Eating right rarely is due to a lack of knowledge. One could argue too much nutrition knowledge pushes people into confusion and furthers the issue of poor nutrition habits.
After having spent 12 years as a registered dietitian in health coaching for medium to large organizations, there’s one thing I know for sure: Most people know what to eat to be healthy; doing it is an entirely different conversation.
tors that impact employees’ ability to eat right include long hours or non-standard hours and schedules, inability to manage time, mis-managed priorities, unclear expectations, job satisfaction and fear of job loss. COVID-19 hasn’t changed this problem, it’s only inflamed it.
Furthermore, all these factors contribute to stress. The Grokker 2021 Working American’s State of Stress Report informs us 76% of workers describe themselves as currently “stressed” and 46% of workers describe their stress levels as moderate or higher. It goes on to state 48% of workers report increased consumption of unhealthy foods, 42% of workers report decreased physical activity and 25% report increased use of alcohol or other controlled substances. As health coaches, we are seeing an increase in take-out meals and restaurant meals, missed family meals, eating while working, missed breakfast and prepared entrees.
What can employers do now? Start with and cover the basics.
While most people know what’s healthy and what’s not, not all do. Providing basic nutrition information to employees is a good start. It’s important to keep it simple and make access to it incredibly easy — no more than three clicks on a computer or smart phone away. Organizations that have vending machines or a cafeteria could consider the possibility of adding healthy options. As more in-person meetings begin, start off on the right foot by providing nutritious options. Many companies are starting to adopt farm-to-worksite programs as part of a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. Participating employees prepay for a season’s worth of produce from local farms and pick up their weekly bag of produce from the CSA truck right outside the workplace. Employers whose employees work from home could encourage them to do the same, keeping healthy food around and stop for “health breaks” such as a walk or lunch.
While this is an excellent start, knowledge rarely translates into implementation. For this reason, I suggest businesses check their insurance resources or hire an external vendor to act as a third-party support for their organization in health coaching with habit and behavior change that addresses the real reasons their employees don’t or can’t eat right. It’s important to be sure this resource focuses on the how instead of the what to eat. Lastly, employers can provide resources that get closer to the root cause of poor nutrition habits that address everyday mental wellbeing, namely stress, anxiety and depression. Thanks to COVID, this conversation is no longer taboo.
The pandemic has blurred many lines. Employers can take positive and meaningful advantage of this time to have the conversation with employees about work and home life balance, stress management, workloads, job satisfaction and other real factors contributing to the health and wellness of their organization.
Maya Nahra is a registered dietitian, diplomate of the American Institute of Stress and founder and president at Nuuaria, a wellness company that helps people and companies (which include PING golf and CVS Health) get healthy and stay healthy.