A pack-a-day smoker for 19 years, Jeremy Gamm decided to quit last year. But he didn’t do it alone.
Gamm kicked the habit thanks to a smoking cessation drug and health coach Erin Litton, a UI Wellness staff member who supported his efforts to quit with advice and encouragement.
“I just needed a little guidance and someone who would hold me accountable who wasn’t a family member,” says Gamm, a clerk in the Department of Pediatrics at UI Hospitals and Clinics.
Since 2006, more than 600 UI faculty and staff members have worked with a health coach, a free service offered through UI Wellness’s liveWELL program. Participants typically meet with a health coach five times over a 10-week period to develop realistic goals and make a plan.
“It’s effective because it’s tailored to individuals,” says Megan Moeller, coordinator of UI Wellness, a division of Human Resources. “We recognize that individuals are their own best experts. Our job as health coaches is simply to empower people and provide them with accountability and support in the change process.”
Here are a few stories of those University employees who resolved to adopt a healthier lifestyle last year, worked with a health coach, and succeeded:
Nancy E. Kraft, Preservation Department Head and Preservation Librarian, University Libraries
Goal: To lower cholesterol, avoiding the need to take medication.
Why: When Kraft went to a health fair sponsored by UI Wellness last year, she says she “flunked” her blood pressure test. A follow-up visit to her doctor confirmed that she had high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But she asked her doctor if she could stay off cholesterol medication until she met with a UI Wellness health coach.
What worked: Kraft lowered her cholesterol without taking medication by watching what she eats and exercising consistently. In fact, she exceeded her goal: she also lost 17 pounds and no longer takes blood pressure medication. Health coach JoAnn Daehler-Miller helped her set goals—such as limiting her salt intake to less than 2,000 milligrams a day—and develop a budget for daily salt and calorie allowances. “If I ate something high in sodium or calories, then everything else was low in sodium or calories,” Kraft says. “I chose when to splurge.”
Exercise routine: Kraft made a commitment to walk five times each week. “I have a walking buddy at work, but I’d gotten into the habit of not walking on the days that my walking buddy wasn’t around,” she says. She now schedules her daily walk on her work calendar, and if she or her buddy has a conflict, the walk is rescheduled the same day.
Staying motivated: Kraft bought a digital scale and weighs herself every day. “For some reason, just seeing that I had lost one-tenth of a pound was a great psychological boost. I tried to see my weight loss in one-tenth pounds rather than a pound at a time.”
Challenges: “Screaming fat cells,” as she labels her hunger pains, and maintaining healthy eating habits while at conferences and on vacations, were the biggest hurdles. “Rather than trying to lose weight while on vacation or at a conference, my health coach suggested a goal of just maintaining my current weight,” she says. She also keeps a box of low-salt, low-calorie crackers at her desk and at home for times when she has to eat something. “Labeling my hunger pains ‘screaming fat cells’ helped,” she says, “ because it added a little bit of humor.”
Advice: “Set modest goals and have someone be your cheerleader—such as a health coach,” she says. “Don’t give up. Those screaming fat cells do quit screaming after a while. Well, for the most part. I heard them at Thanksgiving dinner.”
Ellen Claeys, Clerk III, Cancer Center Chart Control, UI Hospitals and Clinics
Goals: To lose weight and build stronger core muscles to reduce back pain.
What worked: Claeys lost 55 pounds after beginning a regular exercise routine. Health coach Megan Moeller recommended working with a personal trainer to build a program that she could do at the gym or at home. She now works out at least four days each week, typically waking at 5 a.m. to hit the gym.
Staying motivated: The more she exercised, the more energized and motivated Claeys felt. “Just remembering how I felt before I started a healthier lifestyle kept me going,” she says.
Challenges: “Changing my schedule so I could fit in working out, without giving up other things, was the hardest part,” she says. Claeys found that working out in the mornings was the best way to fit exercise into her schedule.
Lifestyle change: Exercising motivated her to eat better, which also helped with her weight loss. And going to the gym is part of her daily routine, rather than a chore. “At first, I dreaded going to the gym,” she says. “But now I look forward to it.”
Advice: “Don’t let a bad day or weekend, or even a bad week get you off track with your health and weight loss goals,” Claeys says. “Just regroup and start again.”
Warren Boe, Professor, Department of Management Sciences, Tippie College of Business
Goals: To lose weight, gain flexibility, and lower his cholesterol.
How he did it: Boe has lowered his cholesterol level thanks to a diet richer in vegetables and lower in sweets, and introducing different kinds of exercise to his routine. Boe’s coach, JoAnn Daehler-Miller, told him it was unrealistic to completely cut sweets from his diet, but she suggested lower-calorie treats, having a filling breakfast like oatmeal each day, and adding more vegetables to his diet. “I decided to work with the fitness coach because I thought she could make sure I was doing things correctly,” Boe says. “They were advertising their services, and I thought, ‘why not?’”
New exercises: Even before meeting with the health coach, Boe consistently walked more than three miles on a treadmill every day. Daehler-Miller recommended adding strengthening exercises involving exercise balls and bands to his routine.
Using UI Wellness: “The people in Wellness do a really good job,” Boe says. “They’re considerate of people and suggest ways to help them meet their personal goals. They’re very knowledgeable, and can help people in a lot of different situations.”
Advice: “You have to stay with it. It takes work, but don’t give up.”
Jeremy Gamm, Clerk III, Department of Pediatrics, UI Hospitals and Clinics
Goals: To quit smoking and improve eating habits.
How he did it: After 19 years as a pack-a-day smoker, Gamm quit cigarettes by using Chantix, a prescription smoking-cessation drug. The University reimbursed a portion of the cost for the drug. “Over the years, I’d tried pretty much everything and nothing worked,” he says. “The patch didn’t stick; the gum gave me hiccups.” To improve his nutrition, Gamm kept track of his daily fat, carbohydrate, and calorie intake using www.sparkpeople.com, a free web site recommended by his health coach.
What motivated him: Gamm, an avid bicyclist, picked out an expensive bike helmet that he’d wanted for some time. With the $4 he saved not buying cigarettes each day, he put the money into an account to buy the helmet. “It took me awhile, and it was not easy, but eventually I did get my helmet,” he says.
Challenges: Exposure to cigarettes and other smokers constantly tests his willpower. “A lot of my friends smoke and cigarettes are everywhere you go—gas stations, drugstores,” he says. “It’s hard to be around it all the time.”
New adventures: Gamm says he’d always wanted to try bike racing, but was afraid to overexert himself. “Once I quit smoking, I got up the courage to try a race, and I participated in Jingle Cross Rock [a race at the Johnson County Fairgrounds] at the end of November,” he says. “By the way, it was a blast.”
by Madelaine Jerousek-Smith
Whether you hope to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, or quit smoking in 2008, UI Wellness, through its liveWELL program, may be able to help.
How it works: Launched in 2006, liveWELL offers all benefits-eligible employees one-on-one guidance to reach health goals of all kinds. The program begins with the online Health Risk Assessment, available through Employee Self-Service. After taking the assessment, faculty and staff members who want help reaching health goals can participate in the free health coach service. Health coaches can help faculty and staff members develop a health improvement plan and direct them to other wellness programs and services.
Incentives: The Health Risk Assessment can be the first step to a healthier lifestyle. But there’s another benefit to taking it—a cash incentive. Employees who take the assessment for the first time in 2008 will get $50, while previous participants who take the assessment this year will receive $65. And each month’s participants are entered into a monthly $500 drawing.