How a determined business executive got healthier by building on his company’s insurer-provided wellness offerings.
After reaching 198 pounds with high cholesterol, and suffering two gout attacks in the course of five years, Kevin Davis, now Principal at EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants, knew he had to do something. The company he worked for back then offered nutrition counseling through its self-insured health insurance plan. However, after trying it, Kevin felt he needed more, and helped the company engage an independent wellness provider with a comprehensive program. As a result, at age 49, and still working the wellness program even though he has changed employers, he “feels great physically and mentally.”
Kevin was on vacation with his family in 2018 when he had his second attack of gout, a form of arthritis that causes painful swelling in the joints. He was in so much pain, he couldn’t do the activities they had planned, couldn’t go on walks, and felt very discouraged. He thought about his own father and mother, who were both in poor health, sedentary, and medication-dependent. He said to himself, “If this is going to be what the rest of my life looks like, I’ve got to make some changes,” and decided at that moment to get serious about nutrition and stress.
The first steps toward change
Recognizing that he had crossed over into a “new normal,” Kevin started a food journal that very weekend. He wanted to pay more attention to what he was eating, and be held accountable for the choices he was making. He was on the road a lot, eating what was available, and often ended up eating foods with lots of calories. This got him involved in his previous employer's nutrition counseling program.
While the insurer-provided program gave him a jumpstart, Kevin found that he wanted more than just help with calories. He understood that his gout attacks had as much to do with stress as they did with diet, and that wasn’t addressed in the nutrition counseling program. He also wanted a less rigid approach. “We had a ‘do and don’t’ list,” he says. “They would tell us to ‘eat rice cakes, not Cheez-Its®,’ for example. Well, Cheez-Its taste better. When you’re simply told what to do, you start to think it’s not worth the trade-off.”
A pivotal company decision
As a member of his former company's internal wellness committee, Kevin had exposure to health and wellness providers that assisted many of the firm's clients. One of those was BeneFIT Corporate Wellness, a division of Populytics. BeneFIT health educators and health coaches often attended wellness committee meetings, and Kevin agreed with their perspective: that leadership needs to drive a healthy company culture.
He had worked with Populytics on a presentation about self-insured companies. The presentation emphasized that employers with self-insured health plans are accountable for their employees’ health and wellness. When an employer chooses to fund its own risk, a wellness strategy is an absolute must to enable success. “I figured, since I promote the importance of a self-insured company having a wellness strategy for employees, I should walk the talk,” he says.
Kevin also viewed a webinar featuring stress reduction and mental health, presented by BeneFIT and Preferred EAP, the behavioral health counseling arm of Populytics. He says that “filled in the gaps” for him. “It was the whole person focus that convinced me,” he says. “Some wellness companies are strong in one particular area. I was seeking a partner that offered a comprehensive well-being approach that assisted with not only physical health and nutrition, but also the mental health aspects that drive them. If you only have a partial service, you can easily get to the rice cakes/Cheez-Its moment and lose your motivation.”
Starting to make real progress
The company's decision to purchase BeneFIT’s health coaching program was a huge step in Kevin’s transformation, and brought a new focus on health to the company. He started working with his own health coach in telephone sessions several times a month. He took part in wellness challenges, tracked his physical activity, monitored and improved his diet, and learned ways to reduce stress. “BeneFIT’s coaches are clinically trained, so I knew I would have a good encounter,” says Kevin. “Plus, it’s a real person you’re talking to, who is giving you timely and appropriate feedback.”
He felt the non-prescriptive approach was key. “I wanted to be sure I was expending all this effort in a way that would be successful,” says Kevin. For example, regarding his physical activity, he and his health coach talked about increasing his minimum number of steps from 10,000 to 12,000. They decided it was best not to. If Kevin didn’t make the new minimum, he would feel like he failed. Whereas, if the minimum stays at 10,000, everything above that is a win.
He was also pleased that the sessions are easy to manage virtually. “This is a better solution for busy executives. Many of us may not be going back to an in-person model,” he says. Kevin adds that the convenience is a reason to utilize BeneFIT’s online wellness portal. Incentives also help. This is supplemented by the incentive program that BeneFIT helped the company set up to align with the portal, where employees get points for completing wellness tasks and goals. His previous employer awarded points for active participation in the wellness challenges. Those points could be redeemed for gift cards.
Outcomes and results
Kevin started his health coaching program with four primary goals. He has continued his initial plan with these results:
- Track food intake. Staying on a healthy eating plan, based on sound nutritional guidelines – 20% protein, 30% fat, and 50% carbs – for the last 2 ½ years helped Kevin slim down. During the pandemic, his wife joined him. They pay more attention to the ingredients they use for cooking, and make substitutions such as whole grains instead of white flour products. Kevin’s current snack foods are raw almonds or veggies and humus.
- Read for enjoyment and stress reduction. This involves unplugging from social media, video meetings, and screens in general. Kevin spends a minimum of 30 minutes a day reading to get his mind calm and off the news. “I can’t do anything about negative news,” he says. “But I can do these other things that can help me reduce stress. It’s about choosing things I can control.”
- Reduce BMI. Kevin’s Body Mass Index* was 28. Now it’s 23.
- Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Kevin carves out 1 hour a day to walk 4 miles to contribute to his 10,000 steps. He usually listens to podcasts or instrumental music. This helps him process his thoughts better, and relieve stress and burnout, which could lead to a gout attack. After a meal, he allows “digestion time” in the form of a midday walk after lunch – about 2 miles in 35 minutes – and a walk after dinner with his wife and his dogs. All told, he averages about 9 miles a day.
Today, Kevin continues to keep himself accountable with his coach. He has not had any more gout attacks, his cholesterol numbers are down, and his cholesterol medication has been cut in half. He went from 198 pounds in May 2020 to 165 pounds in Sept. 2020. He feels much less lethargic than before, doesn’t rely on caffeine to get himself going, and doesn’t have headaches anymore, which he believes were attributed to his diet. Kevin says his head is clear, and he is motivated to stay healthy. He focuses on things to look forward to, and practices mindfulness exercises so he can truly be in the moment.
“I know what I need to do now to maintain it,” says Kevin. “I give full credit to BeneFIT and Preferred EAP for helping me improve my physical and mental health.”
*Body Mass Index (BMI) is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness. BMI can be used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems but it is not diagnostic of the body fatness or health of an individual.