how can you eat just one cookie?!

November 10, 2009

in life,wellness

i spend a lot of time here and in my day job talking about what makes wellness work. i really like greg matthews’ take. he argues that you can’t make wellness or health fun. you need to make fun healthy.

while i cotton to this notion, there’s a small voice inside of me that says even in a fun form, this won’t always work. sometimes there’s a more daunting barrier.

i was raised by disturbed dieters—parents who dealt with issues and pressures through food. dad would binge until he couldn’t fit into his pants. then he’d not eat anything but one-half of a cabbage head at dinnertime. (he’s the only man i know who had “skinny” pants, and he asked to be buried with them.) mom would carefully parcel out one-half slice of dry rye bread and one perfect cube of jarlsberg cheese every morning. when times were stressful—and some days they were plenty stressful—she’d have her “six snickers bar” days. from time to time, they’d bring a new cuisine to the table: the scarsdale diet, the carnation instant breakfast diet, and so on.

in grade school, my older sister—a normal-sized child—was offered a dollar for every pound she’d lose. my sister instantly rebelled. she never lost a pound in grade school. in fact, she gained—right on through college, with some ups and downs in between.

and me? i was the pixie, smaller and petite. i subsisted on the one pound Hershey bar and fast food without effect, much to my sister’s annoyance. yet in high school i started to view my 5′ 5′ 105-lb frame as too large. in my senior year of college, i held my own rebellion. i focused on every morsel that went into my mouth. a piece of pizza meant a one-hour run. anything but a strict regimen of cereal for breakfast and salad for lunch and dinner left me feeling guilty, ugly, and fat. you know how this story goes. pretty soon, i was bulimic.

that was more than 20 years ago. people still think i’m a pixie, smaller and petite. they look at me and think—of course you’re into health and wellness! i feel like a fraud as they marvel at how i can have one cookie and be done. long ago, if i did eat only one cookie, it would’ve been driven by guilt and fear. today, it’s because i know i feel like crap when i eat too much high-fat, high-sugar foods.

no fun game, no points system, no cash-back guarantee could’ve granted me this knowledge—or kept me from being bulimic and unhealthy. only introspection, a span of years, and two great therapists who helped me speak my mind instead of stuffing my face. (that’s right, they’re who you have to thank for my…what shall we call it?…candor.)

i remember my journey to physical well-being via mental well-being when i think about expectations for company wellness programs, and definitely while raising my own girls. it’s important for companies to devise a wellness strategy that addresses the whole individual and sets reasonable expectations for what can be achieved. and to always—always!—remember that they’re dealing with people with real histories and very real struggles.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Hebert November 10, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Great post Fran. You are totally right – the whole individual needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a cynic and don’t believe companies truly care about the individual as much as they care about income. You know I’ve posted before that companies only embrace wellness activities because it will impact their bottom line.

As the discussion on healthcare continues I think you’ll see some interesting developments in this space. One of the things that is possible – if healthcare is disconnected from the employer there will be no need for wellness programs. No cost – not incentive.

Wellness will come from the insurance companies – they will have (and have now) the real incentive to impact the whole person.


fran November 10, 2009 at 7:31 pm

hey, paul. i think you’re right…companies do embrace wellness because it’s good for their bottom line. and they partner with insurance companies and provide their services to achieve this, right now. personally, i think improving the bottom line in some way, shape, or form is why companies do most things related to employees. and is that terrible? i also believe that many companies care about their employees and about making their companies great, which you can’t do without the former (IMHO).



Paul Hebert November 10, 2009 at 8:26 pm

You and I may differ on the degree that MOST companies feel about their employees. Good ones would do it regardless – the rest – oh well.


Frank Roche November 10, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Fran, what a wonderful and touching article. I’m blown away. What a wonderful conclusion to “remember that they’re dealing with people with real histories and very real struggles.” Thanks so much for the revealing lesson.


laurie ruettimann November 11, 2009 at 12:10 am

Frank, what a moving post. Thank you.


Lisa Rosendahl November 11, 2009 at 7:16 am

Fran, thank you for sharing. Others will learn from your candor and your daughters, well, they have an amazing role model in you.


fran November 11, 2009 at 7:45 am

frank, laurie, and lisa. i hesitated before clicking that publish button, but was encouraged by my sister’s sense that others would relate and respond. thanks for reading and commenting,



Greg Matthews November 11, 2009 at 7:47 am

Fran, I have to confess that my first reaction to reading your personal story was fear. Fear of the responsibility that we in the health business have never to cross the line with our well-being advocacy. Fear that I won’t set the right example for my own daughters.

We can talk about healthy weight, healthy nutrition, the obesity epidemic in the US. But none of those things can make one iota of difference to an individual who’s making decisions every day that affect their health.

My company has been making significant investment in behavioral health services … a part of the “whole person” that we hadn’t focused on in the past as much as we should have. As a person who considers himself your friend (although we’ve never met), your article makes that investment a personal commitment for me.

My fear – a healthy fear (no pun intended), I think – must translate into resolve, and my resolve into action. Thanks for the reminder.


fran November 11, 2009 at 8:48 am

greg, it’s hard to know where that line is for health businesses and certainly for companies, as long as we have our u.s. employer-provided benefits system. in general, i believe it goes back to the individual’s readiness. and their having and knowing about appropriate resources when they are ready. as for the daughters, i hear ya!

thanks, my friend.



Steve Boese November 11, 2009 at 9:26 am

Thanks for sharing these stories, and beyond that, showing us how important they are and how we all should be mindful when we jockey boxes on org charts, or casually make changes in policies and programs that we are profoundly affecting real people with real concerns. Fantastic post.


Paul Smith November 11, 2009 at 10:38 am

Thanks for sharing your story & your candor. I know that a “real” wellness program has to take into account the whole individual, their past, present & future to be truly affective. It’s a shame that most of the information about Wellenss Program that I come across only focuses on an individual issue…BMI (really?), smoking cessation, etc. These issues receive mass endorsement. But I am not yet convinced that they have long term benefit. If you are not focusing on the whole individual, it’s like a putting a bandaid on a patient that is hemorraging.


Crystal Peterson November 11, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Hi Fran – great post. Thank you for sharing. This post is one I will remember as we discuss our wellness strategy. “Addressing the whole person” and remembering that we’re “dealing with people with real histories and very real struggles” – so important!


fran November 12, 2009 at 9:10 am

steve, thanks so much. love that — jockey boxes on an org chart. exactly!

paul, some companies are working their vendor relationships to truly integrate and orient from the user’s perspective, but definitely not enough.

crystal, super! my work here is done 😉

thanks for reading and sharing back, everyone.


Stephanie Keenan September 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Great blog post Fran. I find it so interesting how there is always so much focus on the latest and greatest training and nutrition piece to wellness, but clearly mental health is the center of wellness. Thank you for sharing your journey and insights.


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