It’s no secret that the life of a clergy person is not exactly conducive to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
A Church Systems Study was recently conducted by a task force assigned to the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits. The study report identified 13 factors that influence clergy health, including personal centeredness, eating habits with work that often includes food, work/life balance, job satisfaction, personal finances, appointment changes and relocation, and the existential burdens of ministry, that is “feeling obligated to carry the weight of others’ emotional and spiritual burdens.” It’s no wonder a great number of clergy suffer from poor physical health.
That’s not to say there aren’t pastors who aren’t striving to overcome the odds that seem to be stacked against them to live a healthy lifestyle. Below are the stories of three Nebraska Conference clergy who are doing just that.
ZACH ANDERSON: ‘TAKE TIME TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF’
The Rev. Zach Anderson has attempted numerous times to adjust his eating and exercise habits, with the hope of losing weight.
“Each time I lost some weight, but the adjustments I made were not sustainable for the long-term, nor were they a lifestyle change that I could live with,” Anderson said. “I would usually lose a few pounds and keep it off for two to three months and then rebound back to my previous weight, or put on weight. This became a source of frustration, and eventually led to a few years of no longer attempting to change my lifestyle.”
Anderson, the associate pastor at Papillion St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, was motivated to make some permanent changes last fall, when he felt a general dissatisfaction with the way he looked and felt. He was also diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes around that time, which served to reinforce his decision and acted as another source of motivation.
“I knew that I would not be able to sustain living the same way for the rest of my life, and that I had to start sometime,” he said.
He joined a program at Alegent Creighton Health that focused on weight loss and nutrition. The main tenants of the program are portion control, eating lots of fruits and vegetables and paying attention to what one eats. He records and analyzes his eating habits and makes adjustments as needed. He’s lost 80 pounds so far and has found that routine and structure have been the key elements to his success.
“I found the more structure I have, the less room there is for straying,” Anderson said. “I plan out my meals in advance and look to make the best choice in any given situation. If need be, I will take food with me when I am away from home to stick to my food plan.”
When it comes to exercise, he started small with walking and finding ways to move, and now does a variety of intense workouts at the gym. He finds that finding new activities to keep things “fresh and exciting” helps. He stressed that it really is about taking things one day at a time.
Sharing your goals with others is another important success factor. As Anderson started on his journey, he shared his goals with the church’s SPRC so they were aware of how his schedule might change from time to time, as he worked in different fitness classes and workout schedules. They were very supportive from the beginning, as was his congregation as his weight loss became apparent. Facebook and Twitter were also a part of his accountability.
“I shared my journey through social media as I went through it; this became a place to share my successes, but also my challenges,” he said. “I felt that this became a way for me to be held accountable and for my friends and family to be supportive from a distance.”
Anderson offered up the following advice to his fellow clergy who are in need of a lifestyle change.
“You have to be committed to making lasting changes to your life to make it work,” he said. “It’s easy to try a diet or workout program for a few weeks, but planning to be a part of something long term takes discipline and a lot of trial and error along the way.”
He continued, “Finding accountability structures in your life and being willing to be vulnerable in the process and ask for help is difficult, but necessary. Being a pastor is difficult enough in the best of health, so taking the time to take care of yourself is very important and will make it easier in the long run.”
KEVIN BURKHARDT: ‘ASK YOURSELF IF IT’S REALLY WORTH STRESSING OVER’
As the pastor of a two-point charge, Pierce and Osmond United Methodist Churches, the Rev. Kevin Burkhardt spends a lot of time on the road and not a lot of time at home. Combine that with always being on call to perform pastoral duties and being a source of emotional and spiritual support for so many, and the self-professed “stress eater” found himself in an unhappy place.
“I’d tried various weight loss programs over the years, but none of them were good fits for me,” he said. “The turning point came last spring, when I saw myself in some photos and didn’t like what I saw — that’s when I knew it was time to make a change.”
His brother invited him to join MyFitnessPal, a free online calorie counter and diet plan. In May of last year, Burkhardt downloaded the smartphone app and found it easy to use — you enter your height, weight and activity level and it tells you how many calories you can have per day. You then enter what you eat throughout the day, and any forms of physical activity, and it calculates your remaining calorie allotment.
Burkhardt lost 10 pounds in the first month, something that actually left him feeling discouraged, until his brother pointed out that came out to about two-and-a-half pounds a week. He started walking again, about two miles a day.
“I definitely noticed an increase in my energy level when I started to get active again,” Burkhardt said.
He started drinking more water and incorporating more fruits and vegetables into his daily eating plan. He stressed how much it helps to have healthy snacks on hand and to pay attention to portion control. Deprivation is not necessary and in fact not necessarily wise — if you feel the need to have a cookie, go ahead and have a cookie, but stick to just one. If you deprive yourself of what you want, you may ultimately only end up binging on that item.
You also enter a weight loss goal when you sign up for MyFitnessPal. Burkhardt’s goal was 100 pounds in one year, meaning he is striving to reach that goal by May 2013. As of the end of March, he’s lost 70 pounds.
Having the support of those around you is also important. Burkhardt suggested not keeping your healthy lifestyle goals a secret, but to share them with at least a handful of friends and family, as that leaves you with a feeling of accountability and hopefully means people will be less likely to tempt you with unhealthy options.
An important thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t think of any weight loss aspirations as going on a “diet” — it has to be a lifestyle change, something that is seen as permanent, not just temporary. It’s forming new habits and a new way of living.
Burkhardt has conferred with a registered dietician through HealthFlex and participates in Virgin HealthMiles. (See “Clergy Resources” below.)
As far as dealing with his stress eating habits, he’s learned to try and examine the stressor and to see things in a new light — he’ll ask himself, “Is this really worth stressing over?” More often than not, the answer is “no.” He’s also become better at finding the humor in things and ends up laughing more often than he used to. He sometimes still finds himself reaching for food in certain situations, but he’s learned to make wiser decisions, to reach for grapes instead of potato chips or popcorn instead of cookies.
“The toughest part is taking the first step and then sticking with it,” Burkhardt said. “But I would encourage anyone who is on the journey or wants to start a journey to stick with it and do your best to remain positive when it gets difficult — just don’t give up.”
PAT NORRIS: ‘HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE TO SOMEONE’
The Rev. Pat Norris echoed what both Anderson and Burkhardt shared: That she’d made numerous attempts in the past to be healthier and get her weight to a place where she felt more comfortable. Her turning point came last year as she was approaching her 50th birthday.
She and her husband were walking while on vacation in Colorado and she just didn’t like the way she felt.
“I’ve always been a stress eater, but the last three years it seemed to have gotten worse,” said Norris, the associate pastor at York First and Waco United Methodist Churches. “That walk in Colorado was when it hit me and I asked myself, ‘Am I the person God wants me to be?’”
When she examined her overall health, she felt like she was in good shape spiritually, but not so much physically, mentally or emotionally. She decided it was time to make a change.
“I geared up to change the way I eat — I started with baby steps by walking every day, for 30 minutes,” she said. “I did that for about six weeks and then on July 5, just days after I turned 50, I joined Weight Watchers’ online program. I had friends who’d had success with Weight Watchers — because of my schedule, I decided that attending meetings just wasn’t feasible, but the online program does provide some accountability, which I liked.”
Her goal was to lose 40 pounds. She started drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables. People didn’t initially notice as she started to lose some weight, but once she’d lost about 20 or 25 pounds, people started commenting and offering encouragement.
Norris said her husband has been extremely supportive throughout her journey, which has been an integral part of her success. He cooks healthy meals and understands when she’d prefer to eat at home rather than dine out. That doesn’t mean they don’t still eat out, she just makes different choices — healthier choices. She tries to have a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal and as a snack. While she has changed the way she eats, she said she has never felt deprived, she still allows herself the occasional splurge; even during the holidays she allowed herself one sweet per day. She also said that since she’s introduced more fruit into her diet, she’s craved sweets less and less; she commented that “it’s what your body gets used to.”
She has reached her goal and is now in maintenance mode, and is fully committed to keeping up her new lifestyle.
“You’ve just got to psych yourself up and start out with baby steps if need be, then find a program that fits you and hold yourself accountable to someone,” Norris said. “The key for me was really asking myself, ‘Am I who God wants me to be?’”
In 2012, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits’ (GBPHB) Center for Health was among 30 U.S. employers to receive the National Business Group on Health’s Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles highest award.
GBPHB was recognized with the platinum award for “its commitment and dedication to promoting a healthy workplace, encouraging United Methodist Church clergy, lay workers and their families to support and maintain healthy lifestyles.” Health plan program offerings under the self-insured HealthFlex plan currently cover 27,000 participants.
HealthFlex program offerings include: biometric screenings, health assessment, walking program, health coaching, online wellness tools, emotional health supports and targeted communications for preventive screenings and condition management. HealthFlex has also teamed up with Weight Watchers to offer members, spouses and covered dependent children (age 15 and older) flexible weight-loss options at prices up to 50 percent less than national corporate rates. In addition, the Nebraska Conference Board of Pension and Health Beneifts will reimburse the amount paid upon documentation of regular attendance at weekly meetings.
If you are a clergy person and would like more information on any of the HealthFlex programs, contact Carole Otto at 402-464-5994, ext. 108, or email her at email@example.com.