“Everyone knows we’re supposed to eat fruits and vegetables, but sometimes they don’t know how,” says Wellness Coordinator Seth Bigelow. The coaches at ARUP’s Wellness Center talk with employees about eating 3-5 fruit and vegetable servings a day, and demonstrate that a fist-size portion is a reasonable serving.
Seeking a balance between work, home life, and good health, Angie was falling short. She was an athlete, but her love of running no longer won out against her fondness for cookies when it came to maintaining her weight.
Katie had added pounds little by little over the years, and now avoided parties, had low energy, and worried that her kids would grow up with her eating habits.
Russel was just sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
All three took action. Katie worked with a wellness coach at her workplace, ARUP Laboratories. Russel, who had weighed 340 pounds at his heaviest, took a class in intuitive eating, also through ARUP’s Wellness Center. He began cooking eggs with olive oil and reintroduced vegetables and fruit into his diet. He defined servings and stopped filling his plate. He logged everything he ate into an app called “Lose It,” which allowed him to set a weight-loss goal and figure out how many pounds to lose weekly. Every day, he walked at least a bit.
Angie, Katie, and Russel were not alone in working with a workplace wellness center. More than 70% of U.S. employers currently offer a general wellness program, according to a 2015 study by the Society for Human Resource Management. Improving lives is the goal of the program at ARUP, says ARUP Wellness Coordinator Seth Bigelow. “Employees can access our Wellness Center regardless of whether they are on our healthcare plan. That’s strong proof that the center’s aim is to help the employee.”
People often get involved with the Wellness Center in order to feel better and more energized at the end of a work day, when it’s time to return home to care for kids or handle other tasks—not to slump on the couch, says Bigelow. “It’s not always a case of wanting to lose weight. Sometimes it’s wanting not to get sick so often. To do more of what one may like—gardening, sports, hiking. Or to manage anxiety and depression.”
When people take action, here’s what they do: They seek a bit of help on their own or opt for a health test (Personal Health Profile, or PHP) that accompanies discounted insurance from the company. The health assessment often starts with a blood draw and a blood pressure check, followed by an appointment with a Wellness Center coach about what actions to take. An employee can begin by emailing the Wellness Center and then filling out a questionnaire that asks about average sleep, stresses, and other factors. With those answers in hand, “Our approach can be personalized to them,” says Bigelow.
“It’s not always a case of wanting to lose weight. Sometimes it’s wanting not to get sick so often. To do more of what one may like—gardening, sports, hiking. Or to manage anxiety and depression.”
Working with the center starts with setting goals, then chipping away at those goals week by week. Katie began with an 8-week intuitive eating course and worked with Bigelow as her coach. While she didn’t see immediate or striking results, and she sometimes felt discouraged, at one point she ran across coworkers who were paying “hundreds of dollars” to tone up with a private coach. Realizing her friends’ coaching provided them with the same kind of feedback she received for free at the Wellness Center, she felt a renewed sense of energy and commitment. She dropped the Diet Coke and gummy candy, ate more vegetables, and walked every chance she had.
It worked. Through exercise and more healthful eating, Katie lost 100 pounds over a year. She says the Wellness Center “played a huge role” in her success, and that she needed not only the weekly check-ins but also the educational resources and the excitement she gained from interacting with the center.
The Wellness Center aims to guide and support people in developing and maintaining good habits. For instance, “Everyone knows we’re supposed to eat fruits and vegetables, but sometimes they don’t know how,” says Bigelow. The coaches talk with employees about eating 3-5 fruit and vegetable servings a day, and demonstrate that a fist-size portion is a reasonable serving.
Angie, Katie, and Russel made a regular habit of measuring servings in that way—and posted their “Success Stories” on the company website. “I am so glad I was able to benefit from this service we are offered as employees,” says Katie.
Angie had the challenge of needing to lose weight again after having a child. She says real work was involved in the loss, but “the lifestyle I had created” with the center made it easier to return to the swing of things.
Russel is no longer sick and tired. He looks forward to exercising now—walking with his wife and daughter in the early evening. “Wanting to do that feels great,” he says.
Catherine Arnold, Science Communications Writer