Aug 22, 2012 • By

Leading lifestyle changes by example

Losing weight is tough to do alone. But when surrounded by support and motivation, it can be downright inspiring.

Just ask David Vega, a senior manager in Strategic Planning & Technology, and General Mills’ Consumer Foods Sales Division’s 2012 Individual Health Achiever Award winner.

“I have had a weight issue since I was 12,” says David. “I topped out at 250 pounds in college, and my then girlfriend (now wife) and I decided that we both wanted to do something about our weight.”

David made an appointment to see a nutritionist at Indiana University while he was a student there, and says that it was an eye opener to see how important it is to have support in tackling weight loss.

“The program was a really hard look at what I was taking in, food-wise, and what I was doing for exercise. I found out quickly that I was eating two to three times what my body needed and the exercise I was doing was not nearly enough to offset it. Once this was corrected, I was dropping two to four pounds a week.”

After college, David joined General Mills and rotated through field sales in a variety of business centers.

“When I got to our Bentonville office in 2006, I put on some weight, so four guys and I started a ‘Beef Boy Challenge’ based on a contest I had seen done by several men in our Eastern office. It did a lot for us to have that motivation and accountability; to not do it alone.”

After joining the region office in Minneapolis in 2009, he again gathered together four more men to do their own version of the Biggest Loser Challenge, based on the NBC show.

“During that time General Mills got involved with The Biggest Loser and Feeding America. The energy for participating in the program was all around the company, and we decided to make our own challenge both fun and a source of accountability.”

Last year, David opened up his version of the challenge to his entire SuperValu Region. 23 people – men and women – signed up.

How did David encourage people who didn’t even know him to join with him? And how did he inspire women to participate?

“I was in charge of tracking the program, which was entirely on the honor system. Every person sent me their weight each week and they knew I would not let anyone see their numbers. I kept everything confidential,” says David. “It was inspiring to me to see what they were doing, so I sent out weekly motivational recaps to the group to encourage everyone to keep going.”

“Once we hit the mid-point of the 20-week Challenge, those who were really making an effort started telling me that this was causing a lifestyle change. It wasn’t just about winning for the money. It transformed how they interacted with their families. Losing weight started to impact every other area of their life.”

Heidi Isaak, a customer account manager, is one person whose life was transformed by David’s enthusiasm for weight loss.

“I was so inspired by his commitment to our teammates that I decided I needed to finally take time to take care of me. Since a lot of us wear many hats, being a spouse, parent, employee, or volunteer for example, it is too easy to put our personal health and well-being at the bottom of the priority list. I have always wanted to make time for me and my health but I have found the task very challenging (and unsuccessful, as a result,) the past ten years of my life,” says Heidi.

“David’s support kept me focused with so many distractions out there. He provided a funny yet heartfelt approach to the group and each of us, keeping us going in the right direction. I am grateful to David for caring for each of us in the group and keeping us motivated to live a healthier life.”

In response, David says, “My upbringing and my openness about who I am that carries over into my leadership style. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I let people know that I had weight issues; that I took the right steps to lose it and I know firsthand the struggles. People have learned to trust me with that.”

David says he’s grateful to have the support of his colleagues and company leaders at General Mills.

“The company really stands behind health. All my managers have known about me doing these “Challenges” and I’ve always had their support to spend time motivating the team. We even bought a scale and put it in our office. Little things like that really add up.”

“You also can see it here at our headquarters. There are healthy food options in the cafeteria, and there is a walking treadmill in an area visible to passers-by. And, there is more emphasis getting up and moving throughout our work days. I can see not just the words, but the actions the company is taking to make better health available to all employees. “

Have you participated in a healthy lifestyle program with your coworkers? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Editor’s note: The photo of David, used above, shows him with Dr. Julia Halberg, the chief medical officer at General Mills,and Shawn O’Grady, senior vice president and president of Consumer Foods Sales.