by Melissa Hutchins

“True change takes place in the imagination” – Thomas Moore

I exercise all the time. I eat healthy. I almost never drink pop. I am losing weight. I am strong. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables.  I am healthy. 

I hear these statements every day from the individuals I support at Hammer. They have a strong desire to see themselves as living healthy, just as you and I do. We’ve done an excellent job inspiring interest and feelings of pride and self-accomplishment surrounding better choices. Our challenge is to form a reality as positive as the perceptions they each hold.  We know it is tough to change behavior, attitude, choices and actions day after day. Particularly when the benefits of these difficult changes are not swiftly apparent.

As a middle-aged person, I worry about obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression not only for myself, but for the individuals at Hammer. Every one of these concerns can be positively affected – if not completely abated – by lifestyle. We know this.

It's not easy bein' green: Justin redeems his healthy living challenge points to spray paint Melissa's hair green.

It’s not easy bein’ green: John redeems his healthy living challenge points to spray paint Melissa’s hair green.

We can educate ourselves, make plans and then whip ourselves and others into a fury of good choices and actions … for a while. It takes a willingness and flexible imagination to sustain these new habits.

At Zealand Apartments, we started with awareness and education. We talked about what constitutes a healthy choice. We encouraged water over pop and Subway over McDonalds. We looked at our shopping habits and limited the processed foods we purchased. Then we moved on to actions. We began a motivational chart to reward folks each month for exercising and it was a huge hit. People were moving and the team made it as fun as possible.

It has been a couple of years since we began and lately we’ve seen some of the old habits resurface. It seems that every activity or event we attend has a “treat.” There are snack machines at work, popcorn at the movies and the lure of dining out every weekend is literally weighing our efforts down. We’ve been stuck.

Justin Edin and Melissa Hutchins flex their muscles to enact change.

Justin Edin and Melissa Hutchins flex their muscles to enact change.

This spring, team member Justin Edin came in with a revamped motivational program. We still give out monthly exercise rewards but bonus points have been added for choices. People may now earn points for choosing to exercise longer, drink more water, eat fruits and veggies, avoid pop and so forth. The rewards were imaginative and budget conscious. Justin, staff and individuals here set up rewards like throwing a pie at Justin, going out for one-on-one time with a staff, dyeing my hair green and anything else they or the staff can dream up. Since the launch of his program, eight of the individuals we support have lost a combined total of 47 pounds.

Just as our previous spotlights on education, nutrition and exercise motivated us, we have been reinvigorated by focusing on individual choices. We’ve had a lot of fun, learned much about health and will undoubtedly need to focus on something different next year. We know this isn’t a solution, but a continuous process of creative adaptation. We are trying to imagine what to focus on next. Do you have any ideas?