Many professionals – particularly men, dare we say it – still resist the idea of looking after themselves. Admittedly, things have moved on significantly since the ‘80s and ‘90s when it was practically mandatory to hasten your demise through excessive work, booze, fags, takeaways and worse. However, some of that ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos lingers in the air like stale tobacco smoke. Equally, certain employers, though they too are beginning to improve in this area, place low priority on staff health and wellbeing. The worst ones apply subtle pressure on their people to take fewer holidays, miss lunch breaks, work late and avoid sick days.
Generally, however, most of us now recognise that healthy eating, work-life balance and exercise make sense, but we struggle to keep our New Year’s resolutions amid the tumult of deadlines, meetings, kids, office vending machines, iPhones, shiny cake counters, pubs and life in general. And we can feel admonished and intimidated by proponents of the burgeoning ‘wellness’ and ‘clean-eating’ movement, viewing their advice to consume raw veg, nettle soup and quinoa with suspicion and doubt.
But it would be wrong – self-defeating in fact – to write off ‘wellness’ as a faddish dietary horror show pursued only by other worldly obsessives. It’s pretty obvious that we all need some ‘wellness’ in our lives and that embracing it to some degree has the potential to improve our lot.
So we spoke to Melissa Hemsley, one half of the healthy eating double act Hemsley & Hemsley, author of 3 bestselling cookbooks including her recent solo book EAT HAPPY: 30 minute feelgood food (an Amazon #1 bestseller) to find out more…
She convinced us that pursuing wellness does not mean that you only ever have to consume water and flaxseed. On the contrary, she told us, you can make yourself feel much better at work and at home – and improve health, productivity, relationships and outlook – by making a few simple changes. So swallow your cynicism – and that slice of cake – and read on…
“Wellness is about making everyday choices that give you a good feeling,” Melissa told us. “It’s relevant to everyone and can relate to anything, not just food. For example, I watched Narcos last night and made myself stop after one episode. I shut my laptop and went to bed because I know I can only do a great day’s work if I sleep properly. That was a wellness decision.
“Wellness is about having a mindset that prioritises health and wellbeing. So in as much as I’m trying to grow a business and create a great future, my number one priority is myself and my health and the joy I have in that. Wellness is about seeing health as your genuine wealth and everything else as a by-product of that.
But for us the first burning question was ‘how do you achieve it?’ “For a lot of people, the easiest thing to do to improve wellbeing is to drink more water and make healthier food choices. It’s possible to tweak things here and there and get amazing results.”
Melissa believes many people shy away from the idea of wellness because of the way it is sometimes packaged by the media. She explained:“If it feels like an ordeal, a life overhaul, a set of rules, and if people are busy already, then it’s not surprising they say ‘no thanks’. But what we’re suggesting is that you can have a big, positive impact on your health and wellbeing by making small, everyday changes. For example, if you can’t sleep properly it could be because you’ve drunk something too stimulating too late, so why not swap coffee or tea for peppermint tea after 4pm? Also, set a few rules: for example, ban yourself from browsing on your phone, tablet or laptop after 9pm. Avoid eating too many carb-heavy meals in the evening. Chew your food more to put less strain on your digestive system. And try downloading an app like ‘f.lux’, which filters out the stimulating blue light from your laptop screen. If you start making the effort to make good choices, they become habits, and then, when you combine all of these together, they will have a big impact. It’s a case of finding out what works for you.”
Many employers are starting to see the benefits of prioritising wellness in the workplace but there’s still a long way to go, believes Melissa; particularly for those with a culture of long hours.“A good work-life balance is key,” she said. “In some offices there’s still a feeling that to get ahead you need to show you’re constantly on call and never off sick. That’s terrible for wellbeing. When you’re knackered and work dominates your life, it becomes much harder to find joy and enthusiasm for your job. You get rundown and you’re then penalised for taking a sick day.”
Melissa suggests that employers who don’t value wellbeing are indulging in short-term thinking. They will eventually come unstuck when people either vote with their feet or become less productive as their mental and physical health declines.
Melissa finished our conversation with sage advice for the times when we inevitably make decisions that do not lead to optimum wellness.
“Don’t get obsessed,” she said, “it’s all about doing the next best thing. If you’re offered a brownie in the office and you need to eat something, eat it and enjoy it! Don’t leave it and go hungry and don’t eat it and beat yourself up about it. Let’s not think of food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
“If you’re not able to make ideal choices – say you’re on a stag or hen do – of course you’re going to get drunk and eat pizza at 4am. But wellness is about balance… so the week after your blowout it’s time to get more health conscious. Make sure you sleep more, drink more water and eat healthily.”
Melissa’s down-to-earth take on wellness convinced us that it isn’t a fad. It’s not something for ‘other people’. It’s not about eating seven avocados a day. It’s common sense and about being normal, healthy, balanced and happy. And all of us, employers especially, need to embrace it…
To read more about Melissa, please visit melissahemsley.com