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If Not a Weight Management Program, Then What?

By Rebecca Johnson

shutterstock_106733261-sm-crpdHow do you describe a workplace wellness program succinctly when there isn’t yet a classification, much less an understanding of why a new approach is needed? On our quest to enlighten employers and other organizations with workplace wellness initiatives about how mindful eating transforms not only individuals, but the culture they work and live in, we keep bumping into the question, “If it’s not a weight management program, what is it?”

Most workplace wellness programs classify their interventions by the primary aspect of health they address, such as stress, weight, physical activity, diabetes, or tobacco use. The challenge we run into is that Am I Hungry? isn’t easy to categorize and, thus, doesn’t fit neatly into the classifications that commonly exist in workplace wellness programming today. We find ourselves trying to explain a new paradigm in a field fraught with old paradigm terminology, thinking, and beliefs.

We willingly gave up our easily classifiable status when we solidified our weight-neutral stance several years ago. Despite anticipating the challenges it would create, we made this shift because a rapidly growing body of evidence and years of experience proved that focusing on weight is actually part of the problem, and definitely not the solution.

As any Am I Hungry? facilitator or participant will tell you, even before we officially dropped the “weight management” label, our programs were never really about weight anyway. Am I Hungry? is and always has been a comprehensive mindful approach to eating, physical activity, health, and self-care. Our programs focus first on developing a foundation of effective thinking and emotional responses essential for sound decision-making and sustainable change.

Our non-diet, weight-neutral approach frees participants from the restrictive and consuming techniques taught in conventional health interventions and offers them a method for rediscovering their expert within. Our mindfulness-based strategies guide participants to eat with intention and attention and to live their lives that way too. They learn how to be attentive to the present moment, cultivate greater awareness of their internal and external experiences, observe and accept circumstances non-judgmentally, pause to respond instead of react, and make intentional decisions that support a balanced life.

Easily classifiable? Of course not.

We are not at all daunted by the task of changing the way the world thinks about eating. In fact, that’s our mission. Human beings are complex creatures, so interventions that are likely to be successful must be comprehensive and integrated. The choices we make about food and physical activity are affected by how we manage stress, how we feel about ourselves and our lives, and how present we are in each moment. Am I Hungry? program participants get to dig far below the surface to identify and take charge of the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and habits that ultimately lead to their choices. They make gradual changes on the inside first, so the changes they make later on the outside will last.

What employer wouldn’t benefit from employees who pay attention, think effectively, and make sound decisions about their health?

And remarkably, the skills that employees use to attend to their eating, activity, and health are the very same skills needed to attend to everything else in their work and personal lives. As participants develop mindfulness skills and are liberated from a consuming focus on food and weight, their energy can be fully invested in healthy relationships, productive work, and vibrant living.

So what category do you put that under?

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About the author

Rebecca Johnson is a leader in the health promotion industry with more than 20 years of experience in diverse roles. She is a licensed Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program Facilitator and Coach and advocates for the use of mindfulness-based and weight-neutral programs in the workplace. Rebecca also serves as a consultant for organizations ready to leverage the power of organizational development and employee wellbeing to create truly thriving cultures.

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