The holiday season can be a challenging time of the year. This is why the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) offers the Healthy Holiday Challenge, a six-week health improvement program for faculty and staff beginning in November. Below, Kim Guess, the wellness program dietitian at UC Berkeley, shares how the challenge supports nutrition accountability for employees around the holidays.
Kim Guess: We provide simple goals that participants can practice each day and track on their Healthy Holiday Challenge tracker. Our two nutrition-related themes this year are “Tune In,” which is about practicing mindful eating and/or body acceptance, and “Go for Color” which refers to colorful vegetables and fruit. We provide additional tools such as a hunger scale, building a healthy plate handout, recipes and articles. When participants complete the weekly participation survey, they are entered to win a weekly prize, such as a glass tea infuser mug or a high-quality bamboo cutting board. We often choose prizes that encourage a healthy lifestyle as well as environmental sustainability.
KG: Stress can come from busy schedules, financial constraints, grief, difficult family relationships and more. Holiday parties tend to be centered on treats and alcohol. Daylight hours shorten and the temperature gets colder, so it becomes less tempting to be physically active. Meanwhile, the season also represents tradition, celebration, togetherness and special treats. To tell someone not to participate would just be cruel. It is challenging to find the right balance on your own, so our program supports employees with motivation, accountability, tips and resources.
KG: Keep it simple. Participants will easily get overwhelmed if there are too many program components, so choose simple goals, keep any newsletters fairly brief, and no matter how simple you keep it, you will probably find you still get a lot of questions from participants.
Keep it non-competitive. In our program, we do a weekly raffle for everyone who logged their participation, so everyone has an equal chance of winning a prize. In challenges where the top participant wins, it only encourages people who are already quite active, leaving behind and discouraging people who are starting off with lower levels of physical activity, and is unfair to people with mobility issues.
Keep it positive. Instead of telling people what not to do, focus on what to do and how good it will make them feel. In our society, there is a lot of focus on weight, calories and diets, and many feel intense pressure to look a certain way. However, we can try to change the tone by choosing body positive language, using outcomes like more energy or feeling satisfied as motivators rather than weight loss, and recognizing the influence of our environment, our culture, the media, advertising, social norms, hormones and brain chemicals on our choices. If you want to go into detail about food and nutrition, I strongly encourage you to consult a registered dietitian.