A Professional Journey to Better Health: Mindful Eating

Sprint 3 of Agile Approach to Behavior Change and Weight Loss 

7/5/15

Well, it’s been an interesting few weeks. The excitement of making a change and incorporating new eating behaviors into my life were distracted by life: a busy week at work, some financial stress, family visiting, and an anniversary. Lots of people get through stress and celebrations without destructive food behavior, but for me it’s a challenge. In my last blog, I said I’d focus on mindful eating. A University of California San Francisco (UCSF) study on the effects of stress on eating behavior and obesity, has shown that “mindful eating—slowing down to consider why, what and when we’re eating—can help us regain control over how much we eat. Moreover, other simple strategies for combating stress, like taking a walk or getting other physical activity, can short-circuit our reflex to turn to food for comfort.” Sounds simple doesn’t it? It seems like anyone could do that.

In times of stress and celebration, I immediately turn to food. This behavior has been deep rooted in me my entire life. “When we are stressed, the biochemistry of our blood changes,” says Elissa Epel, a research psychologist at the UCSF. In response to stress, we produce a hormone called cortisol, which “alerts the brain to look out for those sweet, high-fat foods,” according to Dr. Epel. “When cortisol has stimulated our appetite, it’s one of the strongest drives we have, like the drive to seek a drug.” In a world where we’re often stressed and often surrounded by sugar-laden, high-fat foods, that cortisol-fueled reaction can be a recipe for weight gain.

Everyone out there who has fallen into this cycle knows how hard it is to escape. I beat myself up for not doing what I’d say we would do, and it’s a downward spiral from there. The fact is, I’m going to need help to start reversing behaviors that I’ve practiced my entire life. So that’s what I’m seeking next. I’ll let you know in a few weeks how it’s going.

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Optimizing social media accounts – professional and personal

On the edge of my seat I waited for the Account Executive to be named for my first real campaign project with an actual client. College had been enlightening so far, but collaborating with an established client is what I needed to better understand the process involved in launching a campaign.

“…And heading the Florida Heritage Book Festival project is Leslie.” As my teacher spoke a smile emerged inside. ‘Some real practice,’ I thought. That whole semester I worked diligently planning, keeping in contact with stakeholders, and implementing strategic processes. College became more hands on then ever. I mean, true, I’ve taken social and digital media classes, where reading the latest on AdAge and posting a weekly blog was a must, but this… this was helpful.

Through various brainstorm sessions with my group, we decided to put into operation a few of Google’s numerous applications. Through the use of Google AdWords, and the many outlets it offers, like Bots, Analytics and Webpage managers, the semester’s intense workload slowly began transforming into a brain tantalizing learning experience. The web is a large place, with powerful tools in every nook and cranny… learning how to use those instruments, though, was propelling.

Throughout the semester and semester’s following, search engine optimization (SEO) intrigued me. What’s more hectic and bustling than a city sidewalk as the sun rises? The World Wide Web as the sun is setting. Each and every social media site clambers with thousands upon thousands of users with many searching for answers, information, people, or just a laugh. The task of corralling some of these users to your site, however, is where it gets tricky.

During my research I’ve stumbled upon some helpful hints companies use to boost SEO. The following 6 tips will help you enhance your social media presence without adding endless amounts of time and work to your already frenzied day.

1.   Content marketing.  The single best way to boost search engine optimization. Don’t just post your opinions in a blog – add a picture of yourself, your dog, or your business’s recent accomplishment. The more tags attached to your post, the more people you can potentially reach.

2.   Be aware of Googlebots. Googlebots’ main job is to scan new or recently edited pages in order to correctly add them to Google’s index. It detects links and uses them as the bases for their understanding and engagement of the site. If you have a fairly new site and are unsure if Google search even knows you are up and running, then try having your site “crawled” by these “spiders.”

3.   Post a lot, just not too much. You don’t want readers searching for too long, OR immediately clicking the red “x” at the top of the page because they are overwhelmed. Find a balance. If people cannot find recent and relevant information on your site, then they are not likely to return. Adversely, posting more than seven times a week can be on the grating side. 

4.   Stay up to date. According to Business 2 Community, every 9-24 months the amount of content on the Internet DOUBLES. Yes, you want to release information on a consistent basis, however, you want the information to be applicable. Distribute information that is not only interesting to you and your organization, but that will also make the person whose favorite thing to do on the web is click actually stop and look.

5.   Consider a content curator. There are a tremendous amount of platforms in 2015 that allow you to create one post and have it delivered to the Internet across multiple accounts. “Hootsuite” and “If This Then That” are just a couple of the many social media management systems that allow for easy employment of consistent brand identity.

6.   Be creative. ALWAYS be on the look out for ways to get your message across and your name out there. Whether it is experimenting with video, Prezi, or GIFs, there will continue to be a “new and improved” way to deliver your content.

All in all, POST, POST, POST. Some of my personal suggestions? Post your favorite link to FunnyorDie.com, record a comical video of you and coworkers, or share a heartwarming story from your town. Above all, don’t let your social media accounts slip under the radar.

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A Professional Journey to Better Health: Purpose

Sprint 2 of Agile Approach to Behavior Change and Weight Loss

In my professional life, we set a vision for our programs before we start the agile approach to fulfilling the vision. So, I spent some time documenting my goals for this journey to better health and surprised myself. What are my objectives? I immediately wrote down “feel better” and “look better.” I came up with goals, strategies, and measurements to support those objectives and thought—Good for you. You did it. Onward. But these are the same objectives I’ve had for my whole life, and they never carried me through the difficult journey of behavior change. Because—really— they are results. I was reminded of Simon Sinek’s, Start With Why, and the way we approach all of our behavior change campaigns and programs at Brunet-Garcia. We begin with what is the “purpose,” or “why?” Then we can get to the “how” and “what.”  Simon Sinek goes on to explain that when we communicate from the order of “why,” then “how,” then “what,” rather than the opposite order, we communicate first to the part of the brain that directly controls behavior—the limbic brain—then we allow people to rationalize with analytical thought—using the neocortex.

In this case, I’m communicating with myself. When I set goals of feeling better and looking better, there are many barriers to achieving long-term results. For instance, sometimes I feel better after just a few short weeks of changing my behavior—starting to exercise or eating better—then I stop. Goal accomplished. Or sometimes, I come down a size or even two and really look better. Good enough. I’m back to my old behavior, and I’ve gained the weight back plus extra before I know it.

What I believe is simple: I want to live fully. I want to take the gifts I have been given and apply them to the fullest extent in my life. Do you know that feeling you have when you give all of yourself to life? When you truly believe in something and can make a difference? Many “hows” and “whats” may fall out of that, but the “why” is at the center.

So how does the idea of living fully motivate me to change my eating behaviors? It’s such a positive concept that it feels worthy of addressing. It goes beyond my previous goals, which felt selfish and had an end. Some of the most inspiring people I know seem to never stop trying to live fully, and they will do whatever it takes to move aside barriers to achieve this purpose. Feeding our body with nutritious foods and avoiding foods that harm us is a basic behavior that fuels our ability to function to our fullest extent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9 of 10 Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. “The kind of food that we eat is the kind that’s most profitable to market, process and produce. Not necessarily the food that’s best for society as a whole,” said Dr. John Ikerd, Agricultural Historian and Economist, University of Missouri-Columbia.

The vast majority of the food I had been eating was pre-packaged convenience food or fast food. It fit my lifestyle but negatively affected the quality of my life in every way imaginable. Over the past sprint, I spent a couple of hours planning meals for the week and found a grocery store that recently opened about 15 minutes from my home, Freshfields Farms. They keep it simple—fresh produce, meats, some dairy, and that’s it.  Once home, I prepped all the vegetables and fruit into individual servings, marinated chicken and froze for later in the week, then prepared salads and two meals for dinners and lunches, along with breakfast egg and veggie cups that would last a few days. This took about three hours. During the week, I could grab food on the go just as I would have in the past—but now the food was wholesome.

My eating wasn’t perfect, but in alignment with the agile approach, progress rather than perfection is the goal. I increased the percentage of my whole food, home-prepared main meals from 17% to 78%. My daily energy level was much higher, and I lost 4.2 pounds. It was a productive couple of weeks, but just like the rest of us struggling with our weight, a couple of weeks of progress for me can be reversed in a heartbeat. I could easily gain back 4 pounds in a weekend.

For my next iteration—Sprint 2—I will focus on mindful eating. According to Weight of the Nation, “Research suggests that taking time to think about what we eat—and why we are eating—can be an effective way to attain and maintain a healthy weight.” I am going to log all of my food and eating behaviors into a food journal app along with continuing to prepare food in advance and improve the nutritional value in the food I consume. According to Dr. David Altshuler, Geneticist and Endocrinologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, “We underestimate how hard it is to change your behavior, not once, not for a week or a month till you’re cured, but to change it every day for the rest of your life.” For me, it’s going to require a sense of purpose to sustain the effort.

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A Professional Journey to Better Health

I’m one of those lucky people who has a great passion for my work. I’ve always loved marketing, advertising, and IT—as crazy as it can be.  After 20 years in the industry, I’ve landed with Brunet-Garcia, a company whose purpose is to create positive social impact. We work with our clients on health and safety behavior change campaigns that can improve and even save lives.

Recently, one of our national clients under Health and Human Services (HHS) referred to the Weight of the Nation—an Emmy-nominated HBO Documentary Films series on obesity. According to HBO, the project brings together “the nation’s leading research institutions including the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.” The four-part series discussed the consequences of being overweight or obese, the choices we can make to lose weight and maintain weight loss, the damage obesity is doing to our nation’s children, and challenges and major driving forces of the obesity epidemic.

I watched the series with great intensity as an example of the type of collaborative work our client would love to engage in to create a dialogue about the state of mental health in our nation. It was refreshing to see such an intelligent approach to an emotional subject.

In trying to address my own weight issues, I’ve read dozens of dieting books and hundreds of articles; I’ve joined at least 9 diet programs, and spent thousands of dollars losing weight, just to gain it back again and more.  I’m not alone. According to Weight of the Nation, “People who complete intensive weight-loss programs lose approximately 10% of their body weight. Once they stop the program, people tend to regain the weight they lost—about one-third within a year and almost all of it within 5 years.” The fact is, after years of trying and failing, the motivation I’ve felt on occasion to change my behavior faded quickly. Somehow, I could push it aside and live in my head. After all, I’m valued for my ideas—and rewarded for my ideas. Who wants to admit they are something as horrible sounding as “obese” or worse “morbidly obese?”  I’ll just push that aside and get back to everything else I love about life, thank you very much. 

I woke up one Saturday morning thinking about Weight of the Nation, my professional life, my family, and my health.  I had been very busy with work and eating the most convenient, pre-packaged foods available, while getting no exercise and rarely sleeping. It was a beautiful day to enjoy, and I just felt sick, heavier than ever with a complete lack of energy. I couldn’t help but think—if I can help solve very complex problems in my professional life, why haven’t I been able to do something seemingly as simple as maintaining a healthy weight?

 How would I approach this problem in my professional life? I’d utilize quantitative and qualitative research, consider behavior change methodologies, look at success models, identify motivation and barriers to accomplishing the objectives, and rank priorities. I plan every day of my professional life. There is never a day I leave the office without a plan for what I may do the following day. I learn from the successes of the brilliant and talented people and partners by whom I’m lucky to be surrounded. With my technical background, I gravitate to agile management principles.  Just as the word “agile” implies, it allows us to move and adapt flexibly with constant feedback and accountability.

I had just happened to hear a TED talk about Agile Programming for Your Family. It was an example of how a family used agile methods to organize the chaos in their family life. Why not take what I’ve learned from a successful professional life and apply it to change my behavior and improve my health?

The agile approach will include creating a vision of what I want to accomplish, a roadmap to identify and prioritize goals, a timeline, two week sprint—work cycle, or iteration—plans, daily journaling, sprint reviews, and for my sprint retrospectives, I’ll write another blog to discuss how the sprint went and what to improve on the next sprint. For my first sprint, I’ll be planning and preparing healthy food at home for the following few days in advance. I’ve found that if the food is convenient, I’ll eat it. As CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden says, “If you go with the flow in America today, you will end up overweight or obese, as two-thirds of Americans do.” So, here’s to trying something new.

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Face the Consequences

The hearts of several friends and family members were torn to pieces after receiving notice about a plane crash on Thursday, March 24, 2015, when Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into the French Alps, killing 150 passengers. What left people all over the world with great astonishment and complete jaw-dropping shock was the possible reason for the crash.

After searching and gathering evidence from the remains of the plane, it seems that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is the culprit for this unbelievable tragedy. Fingers pointed directly toward Lubitz after the cockpit voice recorder was recovered during the search. A few seconds of calm, composed breathing followed by screams and pounding knocks were heard through the recorder.

The investigation continues to unravel with more information giving something of an answer as to why this man chose to bring the plane down in its final flight. Investigators found medical reports in Lubitz’s home from his doctor stating that he was considered “unfit to work.”

So, how does a well-known European airline company recover from such a fear-generating, heart-breaking event?

Germanwings continues to send their deepest condolences to the friends and family members of the passengers on Flight 9525. Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, provided special flights from Barcelona and Dusseldorf to Marseille for friends and relatives of the passengers who passed away. Those who traveled to Marseille were taken to a location as close to the accident site as possible. The company also took the time to personally contact family members of the passengers individually, discussing any further details of the investigation. The airline company continues to show sympathy toward those who were greatly affected by this tragedy.

Both CEO Carsten Spohr of Lufthansa and CEO Thomas Winkelmann of Germanwings took the time to pay their respects to the victims of the crash at a memorial created in a small village near the crash site.

From a marketing perspective, the company is holding up its own. I don’t believe the brand will drastically suffer because of the immediate action it has taken in such a short period of time. Lufthansa and Germanwings airlines have taken great lengths to bring comfort and security to all of its customers, which in turn, will eventually build the customers’ trust with the company once again.

Germanwings is publicly showing compassion and sorrow for those who lost loved ones in the plane crash. The company was fully prepared to take responsibility and adapt to what the crisis brought forth.

During most crisis involving fatalities, companies will most likely use the apologetic approach. But in 2009, Toyota Motor Corporation decided to take a different route. Continue reading

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