Tag Archives: lifestyle

A Clean Slate, Or Is It?

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I’m always fascinated about trends, especially in the health and wellness industry. Coming from a background in public health and working in various sectors, including managing an employee wellness program, there were always conversations about the new “it” thing that’s “life changing.” But, at its core, most things are just that, trends. The underlying motivations to improve or change one’s life is what’s really important to understand. Brands such as hims and Russell Wilson’s Good Man Brand provide a platforms for education and engagement on relevant health issues. The search for understanding human behaviors is what ultimately piques my interest.

A few of Well + Good’s top 18 of 2018 fitness and wellness trends that caught my eye:

Self-care is not an indulgence

High-tech sleep science in the bedroom

Analog destinations to unplug are the new “it” spots

The examples above fall under lifestyle changes, specifically on the ever elusive work-life balance sweet spot working professionals are always striving to achieve. While work-life balance is highly personalized, the fundamental question is true for everyone: how should I prioritize my time to maximize my productivity in professional and personal fulfillment? And what better time to ask this fundamental question than on the first few days of the new year.

Lindsay Jean Thomson, a regular contributor on Medium, offered an alternative to the annual resolution-setting ritual. In her piece, she encourages her readers to set a theme for the year rather than a goal-oriented resolution. This strategy empowers readers to focus on an improvement in lifestyle over singular goals.

New year’s resolutions such as losing weight or training for a marathon are admirable. Ms. Thomson also points out that only 8% of people actually keep them. By focusing on a theme or vision of how each of us wants to live in 2018 (and beyond), it provides a road map that can be a source of constant feedback and adjustment. It forces us to pay more attention to our behaviors, and maybe, just maybe, it forces us to examine the underlying motivations for said behaviors.

Unfortunately, no one really has a silver bullet answer or life hack that translates to conquering work-life balance. That answer lies within each of us and is a moving target. It is an evolving process of self-awareness, reflection, and readjustment. For that reason, the best advice I can pass on is from Ms. Thomson:

“Whether you choose a resolution, a vision, a theme, or something else, be kind to yourself — because it’s not just about what you do, but how you do it.”

Here’s wishing each of you an introspective, intentional, and personally fulfilling 2018. And remember, nothing worth doing is ever easy.

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Public Health in Action – Communities Creating a Culture of Health

images I first heard about SEEDS through a community email listserv that my roommate sent me.  SEEDS frequently has volunteer opportunities throughout the year and I signed up for their most recent annual fundraiser, Pie Social.  It was such a fun event!  People donated all kinds of pies that day from sweet to savory to pizza – they were all there for everyone to enjoy.  One of the most inspiring aspects of that event was the community’s support.  Well-renowned chefs and residents alike spent hours to create delicious expressions of edible art.  And all the attendees were more than happy to splurge on various delicacies.  Veterans of the event even brought Tupperware to share their pie-riches with family and friends.

After volunteering, I wanted to learn more about SEEDS and was connected with another volunteer Prathima Kannan.  Here’s my interview with her…

Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?

Prathima Kannan: Right now, I work at Alamance County Health Department as a Registered Dietician for the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and also have a small nutrition private practice.  How I got here was a combination of interest and personal experience. During college and in my 20s, I struggled with my weight and nutrition. I chose to eat unhealthy foods; ate to cope with difficult emotions; ate mindlessly; and decided not to exercise most of the time. I dealt with the consequences of these choices: abnormal lab values and weight gain.  It was clear that these symptoms had a negative impact on my health, but less obvious were the negative impact on my self-esteem, social experiences and my work life.  I needed to make changes quickly and I revamped my diet, increased my physical activity levels, and changed my attitude towards living a healthy lifestyle—it doesn’t have to be drudgery.  I discovered that eating healthful foods can be delicious and that exercise can be enjoyable – all of which I had utterly dismissed in the past.   Though it all seemed too simple and straight-forward, it worked: today my lab values normalized and I feel radically different.  My own struggle with weight inspired me to help people change their lives through behavior modification, with particular focus on their diet. I found that health could be reversed through lifestyle changes, and since I wanted to help people on a community level, I chose to work at the Health Department. How did I find SEEDS? I went to graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill School of Public Health for Nutrition. I went into the program with an interest in growing food, gardening, nutrition and cooking and I wanted to find a place where I could combine these interests to help children or adults.   In the break room some students were talking about SEEDS and I also remember my Professors mention the organization in the context of increasing access to healthy food and improving community health through community gardening.  I made a mental note to follow up and started volunteering in 2014.  At SEEDS, I work with kids and I really wanted to show them that healthy living and prevention can be fun.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

PK: What drives me is running into kind, friendly, helpful people anywhere in the word who work hard to realize their dreams or make a positive difference in the world.  Sometimes, after meeting a terrible person, I get jaded.  My spirits are immediately lifted after I run into someone great. Animals, especially wildlife, also inspire me. I admire their strength to keep going despite damage to their environment.  They are truly resilient.

Me: What do you think it will take for our healthcare systems to improve?

PK: Our healthcare system can improve in many ways.  One way that comes to mind is putting more holistic, preventive programs, individual care and initiatives in place, especially when dealing with diet-related chronic disease. Healthcare should be more coordinated as well. Physicians and other members of the healthcare team should really work more with registered dietitians, exercise physiologists, personal trainers, health psychologists and others to help a patient change behaviors/lifestyle instead of immediately writing a prescription.  Our healthcare system is too dependent on medicine and physicians for every diet-related health issue, and it’s not effective.  Despite the development of new medications, obesity and diabetes rates, for example, continue rise every year.

Me: Why do you think education is important?  Specifically, tie in your work with SEEDS on teaching kids about nutrition.

PK: Health education and health communication are key.  A quote I found from World Health Organization really resonates with me: “The focus of health education is on people and action.  In general, its aims are to encourage people to adopt and sustain healthful life patterns, to use judiciously and wisely the health services available to them, and to make their own decisions, both individually and collectively, to improve their health status and environment.” Excellent and accessible health education combined with health communication plays a huge role in whether or not someone will adopt positive health behaviors.  Children are faced with many choices that could affect their health on a daily basis.  Without being informed, it’s hard for a child to make smart, healthful decisions.  My goal at SEEDS is to encourage the kids I teach to take action and take control of their health after learning nutrition and healthful cooking skills.  After each lesson, I want them to eat more fruits and vegetables and know why they are beneficial; I want them to know how to eat healthfully when there are financial constraints or transportation and access issues to the best of their ability; I want them to make excellent health promoting decisions when faced with temptation like exposure to unhealthy foods at the supermarket, disease promoting internet and TV advertisements that are actually geared towards them, or possibly exposure to unhealthy eating habits of their peers or adults.

Me: What are the current needs in Durham (or where you live), as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)

PK: Reducing or eliminating health disparities is a current need.  Health disparities definitely exist in Orange County, NC. I see it every day.  Priority health issues in Orange County are access to health care, insurance and information; chronic disease/health promotion, exercise and nutrition; mental health and substance abuse; and injury.  This is based on the most recent Healthy Carolinians of Orange County’s Community Health Assessment.  The social determinants of these issues seem to be poverty, education level and whether or not someone lives in safe housing and in a health promoting environment (ie: Do they have access to a supermarket or farmers’ market? Do they live near a park or trail? Are there sidewalks?).  It is certainly known that people with higher incomes and more years of education who live in a healthy and safe environment tend to have better health outcomes and generally live longer.

Public Health in Action – Health Doesn’t Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

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Braden Rawls
CEO, Vital Plan

I met Braden at a startup event coordinated by the Triangle Startup Weekend crew.  I was there as a volunteer, but I met some interesting people and they insisted that I talk with Braden.  The “theme” or scope of that weekend was to drive more women into entrepreneurship since other events consisted of a majority male audience.  From what I heard, the turnout was 70/30 in favor of women and they had some great ideas.  Braden embodies the mentality and determination it takes to succeed and I hope she inspires more women to jump into the entrepreneurship world.

Now let’s get to the interview!

Me: Tell us about Vital Plan and how you got involved.  Start from high school or college and describe your evolution into your current role.

Braden: My major at UNC-Chapel Hill was Public Relations in the Journalism school; I really enjoyed the classes, but wasn’t sure where I wanted to take the degree. Most PR graduates work for an advertising firm after college, but I didn’t feel called to go that route. Towards the end of my sophomore year, I heard about a new “entrepreneurship” minor in the works. I thought that sounded like a good complement to my major and a chance to learn something new.

One class in and I was hooked. We went through case studies of great entrepreneurs over the past century and it was fascinating to me how they were able to turn “problems” into opportunities. I felt a connection immediately to the students and professors in this entrepreneurship community who were also energized by “problem solving.” I decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur; I just needed an idea! This was before the startup boom in Raleigh/Durham, so there were not a lot of resources for someone who wanted to start a company or work for a startup.

After I graduated, I took a job in Raleigh with a successful entrepreneur as his “right hand” assistant. I learned a ton, but really wanted to pursue my own startup company. Knowing this, my dad presented me with the idea of helping him to turn his passions and expertise around herbal therapy into a scalable business model.  I started working on this nights and weekends, and it quickly became a passion. It took several years of nights and weekends to develop a profitable business where I could go full time and hire staff, but it was worth it. I love what I do, and Vital Plan is well positioned for growth. It’s an exciting time!

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

Braden: My team at Vital Plan. Everyone has put so much hard work into building this company and it saddens me when I realize there is a possibility that it could all cave in. My father is so passionate and sincere about helping people to improve their health and I think it would be a shame if we cannot succeed in connecting him with the right audience to hear this message. Also our angel investors took a leap to invest in a “non-tech” company and have extended much more of their time than the average investor. I am motivated to make this a success for them in appreciation for their tremendous support and encouragement.

Also, the realization that I need to pay my bills and won’t have a graduate degree or savings to fall back on if Vital Plan doesn’t grow. Ha! That is of course a huge motivating factor once you choose the startup route over grad school or a corporate job.

Me: What do you think it will take for our society to view health more seriously?  As in, why is health lower in priority to careers and education and relationships?

Braden: I think the realization that 95% of health symptoms are being fueled by our own actions is the key. When it sets in for people that their diet or stressful lifestyle makes them feel sick and uncomfortable, they are much likely to step up and take accountability for their actions. It is easy to avoid accountability when you have a mindset that your digestive issues, pain, and fatigue fell out of the sky and made you a victim. When you finally accept that those symptoms are a direct result of your daily actions, such as overindulging in sugar, drinking, or adrenaline, there is no one else to blame and it becomes easier to halt destructive behaviors.

Me: What are some things/concepts/ideas you’ve seen either here in the U.S. or abroad that, if disseminated in an effective way, would change how people think about their own health?

Braden: Stress is a big contributing factor to illness. The good news is, the most effective stress management techniques are free! Learning simple breathing exercises and short meditations to incorporate into your day can make a huge difference. Meditations can be effective before stress hits, because they prepare you to handle difficult situations when they come your way.

And of course I have to plug herbal therapy. America left herbal therapy in the dust years ago for the promise that pharmaceutical treatments offered. While drug therapy can be very powerful in acute situations, there is a lot of power in herbal medicine for managing stress and encouraging wellness. I am so happy to see a movement building in America to embrace natural therapies.

Me: What are the current needs in your city as they relate to social determinants of health (ie SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?  Social determinants of health are any factors that directly or indirectly affect health.  For example, being homeless could cause stress and malnutrition which could drastically affect one’s health.

Braden: The 9 to 5 sedentary workday is a huge health threat that is flying under the radar. Sitting at a computer screen all day is terrible for your digestion, cardiovascular health, blood flow, etc. and a contributing factor to obesity. Not to mention that these environments encourage consumption of sugar and processed foods. I think that companies who encourage their employees to take short breaks throughout the day and give them space to accommodate this will go a long way. Offering healthful snacks and limiting sugary temptations like doughnuts and cupcakes is also a huge step in the right direction.