The memo just went around –
To: All Employees. We will be sponsoring a corporate health fair in two weeks. Health- care professionals will be on hand to measure your cholesterol level, your body mass index, assess your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and offer free wellness advice, etc….
Unfortunately, you are reading the memo over while enjoying your morning coffee and jelly donut, and thinking to yourself, “Oh great, just what I need, I know they are look- ing to raise my health insurance premium, or cut my benefits all together…”
First up, don’t panic. In most cases a third party runs the health fair and they will not share your personal information with the company, they just put together charts tell- ing management how many people in the company are fat or smoke, or who partake in other unhealthy activities such as not wearing their seatbelts. So instead of looking at this as an “I gotcha” – look at as an opportunity. If you do have healthy habits your health insurance may get cheaper, and if you do not – we’ve developed this guide* to show you some simple ways to beat them at their own game, punch up those numbers, and maybe just get you a little healthier in the process. So put down the cinnamon bun, and read on…
What Will They Be Looking At?
One of the first things they will assess at a health fair is your Body Mass Index, or BMI. BMI technically is a measure of how much mass your heart has to pump blood through, but basically it is a snapshot way to look at your body fat based on your height and weight. There are various BMI calculators online where you just punch in your height and weight and get the result. You can find one by logging onto HealthStatus.com, at http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/bmi . If you scored in the normal weight range, great you’re cool – but if you’re like most people you probably hit the over- weight, or even the obese range. If you fall into either of those categories it’s a good idea to bring that number down. The bad news is there are only two ways to do that, grow taller, or lose weight – The good news is, you have two weeks to shed a few extra pounds. In some cases a loss of just 10 pounds is enough to drop someone from the “Overweight” range to the “Normal”. For example a person who is 5”9 175 lbs would have a BMI of 25.8 which puts them in the “Overweight” category – that same person at
165 would score 24.4 – in the “Normal” range.
Most health fairs will likely use a “finger stick” to take a small sample of blood and measure your cholesterol, blood glucose (sugar), and triglyceride levels. They will also check your blood pressure. BMI, blood glucose, cholesterol/triglyceride level and blood pressure, together are known as “biometrics”, and are used to evaluate a person’s overall health, and his or her risk of developing certain conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The two week program of a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes we are going to suggest might bring all of these numbers down to the normal range at the time of screening
– after that keeping them there is all up to you. It all starts with a good cleaning.
The best way to get those biometrics in the normal range by the time of the company health fair is to start with as clean a slate as possible, and that means detoxification. Detoxification is the way to cleanse your body of accumu- lated substances from processed or junk foods and other toxins such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Now don’t worry, we are not suggesting that you need to go spend two weeks drinking grass at a retreat somewhere. You just need to cut down on the coffee, booze, saturated fats, and sugar. A classic detoxification diet goes hand-in-hand with a diet that can help to get all of your biometrics into that all-important normal range. In other words the same recommendations that can detoxify your body can also help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. A two-week detoxification starts with drinking water, and lots of it, at least two to three liters a day. An easy way to accomplish this? Try substituting a glass of water for at least two cups of coffee and/or soda per day.
Other ways to detox over the next two weeks include:
• Cut out the booze. It may be rough, especially if the “Big Game” happens to be smack dab in the middle of the two- week lead up to the fair. But abstaining for two weeks will lower your triglycerides, and could help lead to weight loss. Like most of the recommendations you will find in this report, cutting out or down on alcohol has a ripple effect. Drinking usually goes along with eating junk food and salty snacks, cut out the drink and you cut down on the junk.
• Say Goodbye to The Sweets. Having a “sweet tooth” isn’t just an expression – it’s a genetic reality. Our brains are wired to crave sugar. It’s been found that sugar stimulates the same “pleasure centers” in the brain as morphine. But the “high” comes with a “high” price, such as “high” cholesterol and “high” blood pres- sure, since most of the foods laden with sugar, are also loaded with fat and cholesterol. The key to cutting down on sugar intake is not so much in cutting out the obvious like cakes and Snickers bars, that is not where most of us get “sugared up” anyway. The key is to try to avoid the added sugars like high fructose corn syrup that manufacturers load into allsorts of prepared foods, including breads, pasta, ketchup, and salad dressing. Sugar is not always obvious. Look for things on the label like sucrose, or anything else ending in “-ose”, dextrin, and malt, or corn syrup – these are all sugar. To detox from sugar over the next two weeks try using spices such as cinnamon, almond or vanilla extract to sweeten foods and beverages. Feed your craving for sweets with fruits. The fiber and antioxidants will again have added benefits and help you achieve your goal of beating those tests.
• Boot the “Bad Fats”. You have heard the drill; there are “good fats” and “bad fats”. If you are afraid of the results of your biometric screening, you have probably been eating more than your share of the “bad”. The bad guys are the saturated fats that are in most animal products like beef and full-fat dairy products, and the man-made bogeymen; trans-fat and hydrogenated fats. You know how some products seem like they can stay on the shelf for- ever? Usually that’s because of trans-fats. The problem is once the stuff gets into our bodies, it’s damn hard to get rid of too. As you have probably heard there are two kinds of cholesterol, one “good” one “bad”. Saturated fats raise the “bad” kind of cholesterol (LDL). The nasty trans-fats, not only raise the “bad” cholesterol, they decrease the “good” (HDL). A Harvard university study links over 30,000 heart disease related deaths a year directly to inges- tion of trans-fats. The saturated fats in animal tissue also hold all the toxins in them that the animal ingested including antibiotics, growth hormones, and pesticides. In our two week cleansing period, try switching from whole milk to 1% for the first week and then skim milk for the second, by the time of the health fair your taste buds will become used to the difference. You will reject the taste of whole milk as too creamy, and you will have significantly reduced your intake of saturated fats. You should try the same way of switching to all low-fat, and eventually, non-fat dairy products. At the very least, lay off of heaps of mayonnaise and butter. Of course the rich desserts have to go. If you have an uncontrollable urge for a piece of chocolate cake, or hunk of pie, try this: instead drink a large glass of water and set a timer for 10 minutes, by then the craving should pass – and if it does not go for half of the portion you would normally take.
So now that you know how to clean up your act over the next two weeks, what else should you be doing to prepare between now and D-day? We’ve given you some general tips, but now lets take a look at some specific aspects of your diet. Its not always about what you eat, although we will get into that, but also the way you eat. Over the next two-weeks we need to look seriously at portions and meal times.
• Step 1 – How much do you eat at one seating, and how often do you feel hungry enough to have the urge to eat? The answer to both questions is likely too much and too often. But in two weeks you can train your body to break this routine. You need to set up a schedule of 3-4 times per day to eat on so your body will learn to be hungry only at certain times in the day. In our “Super-Size” culture, most Americans also have no clue as to what a “normal” portion is. Whatever it is you are eating, you must cut back on the portion size. Without getting into a lengthy discussion of “How many ounces of lean meat” and “how many calories” should be on your plate, you can downsize by simply not eating until you feel you can’t take another bite, but only until you feel just about full. Or better yet, lay out your normal portion of whatever, and cut it in half.
• Step 2 – What are you eating and how regularly are you eating it? Cutting out fast food entirely would be recommended, but if giving up fast food for two-full weeks seems like a daunting task, try going once a day, or better yet every other day instead of running to the drive-thru for every meal, everyday. Have well balanced meals, high in protein low in fat, with whole grain breads and veggies. Skip the vending machine and replace between meal snacks with veggies or unsalted nuts. Have your biggest meal mid-day, and a smaller meal in the evening, with a light low-fat snack before bed. Do I have to give up dining out? No – but consider:
• Asking for whole grain instead of white breads, with olive oil instead of butter
• Asking for skim rather than whole milk or cream
• Asking for your salad dressing on the side
• Asking the chef to cook your dish in olive oil rath- er than butter or other oils, and trim all visible fat from meat or poultry
• Ordering your dish steamed, broiled, or baked whenever possible
Substitutes and Alternatives
While there may be some foods you just refuse to give up, whether eating at home
|Whole milk||Low-fat (1%), reduced-fat (2%), or fat-free (skim) milk|
|Ice cream||Sorbet, sherbet, low fat or fat-free frozen yogurt, or ice|
|Sour cream||Plain low-fat yogurt|
|Cream cheese||Neufchatel or “light” cream cheese or fat-free cream cheese|
|American cheese||Fat-free American cheese or other types of fat-free cheeses|
|Whole Eggs||Egg whites, Egg substitutes|
|Pasta with white sauce (alfredo)||Whole grain pasta with red (marinara) sauce|
|Pasta with meat or cheese sauce||Whole grain pasta with vegetables (primavera)|
|Coldcuts or lunch meats (bologna, salami, liverwurst, etc.)||Low-fat coldcuts (95 to 97% fat-free lunch meats, low-fat pressed meats)|
|Hot Dogs (regular Beef)||Chicken Dogs, or other low or reduced fat Hot Dogs made from poultry|
|Regular hamburgers||Extra lean ground beef, ground chicken, or ground turkey|
|Bacon or sausage||Turkey bacon or turkey sausage, or Canadian bacon, or lean ham slices|
|Regular ground beef||Extra lean ground beef, ground turkey, or ground chicken|
|Donuts, sweet rolls, muffins, scones, or pastries||Whole grain low-fat muffins, whole grain English muffins,|
|Crackers||Low-fat, low-salt crackers|
|Cookies||Low-fat cookies, graham crackers|
|Chips||Air popped popcorn, fruits, veggies|
|Butter or Regular Margarine||Light spread margarines, diet margarine, or whipped butter, tub or squeeze bottle|
|Regular mayonnaise||Low-fat or non-fat mayo|
|Regular salad dressings||Low-fat or non-fat Salad Dressings|
|Oils, shortening, or lard when cooking||Olive oil|
or out, there are healthier alternatives to things that might be in your diet that you should eliminate over the next two-weeks leading up to the screening. Consider: FOOD SUBSTITUTE
• Step 3 – Drink, drink, drink – water. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of increasing your water intake over the next two-weeks. Proper hydration is critical to weight loss and detoxification. Actually, a person should drink half their body weight in ounces of water each day, so if you weigh 180 pounds, you should drink 90 ounces of water each day. The more water you drink the more your system is cleaned and flushed out, so less sugar and carbs are accumulated from the food you are eating. Start reaching your water goal by eliminating soda and coffee entirely and replace with glasses of water instead.
• Step 4 – Here’s the one you were waiting for – Exercise. Now you do not have to go out and join a gym, but you do need to get moving. You need to do something everyday at least once a day over the next 14 that raises a sweat. Start off by going on to http://www.healthstatus.com/assessments.html There you can sign up for free and take a fitness assessment to get an idea of how prepared for exercise you are. 15- 20 minutes a day of actual aerobic exercise is great, but if that is not you – then do yard work, wash your car, make love – anything that gets the heart pumping and the sweat pouring. Walking is great. Start out walking the first day for 15 minutes, build to 20 minutes the second, and up to 30 minute a day by the third day. Once you are vigorously walking for 30 minutes every day you can burn 200 – 300 calories a day. Of course sports are great, volleyball, tennis, basketball, or swimming – but again we do not expect you to go from a couch potato to an Olympian in two-weeks, just find ways to be less sedentary and more active everyday. Consider:
• Washing and waxing a car for 45-60 minutes
• Washing windows or floors for 45-60 minutes
• Gardening for 30-45 minutes
• Raking leaves for 30 minutes
• Pushing a stroller 1.5 miles in 30 minutes
• Dancing fast (social) for 30 minutes
If you are starting to feel ambitious, as Arnold would say – “pump some iron”. Adding some weight training to your routine is great, not only for strength training, but muscle burns more calories than fat, the more lean muscle mass you have the more calories you burn. Your metabolism will soar, your BMI will drop, and you will start to look great too! If weight training is not for you check out http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc for more calorie burning activities
Eat to Beat Cholesterol
Next to BMI probably the biometric you fear most is your cholesterol number. Many of the suggestions we have made so far will help to lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol number, and raise your good (HDL). But if you know, or suspect that your cholesterol will be in the “danger zone” here are some specific steps that can be taken that have been proven to reduce LDL level by as much as 35% within two-weeks.
• Step 1 Eat More Fish. Certain fish contain an oil you may have heard of called ome- ga-3. Studies have found that omega-3 not only helps lower cholesterol, but also helps to reduce the chance of blood clot formation and protects against irregular heartbeats, which can cause heart attack and sudden cardiac death. The fish rich in omega-3s are salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and herring. In our two-weeks leading up to the screening have at least 3 ounces of omega-3 rich fish at least twice each week. You may also want to consider fish oil supplements, which can be found in the vitamin aisle of your supermarket or pharmacy.
• Step 2: Try New Recipes. Be adventurous. Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean you’ll hate it. As in the chart presented before, consider using soy products as a substitute for meat. Soy crumbles once flavored in tacos or “meat” sauce are vir- tually indistinguishable from ground beef. Consider as many substitutes from the earlier chart as you can find palatable. Bake or broil instead of frying, or stir-fry in a light cooking spray, remove chicken skin before cooking.
• Step 3: Drink Green Tea and Cranberry Juice. These next two weeks, have a few glasses of cranberry juice and or green tea everyday. Cranberries and green tea are rich sources of anthocyanins, flavonols, proanthocyanidins, and catechins, all of which are plant chemicals that have been proven in study after study to de- crease LDL levels and to limit the ability of LDL cholesterol to stick to artery walls. Not only that, but University of Scranton researchers reported that three glasses of cranberry juice a day can raise HDL levels up to 10 percent, and as an added bonus, a Taiwanese study found that drinking 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of green tea per day lowered the risk of high blood pressure by 46%. Blood pressure, remember, is another biometric they will be looking at the fair.
• Step 4: Have oatmeal for breakfast every morning. Oatmeal makers have been shouting for years that oatmeal and oat bran lower cholesterol. There is plenty of research to back them up. Rich in a soluble fiber called beta glucan, oatmeal can drop your LDL 12-24 percent if you eat one and a half cups regularly. Choose quick cooking or old-fashioned oats over instant.
• Step 5: Make all sandwiches on whole grain bread. Simply cutting back on simple carbs like white bread and eating more complex carbs, like whole grain bread and brown rice, can increase HDL levels slightly and significantly lower triglycerides, another type of blood fat that they will be screening for.
• Step 6: Use olive oil in to cook with, on breads, and in salads. A Baylor College of Medicine study found that diets rich in the kind of monounsaturated fat found in olive oil reduced LDL cholesterol.
Stressing out about the impending screenings, is probably not the only stress in your life, and taking steps to reduce stress in the two weeks leading up to the fair, can also help lower your blood pressure and maybe some of your other biometrics as well. It’s known as the mind body connection, and there is now incontrovertible proof that things like stress and negative emotions can and do affect our physical well-being. Over the next two weeks you may want to try engaging in some specific stress reducing activities such as yoga, or meditation – but if not here are 10 things you can do everyday to help you calm down and chill out.
• Learn to relax. Remember the old ads that said “you deserve a break today”? (OK I know that was for a fast food joint) but the point is, it’s true – you need to give yourself a break, everyday. At some point walk away from your desk, if possible, or if not right there just slowly take a deep breath in, hold it, and then exhale very slowly. Do this at at a 2:1 count, in other words inhale for four seconds, and exhale for 8. At the same time, just let go – smile, and say something positive like, “I am r-e-l-a-x-e-d.”
• Practice acceptance. Many people get distressed over things they won’t let themselves accept. Often these are things that can’t be changed, try accepting the things you can’t change like the way someone else feels about you – and stop stressing over it.
• Get a good nights sleep. It is recommended that you get at least 8 hours of sleep.
• Get organized. Develop a realistic schedule of daily activities that includes time for work, sleep, relationships, and recreation.
• Exercise. We’ve covered this a lot so far, but exercise is not just good for your physical well being it is a great stress buster, and it creates endorphins, which improve emotional outlook as well.
• Reduce time urgency. Slow down, pace not race, if you are the kind of person who frequently checks your watch, learn to take things a bit more slowly.
• Disarm yourself. Leave behind your “weapons” of blaming, shouting, having the last word, and putting someone else down.
• Quiet time. Find something you like doing and – do it. Balance your family, social, and work demands with a hobby or other private time.
• Learn to delegate. You can’t be responsible all the time, stop trying to do everything yourself, and start getting help from others.
• Talk to friends. Friendship is good medicine. Daily doses of conversation, regular social engagements, and occasional sharing of deep feelings and thoughts are excellent stress reducers.
Just Before the Screening
Depending on the testing methods to be used, you may or may not be instructed to fast for 12 hours prior to the health fair. If you are not told to fast, it is particularly important what you do eat. Ice cream and pizza the night before the screening will throw your triglycerides through the roof! Even if you have been instructed to fast, you can drink up until the time of the test, but water only – no caffeine or alcohol at all. Remember the Sienfeld episode about the poppy seed bagel? It is true poppy
seeds in baked and other goods ingested prior to blood draw can give a false positive on a drug test.
• Practice the deep breathing relaxation technique we mentioned just prior to your finger stick and blood pressure test. Stretch right before your BMI and be sure to stand without slouching, this can add as much as an inch to your height
• Be sure to tell the screener of any medications you are taking. Certain medications such as birth control pills effect cholesterol readings and antihistamines can cause elevated blood pressure.
• Ask how they are performing their cholesterol screening. When you get your cholesterol tested, make sure the screen includes HDL, LDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides. This will give you an accurate picture of your entire cholesterol profile. Often tests performed at health fairs look only at total cholesterol levels, which does not provide a complete picture of your cholesterol profile.
• One thing to always keep in mind, even if you have followed everything in this guide and you still receive results that you are not happy with, tests given at a company health fair are not always 100% accurate, nor given by the most qualified medical professionals. If you have followed our lifestyle advice over the past two weeks, and you do get test results out of the normal range that you feel will impact your employment – see your doctor and have an a full lab work up taken.
14 Day “To Do” List
• Day 1 – Put down the jelly donut and pick up a bran muffin, substitute water for soda, alcohol and coffee.
• Day 2 – If it’s close enough, start walking or bike riding to work – or use the stairs instead of the elevator, add at least one glass of cranberry juice and of one green tea to your daily liquid intake, start having oatmeal for breakfast every day.
• Day 3 – Add a 15 minute walk to your daily routine, fish rich in omega-3s for dinner.
• Day 4 – Get the walk up to 30 minutes, switch to whole grain bread when you make your sandwich for lunch today.
• Day 5 – Skip the burger joint, have whole grain pasta with red sauce for lunch, fish rich in omega-3s at dinner.
• Day 6 -Try bike riding to work today, or go out dancing tonight.
• Day 7 – No desserts between now and the fair, and no fried foods.
• Day 8 – Increase green tea to at least 3 cups per day, wash the car or mow the lawn.
• Day 9 – Treat yourself with a small amount of dark (not milk) chocolate, it’s antioxidants have been shown to lower blood pressure.
• Day 10 – Snacks today and up until the fair should be carrots, bananas, and celery. Be sure to have at least 8 glasses of water.
• Day 11 – No fast foods from today on, add weight training to your exercise routine.
• Day 12 – Treat yourself to dinner out – If it’s Italian remember, red sauce, primavera, whole grain pastas, Chinese – steamed dishes or dishes that say “jum” (poached) not fried, Mexican – spicy chicken, rice and black beans.
• Day 13 – Practice stress reduction techniques, get a good nights sleep.
• Day 14 – Fast for 12 hours prior to screening if required, water only, no poppy seed baked goods. Dinner tonight should be: green salad with olive oil and vinegar, oven baked salmon, steamed broccoli, 1/2 sweet potato or 1/2 baked potato plain, no sour cream or butter! One slice of whole grain bread with olive oil if desired, glass of green tea.
Now go in confidence to the health fair, and use it for your benefit and not just your employers.
With the anxiety about the screenings removed you might just surprise yourself and find some easy ways to get even healthier. You undoubtedly feel and look better than you did two weeks ago. The path to better health that you started maybe just the way to improve your baseline biometrics, can be continued – the choice is yours.