If the edamame beans on offer at the start of last week’s BIFM London region event exploring the role of food in boosting people’s productivity, had delegates perplexed at first, then it wasn’t to be the last time their prejudices about food were put to the test. More than 100 facilities professionals enjoyed the stunning sunset and views across the City from the 23rd floor of the 755ft tall Heron Tower while struggling to work out whether they were suppose to eat the whole pod, or just the individual beans. Fortunately with several nutritionists and wellbeing experts on the speaker panel, that dilemma, and many other food questions, were quickly resolved.
Diana Spellman, managing director of strategic catering procurement consultancy Partners In Purchasing, and the event sponsor, opened the event with her personal reflections on food. “Food is the force but should not be the foe of our lives” she said, describing how it was only when she had to give up alcohol that she realised her recovery rates of the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle were not supported by the foods available at work to help her be creative and productive in achieving big tender deadlines. She described much of current catering as a “nutritional desert” with a formidable trend of serving up empty empty calories and supersize portions. “Can we turn the tide?” she asked.
Oliver Gray, managing director of engeriseYou argued that there is a real mismatch between people trying to be healthy, and actually being healthy. He cited the Special K diet (where the actress in the famous red swimsuit eats two bowls of the cereal a day, and a ‘normal’ meal in order to look good) as an example. “Eating healthy is not about fad diets and quick wins, it’s about good produce eaten in the right portions at the right time,” Gray said, calling for a new list of ingredients that caterers use to prepare food at work and for people to drink more water and eat more proteins, good fat and slow-release carbs (such as porridge and apples) rather than quick-release carbs such as white bread. The English tradition of consuming 60-70 per cent of calories after 7pm is completely the opposite to what is required, he said. And he called on people to re-energise by taking a proper break when they eat their lunch. “Computers are the main drain on energy.”
Part of the problem lies with chefs, acknowledged David Steel, group development chef at Lexington. “Chefs love to use lots of butter and salt and, in bigger quantities, they are the antithesis of a healthy diet,” he said, urging facilities managers to work with their chefs and catering team to reduce calories. “Calorie counters on food, together with labeling explaining the fat, carb and protein content and any allergy issues is essential for people to take control of their own nutrition and better understand what they are putting into their bodies –and how they feel as a result,” he said.
Amanda Hamilton, nutritionist, author, broadcaster argued that nutrition was not something new, complementary or alternative but clearly something that has been around ever since we have. In other words, for 3.8million years. So, it’s no surprise that you are what you eat. Nutrition has also been proven as having strong links to mental and physical health. She cited research indicating a 21 per cent reduction in anti-social behaviour, within weeks, when snacks were replaced by healthy foods. Nutrition is the biggest factor in reducing violence, or increasing it. And a real indication of health is sex drive. “Performance can be taken on many levels,” she joked. Like Gray, Hamilton rubbished faddy diets such as eating baby food, only cookies, or cabbage soup or eating for your blood type. “You have to get real to make it work” she said, urging people to use fresh, pure products. “If you buy food, check the labels and if there’s something on it you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it.”
In seeking to convert “M.A.M.I.L.S” (middle aged men in lycra) to corporate athletes, Hamilton argued that facilities managers have a major role to play in keeping an organisation healthy. And it is not just about serving healthy food options, but about “feeding the mind with thought-provoking nutritional information to keep the workforce interested in health.” Having themes in staff restaurants helps, she said – for example, fish Fridays to boost vitamin D levels, eat seasonal week, go vegetarian for a day.
She recommended occasionally fasting which heightens mental performance if done in a controlled way, for example one day a month. And to provide quick nutritious solutions to staff, such as fruit, yoghurt, vegetable sticks or protein pick-me-ups, to get them through the slumps rather than chocolate bars. Real food is the aim, she concluded. “No-one ever binges on lentil soup.”
Ending a fascinating event was Steve Braithwaite, Oliver Berquez and Akhil Patel from Mind Body Vitality. They argued that nutrition is just one part of an overall wellbeing approach. Again, they said that facilities professionals must take the lead on encouraging the workforce to adopt a more healthy approach to life, in order to benefit both themselves, and the business. “If you don’t make time for exercise, then you will have to make time for illness,” argued Berquez recommending short bursts of activity throughout the week to reduce stress and anxiety and make people to feel more energetic. Coming towards the end of the evening, when the audience themselves were beginning to ‘slump’, Braithwaite made his point well, when he got everyone on their feet doing some arm swings and deep breathing which livened the mood and demonstrated how to revive yourself when beginning to flag with simple breathing and stretching exercises. “It’s about simple exercises that you can do in an office with colleagues that not only help your health and wellbeing but can also improve team spirit.” For Patel, many of the health issues in the workplace come from the way we sit, or rather slump, in our chairs. He urged FMs to take more notice of how people sit and encourage them to use the lumbar support to ensure perfect posture which keeps the blood pumping freely to your head.
Many thanks to Partners In Purchasing for sponsoring the event, and to Chris Stoddart of the Heron Tower for hosting.