On Wednesday, the Employee Assistance Program held its workshop, “Eating Right for Life: On the Go,” the first in a series aimed to promote healthy living among Binghamton University employees.
The EAP offers community resources and services to all faculty, staff, graduate student employees and retirees at BU. After receiving a grant of approximately $1,000 from the New York State Employee Assistance Program, the department chose to fund a program in order to create a culture in which employees could talk about healthy eating and living.
According to Ada Robinson-Perez, associate director of the Employee Assistance Program, the program coordinators hoped to help participants evaluate their relationship by using food as a tool to gain knowledge about healthy eating habits and identify two goals for healthy living.
“[We want] to encourage faculty and staff to take care of themselves by selecting food that will improve and sustain their health AND still enjoy the pleasure of eating and dining out,” Robinson-Perez wrote in an email.
While there are many resources available to students as part of BU’s Healthy Campus Initiative, B-Healthy, the options created for faculty are limited. The workshop was a result of the efforts from the Employee Health and Wellness Sub-Committee, which is chaired by Cindy Cowden, senior associate director of facilities and internal operations of campus recreation.
The presentation was led by Mary Niefer, an Employee Assistance Program coordinator, who debunked many of the common misconceptions about nutrition. She said that facts about food are often concealed in misleading language on food labels. According to Niefer, products that claim to be made with real fruit typically contains fruit juice, which generates added sugar, rather than whole fruit.
“Bad news — muffins are just cupcakes without frosting,” Niefer said. “Grain products that are ‘multigrain’ are really just a combination of multiple types of grain, which often includes refined grain.”
Niefer also suggested that participants avoid their cell phones when food shopping so that they are not distracted from their shopping lists. Primarily, Niefer stressed that weight management and healthy living is a lifelong — not a short-term — endeavor.
“It’s a process and it changes,” Niefer said. “Your lifestyle can change and health picture can change.”
Participants added to the discussion by sharing their own nutrition tips and experiences, along with the best methods for eating locally. They were encouraged to share their healthy eating strategies — ranging from apps to recipes — on a Google document. Alison Gierlach, manager of professional employment at BU, believed this structure supported a productive atmosphere for participants.
“I think that a group dynamic is something that encourages me to keep paying attention to this topic, as opposed to trying to remember to do things on my own in isolation,” Gierlach said.
Although there is no occupational health department for staff at BU, the Employee Assistance Program office — located at South G673 in Glenn G. Bartle Library — provides many convenient ways to introduce health support to faculty and staff, such as a weight program, a small lending library and a happiness portal webpage. They also have plans for a blood pressure clinic that would be free to all employees — including graduate student employees — at the University.