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Is your workplace ready for this challenge?

Karen Krysa and others in her office plan to do the Eat Well Live Well Challenge again in the spring. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

More than a dozen employees at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County are happier than many of the rest of us early in this new year.

I’m talking about those of us who had good intentions when it came to eating right during the holidays – until the rush of the season, the fast food stops and the treats and parties put the brakes on those plans.

About 15 of the Extension employees – all but a couple of the workers at the Lockport headquarters – participated in Wegmans Eat Well Live Well Challenge, a contest that has been used by more than 445 employers and 200,000 employees in the Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse areas during the last several years.

The challenge at the Lockport organization was organized by Natalie M. Cook, grant writer for the Niagara County Extension, based on the county fairgrounds.

Karen Krysa and her team of six – Jennifer Grier, Margaret Lapp, Jamie Wasik, Shaun White and Lori Smith – won the challenge. Krysa, the overall office challenge winner, "had perfect participation in the challenge, a rare accomplishment," Cook wrote me in an email, "and also scored very high in both physical activity and healthy eating consistently during our 8 weeks."

I spoke with Krysa by phone earlier this week for today’s "What are you eating?" feature in WNY Refresh.

Below are excerpts I couldn’t squeeze into the piece.

Meanwhile, those interested in bringing a spring challenge to their workplace can click here for more info. 

The goal of the challenge, according to Wegmans, “is to encourage individuals to move more, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed and learn how to lead ‘healthier, better lives.’”

Participants are asked to use a pedometer and count daily steps; count and record the number of cups of fruit and vegetables they eat each day, and aim to have at least one meal a day in which half the plate is filled with veggies and fruit.

Krysa, an administrative assistant at the Cooperative Extension, helps folks who walk into the Lockport office, schedules catering events and hall rentals on the Extension grounds and participates in agricultural education. She plans to attend the national “Corn Congress” later this month. She is a master gardener who also handles the office’s newsletter, "Your Extension."

Did any of this challenge rub off on your friends or family?

It did. My husband eats a lot better now. He enjoys salads more because I put more in ‘em, and I do different things. It’s not the same old boring salad. Our fridge is stocked with more fruits, vegetables, frozen vegetables.

Were any prizes awarded?

We had a basket loaded with things. There was a hockey puck from one of the Sabres. There was a yoga mat. There were tickets to a basketball game. We had so many things. We split it up among all of us who won. I got to pick first, then we went back and chose another. I took the hockey puck and the yoga mat.

What was the hardest part about the challenge?

Sometimes thinking, ‘What I’m going to make to eat?’ Because everything sounded so good. Say you had something like spaghetti and wanted to think of creative ways to add something else. I started adding spinach and kale, so I felt I was getting a little bit more that way. It took a little of the boredom out of the sauce. Plus I’d have a salad on the side.

Did they give you recipes and include some creative ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables?

We did get a few recipes and you can go on the Wegmans site. I did that a few times, but I have so many cookbooks at home. I’d go through recipes looking for vegetables and if a recipe would call for a meat, I’d turn it into a vegetable instead. I still got my protein.

What was the hardest thing to resist?

I would say doughnuts. Sunday morning, my husband likes to say, ‘Let’s have doughnuts with our coffee. I wouldn’t do it. I would have my cup of coffee and have a pear or banana, something like that. It helped. It really helped. … If I really had to (give in), I would look at that doughnut and say, ‘OK, I will take a quarter of the doughnut,’ and I would eat it, and that would satisfy me. I wouldn’t have to eat the whole thing. I found that by taking a few bites of something really good, like chocolate, after the first two bites, it’s boring. The first two bites are the best in the world. So I’m not depriving myself, I’m trying to make better choices.

How did your eating patterns change?

I was really a big sweets eater. It’s really curbed me a lot. By the time you get done eating vegetables – there’s a lot of fiber in ‘em – and your fruits, you just get so full you say, ‘Forget it.’ We’d go to a restaurant and just totally turn down dessert, which I never would before. If something goes good, I might try to reward myself with a little something on the weekend. I figured if you totally take it away, you’d go nuts.

What was the impact of having so many co-workers also participate?

It was a lot of fun. It wouldn’t have been so much fun if you were doing it by yourself. Having everybody behind you – ‘Hey, what did you eat?’ ‘Look what I found.’ We’d share recipes – it was a wonderful experience.

During the Christmas season, I honestly didn’t eat as much as I have in the past. If it was a big cookie, I’d take part of it and say, ‘OK, I’ve had enough.’

When that ‘yum’ goes away, I just stop.

What is your New Year’s resolution?

To keep eating my fruits, vegetables, keep walking, exercise and keep healthy.

I know this challenge isn’t necessarily designed to help you lose weight but did you?

I lost 4 pounds, and now I’m right where I want to be.


Twitter: @bnrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

@BNRefresh |