Losing Weight for Financial Reward

by Christine on May 28th, 2010

filed under Diet, Food, Nutrition, Exercise, General Information

Getting Paid to Lose WeightRecently I have been reading a lot of blogs that spoken about The Biggest Loser, slamming the show for contestants that are motivated to lose weight because of the financial gain.  The general thought is that financial motivation isn’t a “good enough” reason to lose weight; “real,” sustained weight loss can only come when you want to make a positive change for loftier ideals, such as for your health, your family, etc.  Curiously, many of these same blogs offer their own financial incentives for their weight-loss blog readers, such as food giveaways, weight-loss gadget giveaways, gift certificates, etc.  (Okay seriously, how do all these bloggers find so many endorsements to give away?) I could directly cite which blogs these are, but I don’t want them to think that I’m bashing them; on the contrary! I find the topic pretty interesting and stimulating.

How bad can it be to have financial motivation to lose weight? According to the HuffingtonPost (I know, I know), “Financial incentives have been well studied in weight loss, and are proven to improve outcomes over standard interventions alone.  Faced with backbreaking healthcare costs, corporations are promising cold, hard cash as part of comprehensive wellness plans aimed at motivating employees to improve their health.”

The idea of your employer paying you extra to lose weight is gaining popularity as well. At my last job, the employees teamed together to create their own “Biggest Loser” challenge. Everyone put in $20, and at the end of three months the winner (greatest percentage of weight loss) got the money.  My current employer, which is a large research university, offers something like $25 if you complete a walking program sponsored by Human Resources.

Bigger companies around the country are offering even bigger incentives.  Highmark, a Pennsylvania Blue Cross/Blue Shield licensee, offers a fitness program that pays $225 per year to employees that agree to medical assessments and free health and nutrition coaching.  Freedom One Financial Group in Michigan offered a free four-day cruise to Jamaica for employees who met certain weight loss or body fat reduction goals. At the end of that company’s three-month challenge, over one-third of its employees won the free cruise.  OhioHealth, a hospital chain, offers employees up to $500 per year just to wear a pedometer.

Why are these companies offering such big prizes?  Primarily because of the toll that obesity-related health problems takes on productivity and health-care costs.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity cost American companies $56 million in the year 2000 alone. To put the emphasis on the health-care costs, Affinia Group offered a $1,000 reduction in health insurance premiums to employees who participate in the company’s health-management program. Over 99% of their employees participate in the program.

So do these financial motivators really work? Do people lose weight and keep the weight off when confronted with financial gain? There is some discrepancy about this. “It’s probably a waste of time,” said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The few studies that have been done on this subject have shown mixed results. A Cornell University study showed that the average weight loss in employer programs was little more than one pound.  For many of the companies listed above, while their incentive programs reaped early rewards, the weight started creeping on the employees about seven months later. “That is about the same success seen with almost any fad diet,” said Dr. David Kats with Yale University. “If we are going to achieve lasting change in health behavior, we need to help people to internalize the sense of responsibility to self and self-care and to value their own well-being,” said Martin Banks with Duke Diet and Fitness Center.  This is exactly the sentiment echoed by many readers of diet/fitness blogs that I have been reading recently.

On the other hand, a 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that dieters who had a financial incentive to lose weight were nearly five times as likely to meet their goal as compared with dieters with no financial reward.

Some researchers say that companies need to make the reward and penalty program more dramatic: make the financial incentive to lose weight even larger, and impose financial penalties on employees that do not participate in wellness program, such as an increase in health insurance premiums. The research shows that individuals are more motivated by the idea of losing their own money than by gaining extra money.  To prove the point, a 2008 University of Pennsylvania study found that after 16 weeks, people who put their own money on the line lost about a pound more on average than people who earned extra cash.

A hilarious rendering of the G.W. Bush Presidential Library. Click for larger image!

A website called stickK.com, founded by Yale economics professor Dean Karlan, allows members to sign a commitment contract and publicly announce a weight-loss goal. Users are not required to wager any money on their weight-loss bet, but about 30% do want to do this, inputting their credit card information and specifying how much money should be automatically charge if they fail to reach their goal. These users can designate a recipient: a person or charity or “anti-charity.”  One of the most popular “anti-charities” to donate to is the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Since the website started, more than $3 million has been put on the line by users. Combined user statistics show a 70% success rate of meeting their weight loss goals.

With the growing price tag of losing weight, having a financial reward to offset the cost of weight loss may be helpful to some frugal dieters. The extra cost associated with organic fruits and vegetables, gym memberships, Weight Watchers meetings, weight loss surgery, books and DVDs, can all add up for individuals.

Here’s something nearly everyone can agree on: Losing weight and keeping it off is priceless.

What is your price tag? How much would your company have to offer you to motivate you to keep moving? Would you participate in a weight-loss challenge that had a reward of some kind? Would that motivate you?

Want to lose weight and make money?

HealthyWage.com:  The Matchup $10,000 team weight-loss challenge. The team (of 5) that loses the greatest percentage of weight over three months wins!  Registration ends June 6, 2010.  (Pete Thomas and Neil Tejwani from TBL are participants.)  There is a $20 entrance fee.

Fitcapital will donate $50 towards the winner’s award for each weight-loss competition that you create on their website.  Sign up for an open weight-loss competition!   The competition must last at least one month and have a minimum of 10 participants.  Join open competitions here too!



Yoga background and Primary Series

by Christine on April 28th, 2010

filed under Exercise, General Information

Bootcamp came to an end for me last week, and to take its place I decided to sign up for yoga. I know, it’s hardly the cardio workout that bootcamp is. I plan on supplementing the workout with some gym workouts. (Gotta spice things up, right?)  I love yoga though, and I’ve been missing its place in my life.

I was a little bit spoiled because I began taking yoga classes from a really great Ashtanga yoga instructor. I felt a little uncomfortable at first for the male instructor to walk behind me, put his hands on me, and adjust my stance accordingly. I don’t like strange people touching me — I’ve got real social phobia issues associated with it. However, I soon learned that there’s an incredible benefit to having proper position. Not only do you cut down on the chance of injuring yourself, but much of the time you can go further into the poses than you would have before.

Syntactically, yoga has many meanings. The word is derived from the Sanskrit yoj meaning “to control,” which is a definition I prefer. Yoga is all about control – controlling your body in the poses, controlling the pain, controlling your mind, controlling your breathing.  An alternate root from which the word is derived may be yujir samadhau which means “contemplation” or “absorption.” This, too, fits the practice of yoga; without contemplation, the practice is only half fulfilled. To me, yoga is also the absorption of meditation with physical being.

Most yoga courses follow a Hatha yoga form of instruction; at least, my yoga classes did so.  Hatha yoga combines moral discipline, postures, purification, breathing, and meditation. Hatha represents hot and cold energies flowing through the body (think of fire and water, or yin and yang, positive and negative.)  The goal is to balance the body and the mind of these opposite forces.

If you are looking to start a yoga practice, start with the Primary Series of poses, which is called Yoga Chikitsa. This series of poses builds strength and flexibility and stamina.  After your practice develops, you can move along to the Second Series, called Nadi Shodana. This series strengthens the nervous system. It’s essentially the same as the Primary Series, but goes further into the poses and periodically offers new poses and variations.   The four advanced series are called Sthira Bhaga, which I’ve never done but would love to try someday when my practice gets stronger.

If you are interested in checking out the Primary Series, check these PDFs out:

If you are just starting off, it’s best to have a better visual (than mere PDFs) because proper posture is SO important.  This YouTube video is a decent depiction of just a few poses in the Primary Series:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAaHx5qsqhY (60 minutes long)

This YouTube video series is something like a 17 part series (each segment is only about 10 minutes long, though, so don’t be too intimidated) that shows different poses. His physique is enough to inspire anybody! There is a strong emphasis on learning to do the Sun Salutation properly. The first video in the series is here:


There is so much that could be said about yoga: its background, the people, the poses, the meditation, the different branches of it, etc.  The great thing about yoga is that it can be modified to fit your goals, stage in life, fitness ability, desire for meditation, etc. It is intrinsically a custom-built program! Why don’t you give it a try today?


Dieting tips for those attending conferences

by Christine on April 26th, 2010

filed under Diet, Food, Nutrition, Exercise, General Information

This weekend I went away to a hotel for a scrapbooking weekend with some girlfriends. Today, I weighed in, and I lost 2 pounds while away! While I was away, I overheard numerous conversations about different diets the women were following, and the lamenting over all the sweets left out 24/7 for everyone’s grazing pleasure. It made me realize that there are certain strategies you can adopt to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you are away at conference-type situations.

Pre-Planning and Packing

It’s very important to plan for your time away from home. You should ask yourself the following questions: How many days will you be gone? What kind of free time will you have? What kind of organized mealtimes will you have? Do you know what the kind of food will be served at the meals?  What kinds of facilities are available to you – will you have use of a pool or fitness center?  Is there are grocery store nearby where you can pick up snack-foods if needed?

After you have considered the following questions, you should pack additional items as necessary:

  • Workout clothes (1 pair for each day that you are gone)
  • Workout apparatus, including hand weights, resistance band, jump rope, exercise mat, mp3 player and headphones, water bottle.  Bringing hand weights may be difficult to pack if you are traveling by plane but should be easy if you are traveling by car.
  • Healthy food items that pack well, such as small cans of tunafish, 100-calorie packs of almonds, dried fruit like raisins, canned fruit or fruit cups, low-fat cheese, etc.  If you are driving you may be able to pack fresh fruit such as bananas and strawberries, but this may be more difficult if you are flying. If there is a grocery store within walking distance of your hotel, you can stock up on these items while you are there.
  • Bathing suit, if there is a pool.

Exercising While There

I always have the best of intentions before leaving for a conference, but after I show up there is always a thousand reasons why I don’t want to work out: I’m too stressed out because I’m working, or I’m relaxing and don’t want to have to worry about it.

The fact is – working out while you’re away from home is hard.  It’s really important that you plan your workout time into each day. If you’re a morning workout guru, then more power to you—this is the easiest time to fit in a workout, especially since most conferences don’t get started until 9 a.m.  However, most conferences that I’ve attended usually have an afternoon lull. There’s a period of time between your last session and dinner that will provide ample opportunity to get a short workout in. Schedule “fitness” for this time.  If your dinner is going to be short, then you can work out when you get back from dinner, although in my experience I find that my evenings at conferences would run until very late, so late-night workouts weren’t really an option for me.

There are four main ways you can work out while on the road:

  1. Work out in the fitness facility
  2. Work out outside
  3. Work out in your hotel room
  4. Swim

Having four choices means that there is no excuse for slacking off on your workout!!

  1. Work out in the fitness facility

Option number one is the easiest. Almost all hotels have fitness facilities. The hotel I was at this weekend offered a treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, stationary bicycle, freeweights, and exercise mats for floorwork.  If you are exercising while with limited time, such as 30 minutes, consider doing interval training: 3 minutes heavy cardio followed by 3 minutes weight training, repeat until your time is up. The interval workout will maximize your workout in a short period of time.   While I was gone this weekend I had ample time to work out: I jogged a mile and a half, used the freeweights (heavy on the arms), then a ton of ab work (crunches and planks).

  1. Work out outside

Go outside! If you’re at a conference, then you’re most likely in a new city with new sights. Go exploring! If you’re fortunate enough to be at a conference someplace warm and delightful such as Orlando or Las Vegas, then put your jogging shoes on and go outside! You’ll get a suntan, have fun people-watching, and get to learn a little bit about a new city. If there is a beach nearby, find it and jog on the sand – it’s an extremely hard and fun workout!

If you do this – please be safe. I’ve been to numerous conferences where the hotel is located in a less-than-desirable neighborhood. Consult with the front desk workers to ask for an optimal jogging path so you don’t end up in a bad part of time. Be safe!

You can even jog outside if you’re terrible with directions. The easiest way is to just go straight on one street, then turn around at the halfway mark.  You can also do a large square: just remember to keep turning in one direction (e.g., to the right) and you’ll eventually make your way back to your starting point!

If you have access to an empty parking lot, there is a lot of things you can do. Use your jump-rope, do suicides, do walking lunges, etc.

  1. Work out in your hotel room

This is particularly useful if you have a very short period of time to work out, such as 15 minutes, or it is after-gym-hours.  Now is the time to put your fitness equipment that you brought with you to use! Some ideas include:

  • Check out this website for exercises you can use with your resistance band
  • Using your freeweights, do bicep curls, shoulder presses, overhead tricep curls, lateral side raises, etc. This website shows a lot of great freeweight exercises
  • Consider doing squats and lunges while watching tv
  • Try jumping jacks (but only at an hour that won’t disturb your neighbors)
  • Take your desk chair and do triceps dips off the edge
  • Do pushups
  • Do situps and crunches. This website shows a lot of different abdominal exercises you can try out. (You’ll have to pick through some exercises that require machines and those that you can do on your own)

Also consider using the hotel stairwell as a workout. If your hotel has four or more floors, try running up and down as many flights of stairs as you can.

Consider using any of the ideas in my previous posting entitled “Workplace Workouts” because the tips all involve working out in a small, confined space, such as a hotel room.

  1. Swim

I’m not a good swimmer, and you don’t have to be.  In a swimming pool you can just run-in place, do jumping-jacks, doggie paddle your way around, or even hang on the edge of the pool and kick furiously.  Any movement you do will suffice. Plus, it’s swimming so it’s fun!

Strategies for Eating While at a Conference

Eating while at conferences can be very tricky. You can’t be so paranoid about food that you make others around you (including any clients!) uncomfortable.  Inevitably there is always a buffett and there is always a cocktail hour that involves yummy-but-terrible-for-you appetizers. Here are some general tips:

  • Eat one of your healthy snacks in your room before having lunch or attending the cocktail hour. That way you aren’t as hungry and won’t devour everything in front of you.
  • Help yourself to one or two appetizers, but cut yourself off after two.
  • If your conference has salad fixings, fresh fruit, or shrimp cocktail, eat as much as you want. Limit your helping of cheese and crackers. Avoid any “pigs in blankets” and chicken fingers like the plague. Avoid potato chips and desserts too.
  • If there are sub sandwiches, take two of them. Throw both buns away immediately. Use the “insides” of the subs as a salad. Sit down, cut the sandwich meat up, and eat it like a salad.  Use any Italian dressing or oil/vinegar combination as your dressing, but steer clear of the mayo and heavier dressings like Ranch, Thousand Island, etc.
  • Spend more time talking to others. If you’re talking, you’re not eating.
  • Stand far away from the food, if possible. If you’re standing close to the food, you’re more apt to eat the food because of its proximity. Step away from the food!

For more strategies for eating formal meals while at the conference, please see the next section.

Tips for Scheduled Meals

Every conference usually has at least one formal sit-down dinner to attend.  This is a harder scenario because either you have no food options, or you have limited options (chicken, beef, or fish.)  Plus, you cannot ask for alternatives, such as “steamed veggies instead of sauted veggies” etc.  The kitchen is making 400 meals and isn’t spending any time making items special for you. These are some tips for eating at formal mealtimes:

  • Always order the fish if possible.
  • The vegetarian menu is not always the healthiest. I’ve seen vegetarian meals smothered in cream and cheese. You’re better off ordering the beef if that’s the case.
  • Grilled chicken is not a bad option on its own. However, avoid “chicken cordon bleu” or chicken that is fried or smothered in cheese or sauce. If you’re unsure of how the chicken is prepared, then opt for the fish.
  • Eat your salad first (you pretty much have to). When the food arrives, eat all your veggies first.
  • Prior to diving into your food, chug one big glass of water. This will fill you up faster.  While you are eating, do not drink anything at all, until 30 minutes after you are done eating.
  • Pass your rolls and bread to the person next to you. Avoid the bread entirely, and if you pass it away from you, you’ll be less tempted to dig in. (Always pass to the right.)
  • When you’re done with your meal, put your silverware on your plate in the 4:00 position. This will indicate to the wait staff to take your plate away, which is a good thing because you don’t want it staring at you.
  • Tell the wait staff that you pass on dessert, if possible. If they bring you some anyway, offer it to the rest of the table. Otherwise, push it to the center of the table, away from your eating space. (Don’t throw your napkin in your food. This is okay if you’re using paper napkins, but don’t do this with formal napkinwear.)

Other interesting dining etiquette that’s fun to know but that doesn’t have anything to do with dieting:

  • Bread is always on your left. Drink is always to your right. If you take both of your hands and put your fingers in an “okay” symbol, you’ll see that your left hand looks like a “b” and your right hand looks like a “d.” Use this as your reminder of which side each item belongs to.
  • Sitting with your back to the wall is the power seat. It’s the “head of the table” even when the table is round. This position allows you to survey not just your table, but the entire room. If you are looking for power play, take this seat first. If you are schmoozing a client, offer him or her the power seat as a courtesy.

Tips for Drinking

Many conferences offer opportunities to drink. Yes, alcoholic beverages. Many conferences offer free alcohol, as well.  There’s no faster way to rack up your calories than alcohol, so it is very important that you watch how much drinking you are doing. Plus, it is unseemly to get too drunk while surrounded by colleagues, co-workers, and clients.

If possible, drink soda or water entirely. You may treat yourself to one glass of wine or beer without fear of reprimand from me, your food nazi.  Beyond one glass of alcohol, you’re treading on dangerous waters.

However, many conferences that I attended required drinking to obliteration. I was in the saleswoman role; and my clients wanted to drink, and they wanted me to drink with them.  This was a little bit of a precarious situation, but I learned a few tricks along the way:

  • If you buy the drinks, you have control over what you order. Get a gin & tonic or vodka & sprite – minus the alcohol. Ask the bartender to pour your soda or water in a highball glass with a lime garnish so it looks authentic.
  • If you know that you’re going to struggle with people trying to get you drunk in the evening, write up a quick note to the waiter or bartender before heading to cocktail hour. I’ve actually done this. My note says, “Hi, I’m in a tricky situation. My clients want me to drink but I really don’t want to. If I order a vodka and sprite, can you please just bring me water? Make the drink look like it’s an alcoholic beverage.” Slip your waiter the note along with a $10 bill, and you’ll be free and clear for the rest of the night.
  • If you must drink, opt for “clear” beverages rather than “dark” beverages. That means vodka & gin is better than rum, brandy, or scotch.
  • Ask for lots of water. Sip a lot of water in between drinks. This will slow you down, if nothing else.
  • There is a point in time when your effectiveness as a salesperson fades away as the evening and alcohol wears on.  I often found myself sticking around because I wanted to be seen as “one of the guys.” However, this did not increase my sales at all to be hang out with a bunch of drunk idiots until the wee hours of the morning. (Oh, how many years did it take me to learn this lesson?) Have your drink or two with your clients politely, then excuse yourself from the group.

If you follow the above strategies and exercise and eat well, you’ll be sure to avoid any unnecessary increase in the scale when you get home.

More Resources

The hotel workout

Get fit when you’re staying in a hotel


Stats, Food Journals, and General Update

by Christine on April 23rd, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates, Diet, Food, Nutrition, General Information

Happy Friday everyone! It’s the end of the week, I’m only working a half a day today, the Grateful Dead is on, and I’m drinking some Mountain Dew. Cheers!

This week ended my 6 week stint taking a bootcamp exercise class. Although the 5 a.m. hour didn’t mesh well with my physiology, the exercise did. My final stats are in:

Weight: Lost 4 pounds
Size: Stayed the same (size 10)
Neck: Lost 0.25 inches (Currently 13.0 inches)
Arm: Lost 0.75 inches (Currently 11.75)
Chest: Lost 1.5 inches!!! (Currently 37.25)
Waist: Lost 0.5 inches (Currently 31.25)
Hip: Lost 1.5 inches!!! (Currently 40.0)
Thigh: Lost 1.0 inches! (Currently 24.5)

I’ve been keeping a daily food journal for the last 10 years or so. However, for bootcamp, I had to submit my food journal weekly to the instructor. I thought I would offer up my food journal for you all to look at. Not all the days exemplified stellar eating, but it’s a realistic look at what I’ve eaten to lose 4 pounds of weight and 5.5 inches around my body. A word of warning: there are some pictures of somewhat-naked men in these. I like to add photos just to spice things up a bit. I’ll probably add photos of pretty women at some point, too, if I continue making these into PDFs.

PDF Screenshot

The following are PDFs for download:

Week 1: March 15, 2010PDF icon

Week 2: March 22, 2010
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Week 3: March 29, 2010
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Week 4: April 5, 2010 PDF icon

Week 5: April 13, 2010
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If you’re astute, you’ll note a few common patterns in my diet:

  • My calories are low, and I exercise frequently.
  • I eat whatever I want. Chocolate, cosmos, cheese, you name it.  I could do better with my food choices overall, but eating something crappy once a day doesn’t typically get me into trouble because I only eat about 100 calories worth of crap food at any given time.
  • I consume plenty of protein.
  • I eat all the freaking time, usually a little bit of food every 2 hours.  I never eat a “big” meal. (I can’t with the band)

Please let me know if you find these files to be helpful to you. If they are, I’ll take the time to add more weekly food journals for download.

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