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    Hale and hearty

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    Being healthy extends far beyond making the time to go to the gym every other day. Nicole Holgate finds out how the professionals plan to keep office workers at optimum mental and physical condition. 

    Extensive research on eating habits  at work by organisations such as Reed Employment and BaxterStorey caterer has shown that employers lose a large amount of productivity through poor eating habits, which in turn affects concentration levels, can add to stress and also cost firms financially in terms of loss of staff due to obesity-related illness. In a report carried out in November 2009 by the Government?s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), premature deaths among obese employees cost companies ?1.1 billion a year ? and a further ?1.45 billion due to sickness leave. In addition, cardiovascular diseases cost ?8.4 billion in lost productivity.

    One man working holistically on corporate nutrition is Tim Bean, who has collaborated with Champneys to create a corporate wellness programme after seeing what a difference his company, The Hard Edge, made to individual clients. He says the most common factors for those who work long hours, travel often and suffer disrupted sleep and eating patterns are loss of energy, swiftly followed by regular low-grade infections.

    He adds that too much coffee in the morning, often compounded with excessive alcohol from entertaining, can suppress testosterone, which is vital for energy. His clients were often not exercising enough, leading to back problems and other physical complaints. They had lost their ?drive?, and in a competitive environment, having energy to function effectively is paramount. This doesn?t necessarily mean people are unhealthy ? but they may be far more likely to develop ill health.

    Bean says that the programme at Champneys would come second to medical guidance if the client were genuinely ill. Its main target is to help someone organise their day so as to make time to eat and exercise properly. If they are a regular traveller, this is where their PA will come in.

    For some clients, says Bean, his company has made the decision to sit down with their PA and go through every step of their business travel itinerary to ensure their health is looked after properly when travelling. This involves timing flights to make sure they eat regularly; if they arrive at a hotel after 11pm, for instance, will there still be room service available? They have even phoned ahead to restaurants to ensure they could provide healthier eating options.

    The final challenge, adds Bean, is telling the PA they have to make space in their boss?s diary for regular exercise. By this point, the PA is often following all of these healthy eating rules themselves.

    Meanwhile, within the office, there needs to be a tailored approach to staff eating routines. Eating at your desk, for example, should be discouraged. Surveys highlight the social and integrative nature of eating as aiding communication between employees. Bringing eating into the spotlight will also increase peoples? awareness of what they are consuming.

    A canteen in an office can easily offer grilled alternatives to high-fat fried foods, and other tasty but low-fat options in a ?health by stealth? policy. If your office doesn?t have a canteen, it might be worth going down the route of introducing a healthy-eating initiative to your workplace. Kate Cook is a nutritionist who has been involved in corporate wellness for 13 years, with clients such as EDF, the Bank of England, SKANSKA and Investec. She feels that nutrition is a neglected side of people?s wellness, pointing out that ?even quite aware people get a lot of their information from the telly?. Ingrained attitudes she has come across include people who simply go on a low-calorie diet to lose fat, and she stresses that eating properly will help maintain a healthy body weight more easily.

    She adds that healthy eating must come as part of an attitude of not only taking time out to eat but planning time so that you can prepare and enjoy your food. Rather than reserving ?being healthy? for the evening or your time at the gym, it has to be brought into work as a continuation of the whole. Her first tip for nutrition is to eat breakfast. A 2008 survey of office workers for BaxterStorey found the estimated cost to the UK per year of skipping breakfast alone is ?8.1 billion, or 46.5 million working days. Graham Monger of NewVita adds to this by saying that the typical English breakfast foods of toast or cereal are a bad idea: high carbohydrates will make you hyper for a few hours and then leave you in a slump well before lunchtime, meaning you?ll be more likely to reach for the biscuits by mid-morning. He recommends eating protein such as salmon, meat and nuts as your first meal of the day to help aid your memory and your energy levels. It?s all a question of re-educating your palate. 

    NewVita?s approach is based on what is known as the BioSignature Modulation. This involves measuring a person?s body fat in 12 areas such as the stomach, arms and back. Each employee is assessed individually in this way to show which of their hormones are imbalanced. Monger says by far the most common is a high level of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. This is caused by the obvious ? stress ? and a clear sign of high cortisol is stomach fat or, in layman?s terms, a pot belly. To counter this he recommends Omega 3 capsules alongside protein naturally high in the oils, such as fish ? just six grams a day can make a difference, he claims.

    Taking supplements is only scratching the surface. The next culprit on Monger?s list is the amount of sugar people consume. This is not necessarily processed sugar and sweets, but high carbohydrates, which are digested into a form of sugar, causing a similar rise and fall in energy. This is shown in people?s second most commonly imbalanced hormone, their insulin levels. But, adds Monger, his clients often aren?t interested in the science as long as they see the results. The corporate programme will be tailored to each individual and broken into stages, which, he says, ?people are very happy to go along with once they see the difference? ? increased energy and often long-desired weight loss.

    Five ways to eat well. Experts agree that teaching people the framework for good nutrition, rather than telling them what to eat, motivates people to look after themselves far more. Here are her top tips for better eating.
    1) Eat breakfast, preferably some protein.
    2) Plan your meals. What people eat day-to-day is largely an accident: they buy what they feel like eating or whatever is on offer. If you are planning your meals, you?ll know exactly what you want. Order an organic box of seasonal vegetables from a local supplier ? there are lots across the country ? and plan your meals around what you get in the box.
    3) Plan your time. Think of your meals as a skeleton supporting the rest of your day, and plan a breakfast, snack, lunch and dinner at specific points. You will be far less likely to deviate and grab the nearest fast food or chocolate bar simply to fill yourself up.
    4) Cook more. There are a lot of books now focussed on making cooking simpler and less time-consuming simultaneously, such as Jamie?s 15 Minute Meals (Michael Joseph, ?26), while keeping it enjoyable. Using fresh ingredients that you keep track of also means saving money and generating less waste.
    5) Don?t go shopping! Almost all supermarkets deliver: this will reduce impulse-buying junk food.

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    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson