletin board where pictures can be posted, have employees bring in a picture of themselves post-race with their medal, for everyone to see.

Healthy Lunch and Learn – Offer an informative lunch and learn on a health-related topic:  Nutrition, physical activity, stress management, weight management, or any subject of choice is just a phone call away.  Each community has experts that are more than willing to come in – usually at no charge – and give a 40 minute presentation on the selected topic.  One of the most well received programs that I’ve done was on stress management.  A therapist with our company’s Employee Assistance Program did a wonderful job teaching employees about breathing and relaxation techniques to use when they feel a melt-down is imminent.

Maintain, Don’t Gain Holiday Program (Put That Cookie Down Now!) – More details on this coming soon.  Last year I ran this program at work from Thanksgiving to News Years.  It is where I got the inspiration for the name of this web site because it was known as the Put Down The Cookie program.  It’s hard to put down the cookie, the pie, the alcoholic beverages, and many other things over the holidays but this program can help.

I will be adding pages specific to attacking the battle of the bulge over the holidays so if you’re interested in details about this challenge, stay tuned or subscribe to the blog through the e-mail subscription block in the sidebar.

There are tons of ideas for workplace wellness programs that can help you and your co-workers support each other in your efforts to cultivate and sustain healthy behaviors and they don’t have to be overly time-consuming or complex.  In fact, the simpler, the better.  Once you get started you’ll find your co-workers will generate ideas too and many may be grateful to you giving them the push they need to adopt some healthier habits!

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If You’ve Started The Ten Day No Fast Food Challenge, I’ve Got Some Tips For You

Are you working your way through the Ten Day Challenge? 

I had planned to launch the challenge at work last week, but got bumped because some folks in another department wanted to treat the entire organization to lunch on Friday, which meant people would have to exercise enough willpower to decline free ‘fast’ food and I didn’t think it was worth it.  You don’t get in the car to go for a trip if you know a huge roadblock is ahead.

So, anyway, the celebratory food is set up on the tables in the atrium  and, no, I have not gone out to read the labels on the packages or otherwise turn my nose up at what is being served.  I’m already referred to as the on-site food police which isn’t a very flattering label, so I’m going to eat the salad I brought for lunch and keep my mouth shut.  The challenge will start officially on Monday.

If you’ve been doing the challenge you may have noticed I’ve added special pages and have been trying to post some daily ‘tips’ if you want to check them out:

  • Day One – Shop The Perimeter of the Store
  • Day Two – What About Wine?
  • Day Three – Portions and Calories Still Count – I thought about naming this page “Don’t Shoot the Messenger”
  • Day Four – Label Reading
  • Day Five – Eating Out Is Easy!
  • Day Six – Have Fun In The Kitchen Again

I have several teams signed up to start Monday and some of them are super pumped up about the challenge.  So far it’s been entertaining just hearing some of the questions, like, “can we have soup?” and “how many ingredients are there in wine?”

I’ll keep you posted.  It’s going to be fun!

Should Ten Days Without ‘Fast’ Food Really Be This Hard? Mealtime in America Is In More Trouble Than I Thought!

Bring It On:  The Ten Day No ‘Fast’ Food Challenge

Mac and Cheese out of the box is not on the diet

This has been a week of revelation for me.  After reading and blogging about Lisa Leake’s commitment to 100 days without ‘fast’ food I decided I would scale down (that’s an understatement) the challenge and launch it to my workplace for 10 days.  I made it a team challenge so people didn’t have to go it alone:  Go ahead and rally some co-workers for support

The rules I published were:

  1. No fast food that is handed to you in a bag through your car window.
  2. No fast food that is handed to you in a bag from behind a counter.
  3. No fast food that you buy in the grocery store. In other words, no heat-and-eat or Crap Macaroni and Cheese type stuff.
  4. No foods that have more than five ingredients.  (More on this later.)

Once I sent the e-mail out the e-mails started coming back:

Q.  Is Subway considered fast food?
A.  Please refer to Rules 1 and 2 and 4.

Q.  I’m on Weights Watchers and I’m eating WW meals for lunch and dinner. Is that okay?
A.  Please refer to Rules 3 and 4 and good luck with that.

Q.  I’m on the Nutrisystems diet.  Will you make concessions for this?
A.  Please refer to Rules 3 and 4.

Q.  The people on my team all eat Lean Cuisine for lunch, will they have to give that up?
A.  Please refer to Rules 3 and 4 and pick another team.

A-ha Moment

So, this is pretty much how my day went which caused me to have a profound a-ha moment at which point I said to myself, “Wow.  Mealtime in America is in more trouble that I thought.”

If you take away food handed to you in a bag through the car window or across a counter, heat-and-eat fast food grocery store stuff, and foods that contain a bunch of ingredients that no one can even pronounce, there’s nothing left for people to eat.

However, stressful this is, it does provide an opportunity to encourage staff to follow in the footsteps of Lisa Leake and discover that there are a lot of really great tasting, filling, and nutritionally satisfying ‘whole’ foods out there that if consumed for 10 days, 100 days, or a lifetime will change the way you think about food in a rather profound way.

Are you up for taking the Ten Day No Fast Food Challenge?  Check out Lisa’s blog for a list of foods you can eat and recipes, plus learn how she and her family became hooked on good food.

One Thing At A Time

As far as the rule about foods that have more than five ingredients, I’m going to have to make a concession for grain products. Many whole wheat breads and pastas have more than 20 ingredients that we can’t pronounce.  I can’t put the staff through giving that up just yet so for now we will settle for breads, pastas, etc. where the first ingredient is whole what flour.

If we get through the 10 days, maybe we can work on eliminating ammonium sulfate and silcon dioxide from our diets.