Celebrate National Nutrition Month by investing in your health

March is National Nutrition Month and along with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics I invite you to focus on developing sound eating and physical activity habits.  A healthy diet and regular physical activity are essential to a healthy life and, despite what we may think, small habits done consistently can have a big impact on the quality and quantity of our lives. This year’s theme, “Eat right, bite by bite” highlights the benefits of small action.  Bite by bite and step by step we can achieve and maintain optimal health and well-being. Here are some of my top tips for making healthy eating and physical activity the easy choices .

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Take the critical first step

We’re five weeks into the new year and for many of us our aspirations for 2020 have already fallen by the wayside.  Life has a way of distracting us from what is most important and if we’re not careful, before we know it, time has slipped away.  There is a verse in a Pink Floyd song that resonates with me every time I hear it. “And then one day you find, ten years have gone behind you.  No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun.” Life is short and we only have one chance to live the life we want. The time to act is now but how do we actually get ourselves to take action?  How do we “get motivated”? 

Here’s the secret about motivation…motivation comes after we start.  Yes, the best way to get motivated is to take action. Taking action is not always easy.  We put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all and to do it perfectly. We become too focused on the outcome.  Let’s forget about the outcome and focus instead on the process. Focusing on the process, especially on just the first step can significantly increase our likelihood of success.  Every habit that we have or that we want to have starts with a trigger, one small action that is like the first domino which sets the chain in motion. Once we do that first action, the rest of the steps fall into place with minimal effort.   All we have to concern ourselves with then is taking that first step.

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Simplify

Over the last month I’ve been talking with many of my health coaching clients about what they would like to see in their lives in 2020 and what they would like their theme of 2020 to be.  Many spoke of their desire to simplify, to connect more authentically to others and to themselves and a desire to slow down and to be more present in their lives. Many also spoke of the impact of media and technology on perpetuating the speed and frenetic energy of their lives and described feeling powerless around taking back their time, energy and attention.  

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Building resilience against holiday stress

Ahhh …the holidays …a time for friends, family, fun, parties, food, shopping and gifts.  A time to enjoy some much needed time off and, unfortunately, for many of us, a time of great stress.  The holidays can be a wonderful time of year but they can also bring plenty of stress. Unrealistic expectations, a perceived lack of time, worries about finances and family squabbles all contribute to one of the most stressful times of the year.  This is also a time when we are less likely to maintain our physical activity routines, a time when we are more likely to indulge in high fat, high carbohydrate foods and a time when we are more susceptible to sleep disturbances, all making us less resilient to stress.

Here are some tips to help you have a positive experience this holiday season.

  1. Manage your expectations.   Not feeling happy during the holidays is more common than we might think and pretending to be happy when we’re not can actually make us feel more sad.  By acknowledging our true feelings we can respond to them in a way which is productive and helpful. Tara Brach, psychologist and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC suggests practicing RAIN.  She describes RAIN as “an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion using the following four steps: Recognize what is going on; Allow the experience to be there, just as it is; Investigate with interest and care; Nurture with self-compassion” (Brach, 2013).  You can read more about the technique here or, if you prefer, you can listen to a guided meditation using the technique here.  
  2. Manage your time.  We all know that we cannot “make” time. We all have twenty-four hours in a day and that’s all we get.  What we can do is allocate our time. Consider what and who are most important to you this holiday season and allocate your time accordingly.  If you need to say no, here’s a great way to do it courtesy of Neghar Fonooni, Crossfit athlete and health coach.   “I appreciate the invitation, but I’m energetically depleted and I need to fill my cup. I hope you have a great time, and I’m thankful that you understand my need to decline”.  By saying yes when we really want to say no, all we do is build resentment and deplete our energy. 
  3. Practice self care.  Times of stress demand good self care but this is when many of our routines fall by the wayside.  Consider practicing the minimum effective dose (MED). The MED is the “smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome” (Ferriss,2010).  When life is easy your exercise routine might be sixty minutes five times per week and your diet might be whole, non-processed foods.  You prepare meals in advance. You get eight hours of sleep per night. You drink eight glasses of water a day. What is the MED you can do during the holidays to support consistency and prevent you from being on the “on/off” plan of self care? Perhaps it’s fifteen minutes of high intensity exercise or the seven minute workout.  Perhaps it’s choosing the salad over the burger at lunch.   The purpose of the MED is really just to support consistency and be a bridge to when you can get back to your regular routine.
  4. Take advantages of resources to help you cope.  During this holiday season, remember that it is okay to feel unhappy or overwhelmed.  If you or a family member need some support to manage the overwhelm, Cigna and our school’s EAP programs are here to help.  To find our more about EAP, go to your school’s human resources page. If you prefer the anonymity of virtual support check out iPrevail or Happify.  

The holidays can be a wonderful time and we’ve got to keep in mind that our experience depends largely on our attitude and our choices.  Remember what’s most important. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take care of yourself and enjoy.

Breastfeeding…not only good for moms and babies but also good for communities

When it comes to infant feeding, many of us may have heard that “breast is best”.  The health benefits of breastfeeding to moms and babies are widely publicized and include reducing the risk of maternal postpartum depression and supporting a faster return to prepregnancy weight, reducing infant mortality and reducing the risk of the infant developing chronic health conditions including obesity and diabetes as adults.  While these benefits are certainly noteworthy, the benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond mom and baby.  

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Supporting a Culture of Well-being on Campus

What differentiates thriving organizations from organizations that languish are the people.  To support employees’ well-being and engagement, managers and supervisors must move away from focusing so much on how employees spend and manage their time, and instead support employees to manage their energy.  Energy, not time, is the most valuable of our human resources. It is “the fundamental currency of high performance” (Loehr, 2017). Check out our new resource, Employee well-being: A guide for managers and supervisors to find out more about how you can support your employees and sustain a culture of well-being on campus.

GMHEC and Your College…Partnering to Support Your Well-being

It’s no surprise that organizations who support their employees have happier, healthier, more engaged employees,  In the academic setting, one of the many benefits of high levels of faculty and staff engagement is a better student experience.   “Highly engaged faculty and staff members can make the difference between students who thrive and ones who fail to grow” (Gallup, n.d.).

While it is always essential to take action toward optimizing our personal well-being, during times of change and challenge it becomes even more essential.  We’ve all heard the saying about putting on our own oxygen mask first. To weather the curveballs that life throws at us, we’ve got to be at our best and firing on all cylinders.  Regular self-care enables us to be resilient and nimble. It ensures that we have the energy and mindset to tackle life’s challenges and have energy left for the things that are most important to us.   

One way to support our well-being is to take advantage of all of the amazing resources available at our fingertips.  Each of the GMHEC member colleges has an abundance of resources to support all five domains of well-being: physical, career, financial, social and community.  These resources include everything from financial coaching and retirement planning to physical activity classes and fitness centers to volunteer opportunities to community gardens to Consortium-wide benefits and programs.   To find out about what’s available at your school, check out the well-being resource guide for your college on the GMHEC Well-Being Resources page.  Take action today to be well and to optimize your well-being.  You can be the catalyst to transform the world around you into a world where everyone is thriving.

Well-being Resource Guides for faculty, staff and leaders

Each of the Consortium colleges offers a plethora of resources to support all five domains of well-being: career, financial, physical, social and community. We encourage you and your family to take advantage of these resources so that you can bring your best self to life and work everyday.

Health….it’s not just physical.

When we hear the word health, the first thing that often pops into our minds is physical health but mental health is just as critical to our overall well-being.  Mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (WHO, 2014.).  According to a 2007 article published in American Psychologist (Keyes, 2007), mentally healthy adults reported the fewest missed days of work, low levels of helplessness, having clear goals in life, high resilience and high intimacy, the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease, the lowest number of chronic physical diseases, the fewest health limitations of activities of daily living and lower health care utilization.  

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