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Healthy New Year

If you made the most common New Year’s resolution of 2010 – to eat healthier – you can boost your chances of success by taking advantage of expert advice and nutrition information tailored for NC State employees.

Starting this month, you can get a personalized eating plan by taking advantage of a new State Health Plan benefit that covers four consultations with a licensed dietitian. To help you stay on track at work, University Dining offers do-it-yourself tools such as food diaries and nutritional analyses for meals served on campus in both the dining halls and food court restaurants. Even at the nearest campus vending machine, you can find better snacks marked with the “Wolf-approved” pawprint.

“Here at NC State it’s easy to make healthy choices around campus,” says Lisa Eberhart, a registered dietitian with University Dining. Eberhart counsels students and speaks to employees at campus wellness programs such as Shape U and Pack Wellness.

She  and the university Benefits Office field many questions from co-workers worried about how they will meet a State Health Plan requirement of having a body mass index (BMI) under 40 by July, 2011, and a BMI under 35 in 2012. (The first component of the health plan’s wellness initiative, covering employees who use tobacco products, goes into effect this July.)

Eberhart gives colleagues a link to an online BMI calculator where they can enter their height and weight to see where they stand, along with this advice:  “Take a breath and push the button.”

Dietitian Visits

For those who need to lose weight or manage conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, Eberhart recommends finding a dietitian for individualized advice and follow-up.

“After four visits with a dietitian, you can be on your way to some really good health changes,” Eberhart says. “This is a huge benefit because of the knowledge you can gain in several hours of sit-down time with a dietitian.”

No referral is needed to make an appointment with one of the licensed dietitians listed under “Nutrition” on the pull-down menu of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield site, says Linda Forsberg, director of health plan operations. The visits require in-network copayments.

Those who are enrolled in a doctor-approved weight management or smoking cessation program by the respective deadlines can opt for the 80/20 level of benefits (all employeees each will be moved to the 70/30 plan each year). “We are not second-guessing the doctor on either smoking or weight loss programs,” Forsberg said. “We’re taking the doctor at his or her word.”

To make the most of visits with a dietitian, Eberhart recommends keeping a food diary for a week before the first visit, which is typically devoted to talking about the patient’s history, medications, obstacles, restrictions and schedule.

“A food diary is good at providing insight about where you’re being sabotaged,” she says. “For example, you might see that you’re hungry between 3 and 4 p.m. each day, and you’re hitting the vending machine.

“If your dietitian doesn’t ask what you think is your stumbling block, you’re with the wrong dietitian.”

The food diary helps track keys to weight loss, such as eating breakfast daily for a 15 percent boost in metabolism, drinking 64 ounces of water daily and eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables.

“Calories really do count,” Eberhart says. “Once you understand that it really is calories in, calories out, there’s not much to it.”

Losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight – 10 to 20 pounds for a 200-pound person – can significantly improve your health.

“The good news is that you can see real changes with a reduction of just 150 calories a day. That will add up to 15 pounds during the year.”

The food diary also has a section for logging your activity, either through exercise or simply the number of steps you take per day.

Wearing a pedometer will help you  see if you’re getting in the recommended 10,000 steps daily. Eberhart also likes the model available at the Student Health Pharmacy, which resets itself every 24 hours. Campus Recreation, Human Resources and other groups give away free pedometers at screenings and events.

“Tracking your activity works,” she says. “It makes you get up and walk to the copy machine.”

“We aren’t in reality about how much exercise it takes to burn off food,” Eberhart says. “People are amazed by how little you have to exercise to lose weight.”

Meals and Snacks

When it’s time for lunch, you can consult online nutrition information to plan a healthy meal. You can find dining hall options under 500 calories by using online information from University Dining.

If you’re headed for the food court, check the links to nutrition information and recommendations for Wolf-approved entrees from food court vendors such as Taco Bell and Lil’ Dino’s.

You’ll also find pawprints on vending machines, signifying snacks that contain fewer than 240 calories, less than a third of total calories from fat and zero transfats.

“Losing weight is hard,” Eberhart says. “That’s why we encourage people to think about little baby steps to take so they can lose weight and be healthier. This year, focus on health instead of weight.”

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