The average employed U.S. citizen aged 25 to 54 spends about 8.9 hours working and only 2.5 hours doing leisure and sports activities per day. For most people, that’s almost nine hours at an office stocked with sodas, vending machines, and the daily grind that could lead even the most health conscious individuals to reach for a candy bar.
As a company with over 1,300 employees, Digital Risk is well aware that encouraging wellness among the workforce not only leads to healthier, happier employees with higher productivity levels, but also results in lower medical benefits costs. For the past four months, Digital Risk has been journeying through its annual Health Challenge and newly introduced Wellness Initiative – and with great fanfare. Thus far, over 200 employees have participated in the program and achieved heightened health levels within the company’s medical benefits plan.
Although the company has implemented enterprise-wide Health Challenges for the past several years, sometimes the most effective approach toward promoting healthy lifestyles happens within a small team where a community of support and encouragement is more accessible. One such example of this can be found in the Digital Risk Learning and Development Team – with a small jump start from Instructional Designer Gian Colombo.
Gian joined Digital Risk in June of 2014 and by that point had been following a plant-based, animal free lifestyle for over three years. After thoughtful consideration and research on the impacts of consuming animals and animal by-products, the decision to take on this new lifestyle was a simple one. Following the immediate lift in energy and overall wellness, Gian was emboldened to probe further regarding health in general, taking him into the world of harmful ingredients and the misinformation that resides in some sectors of the food industry. What he found was both jarring and unexpected, and served to further sustain his dedication to this lifestyle.
Many of the team members in Learning and Development took an interest in Gian’s lifestyle, a curiosity he describes as ‘similar to the weird curiosity one has with a strange zoo animal making annoying clacking noises.’ Despite the overall intrigue, most of the team didn’t fully understand the wide scope of his choices or the benefits associated with them until Digital Risk’s 2015 Health Challenge offered Gian the opportunity to share his knowledge.
“I noticed that many of the goals within Digital Risk’s Health Challenge centered mainly on weight management, which is great for many people, but when the calorie counting challenge is over, many people revert back to the same poor food habits that contributed to a state of precarious health to begin with.” Gian explained. “So, I wanted to ultimately raise the consciousness of my colleagues about the food they eat and how it affects their whole system. The types of food we eat are the direct input into the output we encounter every day, such as lethargy, stress or headaches. People often say things like, ‘I get sick all of the time and I don’t know why.’ Meanwhile if you look at their diet, it regularly consists of vending machine junk food, sodas, or a multitude of other ingredients that I consider to be toxic waste. And that’s why I wanted to start with a look at alkaline vs. acidic foods and how that affects sickness.”
It was this drive to help others that ultimately led Gian to develop and institute a multi-phased process that educated and encouraged his team to begin their journey toward living a healthier lifestyle.
First phase: Awareness
Gian endeavored to instill awareness among his team and establish a benchmark for each individual. He provided each team member with a pH chart, which is a week-long food log that measures the pH level of all foods one intakes each day. This chart aids users in determining whether each meal is actually healthy or not. “Once they completed the log for a week, they found out that their consumption was horrifically unhealthy, and this was the initial shock I wanted to establish early on.” Gian said.
Second phase: Mindful Food Planning
He encouraged each teach team member to take action by safe-guarding their homes from unhealthy food
choices. “I want everyone to realize that making worthy choices is a battle (one that we often lose), and building the will power needed to abstain from destructive eating takes considerable time to build. So, instead of fighting the will power battle, we should remove ourselves from the battle completely.” Gian directed them to make smart decisions at the grocery store so that only healthy foods would be
available in their house. He then encouraged each team member to pick only two unhealthy categories to begin abstaining from (e.g., fried foods, added sugars, breads and pastas, etc.) and instituted a rewards system. Team members would receive a certificate after one week of self-restraint, a ribbon after two weeks, a free lunch after one month, and a t-shirt after two months.
The benefits that the Learning and Development team acquired through this phase were astounding! Several team members lost over 14 pounds, and one colleague was even able to eliminate massive swelling in her knee following an accident by completing cutting sugars, which settle on the joints causing inflammation and reduced healing times.
Third phase: Know your Triggers
Gian educated the team about emotional eating and how it affects one’s health goals. Throughout this phase, he challenged the team to ascertain whether they are in fact emotional eaters, to differentiate between their emotional and physical hunger, to identify their personal emotional eating triggers, and finally, to fight the emotional eating urges and patterns.
Fourth phase: Exercise
For the fourth phase, Gian teamed up with fellow DR health enthusiast and vegetarian Matt Coxe to craft an exercise framework that would augment the benefits realized in the first three phases. As many of you can attest, this is one of the more challenging pieces to maintaining overall health and wellness, so they need to create a program that would self-motivating and effective.
Once everyone was aware of eating habits, food choices, and the benefits of nutrition, the team focused on adding regular exercise to their lifestyles. Regular exercise is a catalyst for profound health benefits, covering a range from a stronger immune system, greatly improved heart health, more endurance, lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and the ability to maintain an active lifestyle later in life. A holistic approach to health combines nutrition, exercise, and an approach to mindfulness that reduces stress and improves quality of life.
The foundation of the exercise phase lies on the “3 E’s”: Education, Encouragement, and Exercise! First, the team had a brief, fun, informal education session on the profound benefits of regular exercise. This is followed up by a collaborative plan to, as a team, create opportunities for all participating members to create time to exercise and ideas for what that exercise should be. Most of this exercise was individual, according to each person’s schedule. And what is a “workout”? It could be the gym, or, it could be something much more fun…like playing games! In fact, the team has already established a beach volleyball schedule and may add softball over the summer.
There are under 15 D-Riskers on the Learning & Development team, and Gian has made a substantial difference in many of these colleagues’ lives. His team members are much more aware of how foods affect their body and the steps they can take to live a healthier life. Gian’s story is just one example of how a single D-Risker can make a huge impact on team members – and that this kind of influence can occur outside of companywide Wellness Initiatives.
A lot can be achieved in an 8.9-hour workday. Hopefully, Gian’s example will inspire others to go above and beyond to help their fellow colleagues learn and grow both professionally and personally.