ANGELA STEEL - WHY WORKPLACE NUTRITION MATTERS THE MOST
She has since built a team of dedicated experts who work with her to deliver the tried and tested SuperWellness employee wellbeing programmes. These include corporate nutritionists, stress management specialists and lifestyle coaches.
Angela Steel on LinkedIn
Angela, can you tell us about SuperWellness and what’s your role within the organisation?
SuperWellness’s purpose is to help improve employees’ physical and mental health through a nutrition-centred approach to wellbeing. We find that nutrition is often overlooked within companies’ wellbeing strategies.
It’s really an untapped area where employers can make a huge difference but are not always sure how they can go about it. Our role is to work with them to deliver a programme that will achieve measurable results. It takes a combination of elements to really shift the conversation and culture towards nutritional awareness, from creating an environment where healthier options are easily available, which is where Healthy Nibbles does such a fantastic job, to giving people the knowledge and coaching they need to build healthy habits, so these choices become a ‘no-brainer’ and that’s where we come in!
I founded SuperWellness back in 2011, when I started out working with individuals. Most of my clients were professionals, often with similar challenges – time poor, under a lot of pressure, but also often feeling burnt out, or struggling with problems around sleep, mental health, digestion, and metabolic health issues. It soon became obvious that there was a gap where nutrition is concerned. There is some core areas of knowledge in nutrition that can be life changing and are relevant for 90% of people at work, but the way this information is conveyed is really important.
It has to be 100% practical in the context of work and all the challenges that entails. My role is primarily to ensure that everything we do – the content and the programmes we deliver, the team and the way we work are all geared towards achieving this.
We all want to feel great and most of us do the best we can when it comes to healthy eating and exercise. The question is: how do you keep motivated and inspired day in, day out, throughout the year?
I couldn’t agree more and that’s really the golden question! It’s all about long term habits and consistency over time but it can be so easy to lose momentum! We know that willpower alone isn’t enough over time but thankfully there’s a lot of interesting research which has been totally eye opening for me and made me feel that with the right support, it is doable for anyone.
The Transtheoretical Model of Change has had a big influence on the way we work at SuperWellness. It was created by behavioural scientists based on huge population studies looking at different health behaviours such as smoking or diet change. Its premise is that each of us goes through five stages in the process of adopting a new healthy behaviour, from being pretty much in denial that any change is even needed all the way through to making the change and maintaining it for a period of time.
A critical element within that is that it’s normal to relapse but our attitude to this is what makes all the difference. Knowing it’s a normal part of change really helps to alleviate our tendency to beat ourselves up, get discouraged and go back to unhealthy behaviours because we feel we’ve failed.
In a workplace environment, there will always be a wide range of people who are at completely different stages of readiness, so they will all be motivated and inspired by slightly different things. That’s why it takes a multi-pronged approach and we use different things, such as posters, body composition testing, workshops, coaching, quizzes, recipes and work alongside fabulous companies such as Healthy Nibbles who make it accessible for employees to switch to convenient alternatives to unhealthy foods they might be having every day.
With nutrition, it certainly helps to begin by ‘adding’ in healthy ingredients, foods that are more nutritious, and the need for unhealthier foods subsides. For instance, switching from snacks that are high in sugar to ones that contain more protein will instantly make you feel more satiated and help curb sugar cravings. It doesn’t feel so much like a sacrifice or that you have to ‘give up’ the foods you enjoy because you’ve found alternatives that actually feel better. The temptation to go back to old habits just isn’t there, and if you do, you quickly feel the difference.
It’s unfortunate that nutrition still has strong associations in many people’s minds with dieting, willpower and restriction and a painful cycle of guilt! It feels much more inspiring to think about the amazing nutritious properties of different foods and if our way of eating is geared to good health and vibrant energy we are much more likely to naturally keep going with it.
When it comes to exercise, it takes effort to get started when you don’t feel fit and energetic and it can be very easy to make excuses and stay stuck in that cycle. I think there is a critical period where you do have to use willpower initially to get to the point where you feel the benefits and become ‘hooked’. Everyone’s different but finding the right workout which you actually enjoy is key – for me it was a 30 minute high intensity kick boxing circuit where the exercises change every day and now I actually look forward to going and the best part is the feeling afterwards!
So perhaps the key is to make healthy habits enjoyable and coaching can really help each person to define what this looks like for them.
When did this journey into nutrition begin for you?
I was in a corporate career in the IT industry for many years and even though I tried to ‘eat healthy’ I had little awareness of nutrition so this often meant falling for healthy looking labels on foods that weren’t so great!
The trigger for me was a 7 day fasting retreat in Thailand (my colleagues thought I must have gone mad but it was something I wanted to try mostly out of curiosity). I really did feel amazing after those 7 days, my energy was sky high, my skin looked great - I’d always had awful acne - and it got me interested in the effects of different foods on the body and how we feel.
I started researching more and more and happened to attend an open day at the London College of Naturopathic Medicine. I was fascinated by what I heard and signed up to a three year course in nutrition which eventually led to a change of career.
Can you tell us about your background Angela and what inspired you to create SuperWellness?
I think the love of food was always there. Having grown up in France, it was a big part of life and I loved both eating and cooking! When I was in my corporate career, I had a sense there was something missing, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
I used to do a lot of evening classes in a kind of quest to find it and looking back I think it was a sense of purpose I was after. Discovering nutrition was a complete eye opener for me. Learning about our body, and the huge impact our environment, diet and lifestyle have really opened up a new way of thinking.
It felt empowering and confidence building, not just in terms of what we can do for our health but other areas of our life too. We often have more choices than we’re aware of and that’s why knowledge and information are so important. It was certainly my own experience of this that inspired me to create SuperWellness and help to make this knowledge more widely available in work environments.
What do your employee wellbeing programmes cover?
All of our programmes and workshops have nutrition at the core but cover a wide range of topics. Nutrition has a big impact on areas such as sleep, mental wellbeing, even musculoskeletal health as well as being the primary approach for things like weight management, digestion, energy and general prevention.
We offer a Nutrition Discovery Session, which is a good place for employers to start when looking to introduce nutrition. It includes an insightful workshop that goes into the impact of nutrition on our body and energy as well as our brain chemistry.
This is followed by body composition testing with small group coaching and Q&A sessions which are very powerful to trigger behaviour changes on an individual level. The employer receives a detailed report with group-level health statistics based on Public Health England standardized questions as well as more in-depth nutrition data and feedback from employees highlighting areas of interest to focus on in a future programme.
For employers who are keen to install behaviour change and a culture shift, we then offer the SuperWellness Challenge, a 5 month transformational programme delivered in teams. The Challenge combines lots of different elements - knowledge, coaching, measurement, plus the element of friendly competition to create a buzz and shift the overall conversation in the workplace towards nutrition.
For those looking to focus primarily on mental health, with an approach that’s strongly nutrition focused, we offer consultancy to help them map out a complete programme (including services other than our own) as well as our SuperMind programme, a series of 9 workshops around mindfulness, resilience and performance with a nutrition twist.
What makes SuperWellness unique?
We’ve been delivering workplace nutrition programmes for 6 years now and this has meant a large number of projects which we’ve delivered across a range of industries from construction to financial services. The practical learnings we’ve taken from these have really shaped our way of working today. So there are probably three key things I would mention:
- The strong focus we have on the engagement side: this includes our facilitators’ style (friendly, enthusiastic, supportive and down-to-earth), fun elements such as quizzes and prizes and a coaching based approach so it’s not just about the knowledge but supporting people to put it into practice with all the restrictions of normal working life.
- Measurement and proven results: we track improvements to health and behaviour as well as biometric data so that employers can measure the outcomes of their investment in nutrition and wellbeing. Typically the SuperWellness Challenge sees improvements in self-reported sleep, energy and mood among other things between 12% and 45%.
Nutrition as an approach to wellbeing gives us a unique angle which is often missing in a company’s wellbeing strategy. It’s an approach which can be very effective for mental health and sleep for instance because it provides practical tools which can be implemented by people straight away to make a difference.
What does the future hold, any exciting plans we should keep an eye out for?
There’s still work to be done to raise awareness of the importance of having a workplace nutrition programme in place as an integral part of any wellbeing strategy and that’s our main focus for the foreseeable future. I believe the best way to achieve this is to continue delivering measurable results across more and more workplaces so keep an eye out for more case studies and client stories over the next 12 months!