Nutrition & Wellness Programming

 Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Vice President of Sales & Marketing

Wellness programs and their education components are often built on two primary staples: diet and exercise.  Exercise is relatively easy to program (and easy to understand from an employee’s perspective). But when it comes to nutrition, there is an incredible amount of conflict even within the professional world of physicians, scientists, dietitians, and experts, it’s no wonder the “normal person” is confused and that the national obesity rate is rising above and beyond 35% in the United States.

March is National Nutrition Month.  It’s the perfect time to hone in on these programs and hear from the experts (us!) on delivering effective and affordable nutrition programs to reach members.  Especially when weight loss is 80% proper nutrition and only 20% physical activity, it’s an imperative focus for an employer and should be a part of your wellness programming.

Here are our top 5 most popular nutrition programs:

  1. Educational Seminars – a fan favorite of our clients is “Mythbusting: Nutrition Edition” and “Healthy Cooking Live Demo”.  Provide a month-long challenge after the class in order to put to practice the different topics discussed in the class.
    “Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
  2. MENTAL HEALTH! – Not always an obvious thought, but in our experience, most of our members’ struggle with their food intake directly relates to stress, time management, work-life balance, and financial restrictions.  Designing programs that can pinpoint THESE issues will have a direct correlation to nutrition.
  3. Challenge – Seems obvious, as wellness programs LOVE challenges.  But it is for good reason, as challenges both involve employees and promote friendly workplace competition that truly is a drive for some members.  A good challenge will encourage employees to meet their goals, not “be the MOST healthy”.  It will also reward goal meeting each week and will have a different focus area each week (count your calories, eat foods with 5 or less ingredients or that you can pronounce, track your fiber grams, eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, etc.).
  4. Web Portal – Trackers, social accountability aspect – We’ve seen the power of the digital world through the rise of Social Media.  Using a web portal where employees can keep a food diary, share with a coach, and share their favorite recipes, exercise progress, funny and encouraging memes, and more on a social network within the portal.
  5. 1-on-1 Coaching – Speaking of coaching, the most tailored, effective programming you can do is provide your members the opportunity to talk to someone who will provide them with the accountability, the encouragement, and proper guidance to successful goal setting.


Diet vs. Exercise: My Professional Opinion

   Ryan Hall  MS, CSCS, Wellness Coordinator

With my 12 + years in the Health and Wellness field, 10 of those years as a personal trainer, the main question I would get is: “How can I lose my gut?”

My professional opinion:  “Keep your mouth closed!”

Ok, hear me out! You can get on your elliptical in the morning and ride like the wind for 30 to 45 minutes and burn a whopping 400 calories in doing so. Yeah Me! Now it’s time for my post workout shake (Low Carb – 100 cal), don’t forget my banana, because I need my potassium (1 medium – 110 cal). And let’s wash it all down with a caffe mocha w/ nonfat milk on the way to work (1 grande – 250 cal). Mid day snack time; Greek yogurt (100 cal) and some granola (Quaker 0.5 cup – 200 cal). Time for lunch. Darn! I forgot to bring it today. Oh well, that healthy sub sandwich shop it is. 6 inch Oven Roasted Chicken Breast on whole wheat (320 cal) with avocado (1 half – 125 cal) and ranch (2 Tbsp –  140 cal), oh…don’t forget the cookie (chocolate chip – 200 cal) and the Diet Coke (0 cal). Doing good, right? Oh wait, it’s only lunch time (1,545 cal so far). You push through the rest of the work day with another caffe mocha (1 grande – 250 cal) and an apple (1 small Gala – 80 cal). Time for dinner, grilled chicken breast (5 oz – 233 cal) with a baked potato (1 medium Russet – 163 cal) and butter (1 pat – 36 cal), some sweet corn (1 cob – 100 cal) and more butter (1 pat – 36 cal) and a side salad (spinach, 1 cup – 7 cal) with olive oil (1 Tbsp – 120 cal) and balsamic vinegar (1 Tbsp – 10 cal) dressing. All American chow (705 cal, I’m being conservative.) Well, we can’t forget our glass of wine night cap (Merlot, 5 oz – 125 cal) and our late night indulgence on some ice cream now can we? (1 cup – 540 cal)

Alright…and the grand total is?

3,165 calories! But wait, I exercised this morning. That should account for something, right? Ok, ok…2,765 calories. Great job, here’s a cookie…no wait, don’t eat that! The average person should be eating between 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day to promote weight loss. The thing I tell my clients and anyone I meet is that exercise will NOT fix your horrible eating habits. Period! If you can’t control what goes in, you will not be able to control what comes off! Now, this generalization is strictly based on calories alone. There is so much more to this than just calories, but that is a topic for another discussion. The main take away from this is to learn the difference between your mouth and a vacuum cleaner. Pay attention to what you are eating. You will not lose weight if you cannot control yourself! You can lose weight just by paying attention to portion size and making sure you are eating nutritious food. Keep a journal for a while, and be honest with it. If it goes in your mouth, it goes in the journal. Not writing something down only hurts you. Once you get a good idea how much you are actually eating, you can then start making changes. So, get your pencils and papers out and start journaling.

Love Your Heart!

Nicole Griswold, CHWC, Wellness Coordinator


Everyone knows that February is National Heart Health month. There are about a million risk factors regarding heart health in general but what are the most important? Cardiac disease is probably my biggest passion as a health professional so I know I could write an entire book on the stuff, but I’ll keep it somewhat short and sweet.

The top 10 cardiac risk factors include:

  1. Dyslipidemia (high cholesterol)
  2. Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  3. Obesity
  4. Nicotine use
  5. Sedentary lifestyle
  6. High stress levels
  7.  Hypertriglyceridemia (high amounts of fat in the blood)
  8. Hyperglucosemia (high blood sugar)
  9. High waist circumference
  10. Older age (men >50 years old, women >40 years old)

Unless you’re swimming on the bad side of the gene pool, 9/10 of these risk factors can be 100% controlled by you and your lifestyle. Unfortunately not everyone cares enough about the repercussions of letting these factors run wild. Let’s break it down!

Most people are not getting enough exercise and can be classified as leading a sedentary lifestyle 

Generally speaking, most people who are mostly sedentary are overweight and have an increased chance of having poor numbers

Many of us carry our excess weight around our waist

A high waist circumference is directly related to abnormal glucose levels (type 2 diabetes)

People diagnosed with diabetes are 60% more likely to have a heart attack or stoke than non-diabetics

Heart attacks and strokes have a close relationship with high cholesterol and triglycerides

High total cholesterol is a result of excessive consumption of unhealthy animal products and  fatty foods (triglycerides)

Any excess lipids floating through the blood will cause high blood pressure as a result of your body trying to clean the blood

Blood pressure is easily raise by increased stress levels and nicotine use

It all ties together! Keep your heart happy.

Top 5 List: Community Service and Wellness

Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Wellness Account Manager

January 18th was “King Day of Service”.  This got me thinking about the great opportunities organizations have to incorporate service into their wellness programs.  I believe there really is something to volunteering and the benefits that directly correlate to an employee and a health plan.

You’ll see a variety of programs that are considered “wellness”.  Flu shots, biggest loser challenges, biometric screenings, yoga classes, and countless additional programs can fall under this umbrella.  At HPA, we believe that a good program incorporates 3 major prongs; Nutrition, Exercise, and Mental Health.

According to Harvard Medical School, studies have shown that volunteering not only wards off feelings of loneliness and depression, but can also reach beyond mental health, affecting physical health as well.  This includes lowering blood pressure and having a longer life span.

The benefits are there, but how can companies be using community service as a tentacle of their wellness efforts?  Here are our top 5 options we have put together based on what we are seeing in the industry:

  1. Designate 2 non-profits or movements a year to focus on.  Focus less on making 1 huge donation as a company and focus more on how you can involve your employees to either fundraise or be directly involved with the mission in a hands-on manor.  Allowing paid time offsite or department trips to volunteer is an important piece to show your buy in to your efforts.  Visiting your local soup kitchen or children’s museum are great options and make great team building activities.
  2. Have a points program?  Make community service hours a part of it!
  3. Join a local effort such as Relay for Life or the American Heart Walk.  Employees can fundraise AND be physically active.  Events like this also help build a culture of giving-back and wellness.
  4. Partner with some local charities to allow your employees a mentorship opportunity, or host a kickball game or something similar with underprivileged kids in the community. One example: Big Brothers, Big Sisters has a corporate mentorship program.
  5. On a much lesser scale, some organizations will incorporate a donation method into their challenges.  For example, within a Hold it for the Holidays weight maintenance challenge, the winning employees will earn money for themselves and a company match of the winnings to the employee’s charity of choice.

Community service not only provides the aforementioned benefits to mental and physical health of your employees, it molds the culture of your workplace and improves the image of your company’s presence in its community.

Be well and VOLUNTEER!

New Year’s Resolutions, or New Year’s Goals?

  Kelly Murray, Wellness Coordinator

Every January, people are proud to announce their New Year’s resolutions. To lose weight, get in shape, spend less and save more money. The list goes on and on. But what happens come March? Or maybe even February for some? We forget about those resolutions that we made even though they were, or are still important to us. By definition, a resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something”. Maybe that’s why so many New Year’s resolutions never get accomplished. A resolution is merely a decision, or an agreement to do or be better.

A goal on the other hand, is defined as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.” I don’t know about you, but right there in that definition are two words right there that really jump out at me. Effort. Desire. If you really want to make changes and improvements for the new year ahead, set some goals! Don’t just make a decision that you want to be better or do better. You need to have the desire and put in the effort to make those changes and achieve the results.

Okay, you thought it over and you decided that you’re ready. You really want to make some changes. Now it’s time to set some goals. But if you’re going to do this right, they need to be SMART goals.

When creating your goals, make sure you are detailed. Just saying, “I’m going to work out more” is not good enough. When are you going to exercise? For how long? How many times a week? What days of the week? Doing what? Where at? Be specific. Make a specific plan and write it down.
“I will eat healthier” also will set you up to fail. How will you know that you ate healthier? What exactly is healthier? Instead, set a goal of “I will eat 3 servings of fruits and vegetables a day” or “I will exercise 3 days a week for 30 minutes”. That is measurable. With a measurable goal, you will be able to count it and you can track your progress.
“I’m going to lose 30 pounds by next month” or “I’m going to exercise every day”. Are those really achievable or healthy? If your goal seems a little too lofty, try breaking it down into smaller goals, so that you can ultimately reach you end goal. Try rating your confidence on a scale of 1-10. If you give yourself less than a 7, restructure your goal so it’s a 7 or higher.
As the New Year rolls around, we realize all at once all of the goals we want to accomplish. “I’m going to vacuum more often” is a great goal, but get your priorities straight and don’t pile on more than you can handle. Is vacuuming relevant to your most important goal?
Set a deadline to your goals to keep you on track. Having one huge goal for the entire year is a lot to grasp. Setting deadlines throughout your goal will help you maintain your progress, and allow for re-evaluation if needed. By setting mini deadlines and goals, you will be able to keep up with your goal, and not wait until the last minute to try and squeeze everything in.

Another tool to help you with your SMART goals is the goal pyramid below. Looking at your goals in a pyramid shape will help you break down, and really get detailed and specific with your goals.

Goal Pyramid

Putting in the time and effort to create and personalize your SMART goals will get you started off on the right path. By following these guidelines, you will be able to track your progress, meet, and maybe even exceed your goals to becoming an improved version of yourself for the New Year.



Zero Calories !?!?

   Ryan Hall  MS, CSCS, Wellness Coordinator

So, I don’t mean to sound negative, but it drives me nuts when I see blatant misinformation pushed on people in an attempt make them feel better about their own poor choices. We make enough bad decisions in our lifetime; sticking your tongue to a pole in the middle of winter, listening to your friends when they tell you that you can easily jump that ravine on your bike, or the ever infamous “dude you gotta try this, we’ve all done it!” Liars! Not that I’ve fallen victims to these…twice. But I’m talking about information regarding our food choices and what is healthy and why. We all know that pizza is bad for us and fruit is good, but let’s make sure we all know why something is good for us and that nothing is free.

As I was walking out of my local fitness center, feeling better that I may have possibly burnt off enough calories to justify the amazing apple induced sugar rush I was going to give myself, a handmade billboard caught my eye. “ZERO CALORIE FOODS!” Low and behold, there is a Heaven, and according to this poster, it is filled with zero calorie apples, bananas, pineapple, celery and almost every other type of fruit and vegetable you can think of. Hallelujah! But then I remembered, wait, this apple in my hand, this gorgeous, ruby red, juicy piece of sweetness named Fuji actually contains about 100 calories with about 30g (90 cal) coming from straight up sugar; fructose to be exact! What! (Not that fructose is bad for you)
Zero Calories

Zero calorie foods are a myth people! It has been a thought out there for a long time that there are some fruits and vegetables that require more calories to digest than they actually give. Unfortunately, this is total hogwash. There are foods out there that have very few calories. For instance, a stalk of celery has between six and ten calories. There is a metric called TEF (Thermal Effect of Food) that measures how many calories are used to digest food. Generally speaking, it’s only about 10% to 20%. That means a ten calorie stalk of celery still gives you eight calories even after digestion. So in the case of my delectable Fuji, this means it still “contains” 80 calories after you factor in my tummy doing some work.

I’m not saying that we should all give up on nutritious fruits & veggies and go binging on a swimming pool full of ice cream and donuts; I’m just saying that we need to be properly informed about what we eat. Keep eating those fruits and vegetables, just know that you are consuming calories. So after ripping down the poster and high tailing it out of there screaming “They’re all out to make us fat,” needless to say, I’m looking for a new place to get in shape. Any suggestions?

“Culture of Wellness” – Buzz Words?

Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Wellness Account Manager

“Culture of Wellness” could be called a Buzz Term in the world of corporate wellness, as it is used a lot.  Don’t get me wrong – culture is VERY important to the success of a wellness program an.  But what are we really talking about when we discuss “Culture of Wellness”?

The first place we tend to look is the environment.  Do you have signs/posters with health tips or motivating messages?  Do you have stairs that are well lit and easily accessible?  Do you provide healthy options in your cafeteria or provide free or low cost healthy snacks in your vending machines?  Do you provide fun and engaging activities to support employees in their quest for wellness?  All of these are important and while they DO contribute to the culture, THERE’S MORE TO THE STORY!

Culture also includes employee morale – finding meaning and purpose in their jobs.  With millennials making up 70% of the workforce in the next 10 years, this is an incredibly important focus, since millennials are demanding more and more that they are clear on their roles and how those roles provide value within the organization.  Creating a focus on self-care and consumerism is a step all successful wellness programs should take to move in this direction.

Who cares if a workplace has health food and a fitness center if employees are being worked to death?   Oftentimes, when designing a wellness program, we tend to think “how can we get employees to lose weight?  How can we get them to stop smoking?”  I encourage a focus shift to “How can we create conditions to motivate employees to __________”.  We need to be designing our programs FOR or WITH employees, rather than doing something TO them, and they need to view it that way.  People only support what they help create – I challenge you and all of us to refocus on the employee experience.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do…”  – Steve Jobs

The Holiday Weigh In


Nicole Griswold, CHWC, Wellness Coordinator

Did you know that on average, Americans gain 6lbs over the holiday season? With the inevitable downward winter weather spiral and the overwhelming amounts of glorious foods and treats, it’s easy to throw on the extra pounds. I’m a pretty big advocate of treating yourself and allowing the occasional indulgence, especially during the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year are times to celebrate, relax with family, and have a few extra drinks. Everyone has their weakness when it comes to the yummy temptations lingering in the kitchen so here are a couple tricks to enjoy yourself but not overdo it.

  1. Portions! This is easily the biggest issue for most people – not even during the holidays. How many times do re-load your plate? Two or three more times? Try eating one plate and waiting 20 minutes. Are you still hungry? Do you still really want more?
    • Use a smaller plate as opposed to a full size dinner plate. Load it up! You’ll be looking at a plate just full of delicious food. Yes, there is less food there but it appears like you have just as much.
    • Still tempted for more? As soon as you’re finished with your original plate, get up and rinse it in the sink. No more plate = no more food.
  2. Desserts! So much pie. How many different desserts does your family have available and how many different kinds of dessert ends up on your plate? Contrary to popular belief, you actually are not required to try every single dessert available. Pick your favorite and leave the rest. Maybe have a bite or two of something else later on.
  3. Pre-Dinner Snacks – Often times there are plates of mini appetizers scattered about. You see it, you eat it. Your socializing, maybe have a glass of wine, and before you know it you’ve snacked enough to not even be hungry for dinner. Is that cracker with cheese on it that exciting? A good rule of thumb here is to not go into the event starving. Have breakfast, drink some extra water, and you won’t be tempted to load up on the finger foods.
  4. Drinking – Watching the Lions lose on Thanksgiving day as well as a handful of Christmas parties on the calendar, it’s pretty obvious that you’ll drinking a bit more than usual. If you’re trying to watch the calories, grab a lighter beer, a glass of red wine, or a clear liquor like vodka or gin.
  5. Buddy Up – A great way to find some accountability in these situations is to tell someone ahead of time what your plan is. Tell your spouse, a family member, or friend that you are trying to watch how much you’ll be eating. There is a chance you’ll start caving in the temptation of extra food or sweets and it’s nice to have someone there to lovingly slap your hand away.

Wellness on a Budget

Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Wellness Account Manager

When I was acquiring my certification as a Certified Worksite Wellness Program Manager at the National Wellness Conference in Minneapolis, MN, our two-day intensive class consisted of professionals like myself sharing their experiences and struggles in wellness.  One topic of discussion that was clearly a concern for HR and wellness professionals was the lack of a budget.  Conversations were that “my wellness program isn’t successful because we don’t have the money to do things”.  Bravely, a wellness coordinator from Saudi Arabia raised her hand, stood up and said, “Our company is massive.  The amount of figures in my wellness budget would sicken you, it’s so much.  We have all the money you could want and our program. isn’t. working.”  She opened everyone’s eyes to show that it’s not a hefty budget that makes a wellness program successful.  It’s the cohesion of your programs.  It’s the creativity of your people and your vendor.  It’s your leadership team’s public support in your efforts (NOT through finances, but by example).  It’s these things that give your wellness program a personality and your workplace a culture.

Since 2001, Health Plan Advocate has been providing corporate wellness programs.  Although we provide services that require a budget, we also work as consultants in sharing our ideas and experiences with the hopes that your wellness program will be the most successful it can be.  Here are 5 of our budget-friendly wellness ideas:

  1.  Wellness Committees.  If you don’t have a wellness committee, you should.  Sure you may have to pay these employees for their time on your committee during the work shift, but these are the people who are out in the workplace who know what will work and what won’t.  They will also be your CREATIVE TEAM!  As a client of HPA’s, we can run these committees for you, we can sit on them consistently to offer our experiences, or we can do a one time visit – whichever you prefer!
  2. Health Fair.  This is one of my favorites.  All you have to do is pick the date and time.  Your benefit vendors, local health food stores, hospitals, gyms, and more show up and do all the work for you!  It’s about introducing local resources to your employees to support them in your journey.  Vendors will typically provide decent door prizes, too.
  3. Parking Tickets.  During the warmer months, take a trip once a week (or as frequently as you’d like) into your parking lot.  On the cars parked the farthest away, leave them a “parking ticket”.  On that ticket, it will tell the employee that they have parked HEALTHILY and once they collect 3 tickets, they can turn them in to you to claim their prize.  This can be something tangible and low budget like a water bottle, t-shirt (it’s amazing what people will do for trinkets!), or something non tangible like a free jean day, or 4 hours of PTO, whatever you’d like!
  4. Healthy Selfies.  We have to give credit to one of the agencies we work with for coming up with this one.  They had their employees submit “Healthy Selfies” – photos of themselves doing something healthy.  After collecting photos, they sent them out to their staff to vote on their favorites.  Not only did they have fun with it (and was it completely FREE), but it allowed employees to see all the other fantastic healthy things their peers were doing, were able to share about this great fitness class they were a part of, share their favorite walking route, and more!
  5. Scavenger Hunt.  Have your committee (or some fantastic volunteers) stand at different points of your facility or campus with a clue directing participants to their next destination (ever seen The Amazing Race?) but they have to answer a health and wellness trivia question to earn their next clue  Once they reach their final destination, they can earn a trinket or maybe everyone who completes it goes into a drawing to win a day of PTO, tshirts, gift cards – whatever you prefer!

I could go on all day with budget friendly wellness ideas, but I’ll stop here.  Talk to Health Plan Advocate to see how we can help you with your program!

What Is Cholesterol

   Ryan Hall  MS, CSCS, Wellness Coordinator

Something that comes up a lot during Health Screenings and Health Coaching are questions around: “What is Cholesterol?”

Cholesterol is in the fats in your blood. Two types of cholesterol exist: LDL, which is also known as low-density lipoprotein and HDL, which is also known as high-density lipoprotein. LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol, because it causes a buildup of plaque in the arteries. HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol because it helps the body get rid of excess fat in the blood by carrying it away from the organs to the liver, so that it can be removed.

Ok, that’s all fine and dandy, but why do we need to be so mean to the poor lipoproteins and start calling them names! Look here, LDL cholesterol isn’t necessarily bad. Wait! What did he just say! Yeah, you heard me, it’s not all bad. LDL cholesterol plays an important function in the body, if not, it wouldn’t be there and our bodies sure wouldn’t be producing it naturally. So, what does it do then?

LDL Cholesterol is produced in the liver as a transport mechanism for fat to be taken to the organs that utilize fat as an energy source. FYI, the brain can only use fat as an energy source. So these lipoproteins serve a pretty important purpose, get energy to your brain so you don’t die! The problem with LDL is it has a tendency to drop fat particles as it travels to the organs. This is where HDL comes in. HDL transports excess fats in the blood stream back to the liver to be reprocessed. Let’s make an analogy out of this cause well, that’s how I understand stuff best.

LDL is a worker carrying a load of wood pellets down a hallway to a stove (ie, your brain) to get it working. He has so many pellets in his hands that he has a tendency to drop some along the way. Well along comes HDL, the cleaning crew, and he picks up the dropped pellets out of the hallway and takes them back to the recycling center (your liver) to get them ready to be picked up again. This works out great in a 1:1 ratio, LDL : HDL. Now let’s say that we have hundreds of workers carrying pellets to the stove, each dropping some along the way and only a handful of cleaning crew members trying to pick it all up. Ugh oh, anyone else see the problem? Sooner or later the small cleaning crew just can’t keep up and the hallway gets clogged up. Can anyone say clogged arteries? This is why we like to see low LDL numbers and high HDL numbers. Now this is a very simplified version of what LDL and HDL do for the body. As we all know, the body doesn’t like to be simple in any way, shape or form. Just know that the best way to make changes is to know what your numbers are. So get your screenings done so you know where to start.