There is something to be said for being proactive rather than reactive.
That was the mindset of Shakia Robinson as she crafted a new wellness program for the employees of the Community College of Allegheny County. Robinson, who serves as the wellness coordinator for the Pittsburgh-based school with four regional campuses, has previously organized a step challenge and other programs primarily focusing on weight loss. While those programs have been successful and will return, the Healthy Eating Challenge Robinson organized and unveiled Jan. 8 is concerned more with nutrition than weight loss.
“We’ve done the weight loss challenges and counted steps before, but now we are shifting over more toward educating people about healthy eating,” Robinson says. “We want to get people to change their eating habits for the better. This doesn’t focus on losing weight but, rather, changing your eating habits.”
Of course, if the former comes via the latter no one will be complaining, but dropping pounds isn’t necessarily the goal, she says.
The free program launched with nearly 40 participants and runs through the end of March. In order to partake in the program, one must join CCAC’s Healthy Eating Challenge Group on an app and website called MyFitnessPal. From there, participants can make daily entries of their food consumption and caloric intake and log their healthy eating goals. The information is kept private unless the person chooses to make it public, Robinson says.
“The app can really motivate you,” she says. “It’s a great tool because it has a lot of food preloaded. If you have a slice of pizza it knows the amount of calories. You can also enter any workouts you did and it will tell you the number of calories you burned.”
The app also features a public message board for people in the CCAC group to share recipes, words of encouragement and healthy eating tips. One topic asked members to share their typical breakfast choices, and if they have made a switch to more health-conscious foods. One individual who posted to the site noted how he previously ate a McDonald’s sausage biscuit each morning before realizing just how unhealthy it was. That person has since switched to a breakfast that includes cucumbers and tomatoes dipped in fat-free ranch dressing.
“It’s really nice (to do the Healthy Eating Challenge) in a group because you can gather ideas and get support,” Robinson says, and notes she sent an email about participating to staff on Jan. 5. “And a lot of people wrote back with questions, so there is a lot of interest. People can join at any time so I think as more employees return (from winter break) more will join the challenge.”
Prizes will be awarded to the employees who complete the most daily log entries and attain their goals at each of CCAC’s four campuses as well as the West Hills Center and Office of College Services, Robinson says. Prizes will include a crock pot, books on eating healthy and a membership pass to use at the CCAC fitness center.
“It’s important to make your entries because that is the best way to track your eating habits,” Robinson says, explaining why the person who makes the most entries will be rewarded.
Once the Healthy Eating Challenge comes to a close at the end of March, Robinson expects CCAC to offer a wellness program that once again puts an emphasis on exercise. The step challenge, which encourages participants to take 10,000 steps every day, might return in April.
It remains undecided whether the Healthy Eating Challenge will become an annual occurrence for college employees.
“We will see how it goes this year,” Robinson says. “We are getting some good feedback and interest so that is great. I think this program can be very beneficial.”