Tips for Work-Life Integration: Be nicer to your body

We're not doing ourselves or our workplaces any favors when we ignore our physical health.

We do some pretty awful things to our bodies in the modern workplace. Many of us stay stationary for hours on end, fail to drink enough water, over-caffeinate, under-nourish, and push our bodies to do more, more, and more.

How we treat our bodies has serious ramifications for the quality and quantity of work that we do. None of us can feel integrated and energized to do our best work when our bodies are exhausted and starved of the nutrients that they need. Tony Schwartz writes, “Taking care of yourself physically won’t turn you into a great performer - it’s just once piece of a more complex puzzle - but failing to do so assures that you can’t ever perform at your best (emphasis mine)."

In the past few months, I've gotten serious about working with my body instead of against it during the workday, and I've noticed a real shift in the quality of my work and the way that I feel at the end of the day. I've had the privilege of working with Amanda Helser, who is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a Western herbalist. I asked Amanda if she'd be open to sharing some of the tricks and knowledge she's given me in our work together, and she said yes!

In our conversation below, you'll find some seriously helpful insights into how you can support your body (which, of course, includes your mind!) during your workday.

Me: What are some of the harmful health habits that you see a lot of working people exhibit?

Amanda: It comes down to movement and meals. Our bodies are not meant to sit in front of a computer doing repetitive movements. Sitting for long periods of time with poor posture contributes to sluggish digestion. Going for a brisk walk every day to get your blood circulating will improve digestion, energy, and blood flow to your brain.

Another harmful habit is caffeination instead of balanced meals. We often mistake our low energy, typically mid-morning and mid-afternoon, for a need for caffeine. The 3 o'clock soy latte or sugar craving to get through the day is our body's way of saying, "Hey we're crashing from a lack of a balanced lunch." If your lunch consists of mainly protein and fat with vegetables, with low simple carbohydrates (grains), then your body has slow-burning fuel to keep your energy up and your appetite satiated well through the afternoon.

Me: One thing I've been hearing about among working professionals is something called "adrenal fatigue." Can you talk a little bit about that and how it might show up in the workplace?

Amanda: Adrenal Fatigue is a deficiency in the functioning of the adrenal glands. Normally, our adrenal glands secrete specific amounts of steroid hormone, cortisol, which is the hormone that shows up in our stress response. Too much physical, emotional, environmental and/or psychological stress can deplete your adrenals, making everything seem overwhelming and exhausting.

Typically, it begins with an over-reaction to stress. For example, traffic sending you into a rage or a deadline at work that puts you on an emotional roller coaster. Our adrenals become fatigued after constantly taxing them in an overly stressful lifestyle. Regular, balanced meals are extremely important for someone with depleted adrenals. Low or irregular blood sugar is in itself a stressful situation that taxes your adrenals.

Here are some signs of adrenal fatigue to look for: difficulty getting up and going in the morning, craving salty foods, everything feeling like a huge effort, taking a long time to recover from illness, constant snacking on sugar or caffeine, 3 or 4 o'clock afternoon drag, feeling less focused and difficulty staying on task.

Me: Unfortunately, I've seen all of those signs in every workplace I've visited. How do you think our workplaces would change if we took better care of our bodies and were more in tune with what they needed?

Amanda: I can think of quite a few ways:

  • fewer sick days
  • increased productivity (and maybe, as a result, shorter work days)
  • reasonable expectations for work load
  • more laughter and joy
  • more focused time on work tasks and less time spent on distracting things like social media
  • longer lunch breaks with time for exercise
  • weight loss, especially around the mid section (this is where people with poor adrenal health tend to put on weight).

Me: What are a few easy, simple changes that working people can make to be healthier today?

Amanda: Changing how we react to stress starts with nourishing our bodies with a balanced diet. This is important because how and what we eat communicates to our body's nervous system what kind of response we want to create: one of “fight or flight” that halts digestion and gets you pumped to run from the threat, or one of “rest and digest” that promotes good digestion and optimal energy balance.

  • Start with balanced meals. Combine healthy fats, proteins, vegetables, and a few whole grains at every meal to provide a steady source of energy. All of these macronutrients break down at different rates to sustain energy levels.
  • Eat in a peaceful setting away from your desk. Sit down, take 3 deep breaths and smell your food. This ritual starts the process of good digestion. Chew your food well.
  • Avoid sugar and caffeine as a general rule. Once in a while is fine, but an everyday habit will deplete your energy. Try a healthy snack high in protein before reaching for the coffee or cookie.
  • Go to sleep before 10:30pm. This is before your second wind, which will keep you up until 1:00 or 2:00am. Try to turn off all electronics by 8:00pm. The light of electronic screens is especially stimulating.
  • If it's ever possible, sleep until 9:00am. This is extremely restorative to the adrenals.
  • Let exercise be something you enjoy-- not just another life stressor. Change up your exercise routine. It doesn't have to be painful or sweaty or long, but make sure you have at least a little fresh air and movement every day.

Me: You're awesome! How can people work with you?

Amanda: I work with local or distant clients to help them balance their energy through eating a delicious whole foods diet. It starts from the inside out! You can reach me at, email, or visit us on Facebook.

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King vs. Burwell: “Big Hat…No Cattle”

The recent opinion from the Supreme Court on King vs. Burwell reminds me of the old Texas phrase “Big Hat… No Cattle” It was used to describe someone who wanted to play the role of a big influential cattleman but in actuality had no cattle. There have been 50 votes in the house, 2 major lawsuits and an outcry to change the Affordable Care Act. But Congress (now that Republicans control both houses) won’t either through a formal vote or through budget allocation processes in the senate work to defund or repeal this law. All I can say is “Big Hat…No Cattle”. At this point it is important to remember that the subsidies offered to the “State” by the federal government is for 3 years only. Meaning that the funding then transfers to the states budgets after this 3 year period. This was a fundamental reason that many Governors chose not to implement the program. The coming combination of rate increases, the burden of funding to change to states and the reporting requirements and penalties many employers will be facing will compel change, or denial and increased funding, I am not sure which one but just remember “Big Hat…No Cattle”.

SCOTUS rules on King vs. Burwell

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion upheld the provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that allowed funding premium subsidies through both federally funded and state funded exchanges. The interpretation of the word “State” was cited in Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion and was interpreted to mean any exchange. This means that there will be no change in the law as a result of the case and employers and individuals will proceed as they have over the last 5 years by implementing and complying with the law. In the dissenting opinion authored by Justice Scalia he said “that this law should now be called SCOTUS CARE”. Speculation says he has said this because of the way the court has interpreted arguments and words in the law both in 2012 and now. In both situations the Court has set the precedent. If the Supreme Court likes the law but not the wording they have freedom to redefine the words or introduce non-argued arguments to provide their desired interpretation.

The ACA, DOL, EBSA and IRS: "What am I missing...?"

The biggest fear with any new law is what you don't know or, worse, what you missed. Complying with the Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is the same... With the first period of implementation for groups that are 100 employees or more over, the question now is "did you do it right?" In any sport, whether it is individual or team oriented, the best in class always review what they did and how they can improve. It's tough for a business to do this process proactively since typically, customer reaction drives the review process.

I believe it is better to offer a continual review and reflection on what and how to do things better to my clients. The alternative is to create a protected wall around me that simply seals my own fate because I wouldn't ask myself "What am I missing?".

Take, for instance, the recent increase in staffing for the enforcement portion of ERISA and the Affordable Care Act. So the enforcement agencies are hiring more staff and/or are asking for more staff..."What am I missing?". I'm guessing that the compliance factor for employers around these laws are what I call "gapped" - that is, the reality of what documents need to be in place compared to the reality of what documents are in place is large enough to compel the increased labor cost.

I understand I'm projecting business ideas on to the Federal Government, but if the decision process did occur this way, imagine how big the chasm really is for it to be seen by them?

So what is the answer to my question, "What am I missing?"

The answer is that it's time to review your performance on the documentation end of your Health & Welfare plan. The penalties here aren't just 15 yards, or a 5 second delay, they are real dollars with real implications on your business, and you don't get a warning  from these agencies saying "Hey, just wanted you to know that we may be asking for these documents from you in the next couple of weeks". They just show up or call. So if you're saying to yourself, "what the hell are these documents?", give me a call. We'll found out what you're missing together.