Caroline Shugart column mug

Caroline Shugart column mug

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In the fall of 2007, I was hired as Utah State University’s Employee Wellness Director. Soon after, I began writing a monthly wellness column for The Herald Journal. Here it is, 12 years later, with over 140 articles published. As I reviewed them for this, my last column, I surprised myself over the diversity of topics that were covered during this 12-year span. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This is how I approached wellness, and was the theme behind all of my columns.

Some of my monthly articles covered community assets and resources including our local Cache Valley gardeners’ market and our extensive and fabulous trail system. I expressed gratitude for the city’s clean energy program and recycling efforts, our community-sponsored bike rides and fun runs, and the value of open space and outdoor adventure. I encouraged bike riding and walking as a way to slow down time and become mindful and thankful. I promoted yoga for flexibility, balance, and as a way to quiet the unproductive negative thinking many of us experience. I encouraged volunteerism as a way to find purpose and happiness. I recommended that people take time to appreciate the trees and flowers in their neighborhood.

I wrote about finding your own inspiration, the fallacy of depending on willpower alone to change your lifestyle, how to create motivation, and the importance of strategic wellness planning (using the analogy of a SCUBA diver, you should plan the dive, and dive the plan). I asked you to imagine yourself as a giant rat, using behavior modification techniques to improve your health, and making wellness the default option as you learned to engineer your environment to support your efforts. I had you take care of your body at least as well as you would your vehicle (hopefully, better). I made a case for corporate wellness to help protect the health of workers, and I wrote a Christmas letter to Santa wishing for a healthier and happier world, where kids could grow up with fresh foods, clean water and air, and outdoor activities, to be able to live a full life, one without the burden of preventable diseases and suffering.

Some of my articles covered recent events: the strong evidence that bacon was carcinogenic, the nostalgia over the demise of the Twinkie, a realistic response to the Ebola outbreak, how to protect yourself from mosquito-borne illnesses, and the new alcohol guidelines. I wrote articles on the importance of science-based recommendations like vaccinations to protect personal and community well-being, health care reform, and safe gun handling. I complained about the disconnect between the excellence of Olympic athletes and the anti-wellness products advertised throughout those events. I congratulated Intermountain Healthcare’s bold move to first ban cigarettes and then sugar soda from its facilities.

With my background as a Registered Dietitian, I wrote numerous articles about nutrition and food, including building a healthy Dagwood sandwich, label reading, making sense of the different types of dietary fat, the insidious cycle of junk food, dopamine and addiction, the problems with popular diets, diet and cancer, and the value of a plant-based food plan. I encouraged people to “rethink their drink” to see how destructive sugary soda was to the body. I offered strategies for eating on the go, recipe modification, healthy breakfast ideas, grocery shopping, choosing sustainable seafood, and eating on a budget.

I smile when I think of my most popular articles, with the most positive feedback. I wrote an article about healthy bowel movements (snakes vs rocks) and my personal experience getting a colonoscopy. People liked my candor and humor regarding this subject. My patients appreciated the article I wrote about kidney disease and dialysis that they could share with family and friends. Others felt inspired by my 84-year old mom’s African safari trip, her attitude, and her voracious love of travel.

I remember meeting a Logan resident who recognized me from my newspaper photo and told me he read my articles every single month. I thanked him and then boldly asked if he ever followed my advice. He smiled and said “no, not really.” That gave me a chuckle, and fodder for my next article about finding motivation, inspiration, and a spark that would help readers ignite a change of direction to improve their health before it was too late. I have been asked if it’s been a burden to be “the valley’s wellness gal,” having people watch what I eat, so I wrote an article about the importance and responsibility of role models in our lives. We have to stand for our convictions. I’ve written about wellness not being about perfection, but about balance and building upon small incremental successes to create long-term healthy habits. I am convinced in the power of wellness to transform lives.

More articles addressed retirement planning, being a new grandma, using smart phones and apps to support a healthy lifestyle, managing stress, working as a nurse on a cruise ship, the importance of sleep, training for a marathon, the value of exercise, safe water, the simplicity and power of handwashing for disease prevention, and getting your daily 10,000 steps.

I could not have accomplished the breath and volume of topic without the help of my hubby, Robert Schmidt. Writing this article has always been a partnership. I would usually write my draft article, and he would edit it at the North Logan Starbucks. Many articles were inspired by him, and refined by me. So, thanks to Robert, thanks to my kind supporters, and thanks to The Herald Journal for this opportunity to serve you and promote wellness for all these years. Citizens of Cache Valley, may you Be Well always.

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.

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