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Jan 22, 2013 4:57 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Foundation Seeks To Saturate East End With Wellness

Jan 22, 2013 5:18 PM

Steak dinners were always delicious for Maude Muto, but they came with an unenviable downside.

“I’d feel like I swallowed a lead ball,” the East Hampton resident explained.

In an effort to feel better and lower her cholesterol, Ms. Muto, who described herself as a “pretty healthy person,” signed on to the Wellness Challenge—a program designed to show participants how healthy they can become by dropping dairy, meat, sugar, processed foods, and added oils and sugars from their diets.

In exchange for some culinary swaps—leafy greens instead of ingredient-heavy chips, for example—along with an eagle’s eye for reading labels and the diligence required to dodge many of the foods out there, a significantly cleaner bill of health is touted. The purported benefits of the vegan program include weight loss, lower cholesterol and a reduced need for prescription drugs.

The challenges are offered seasonally, and the next one starts on Monday, January 28. Though the program runs for six weeks—the seventh is a graduation ceremony—it is intended to spark a lifestyle change.

Ms. Muto, for her part, completed her challenge last winter. A self-described sweets lover who used to savor chocolate bars as a late afternoon snack, she lost 10 pounds, her cholesterol dropped by 80 points, and her energy level soared, according to her own account. Though the hardest part is organizing and planning the menu for the week, she said, she now loves blending smoothies of spinach or Romaine lettuce and tasting different fruits and vegetables like mango, papaya, turnips and parsnip.

The Wellness Challenge began in the fall of 2009, following a few years of more loosely organized support groups, according to Jennifer Taylor, the executive director of the Wellness Foundation, the non-profit group that sponsors the challenge, in addition to providing educational programming and services that revolve around the magic “w”-word. The Wellness Foundation was founded by East Hampton resident Douglas D. Mercer in 2005, who embarked on his own personal health journey in an effort to avoid strokes and heart disease, Ms. Taylor said. Around the same time, she pointed out, students at East Hampton Middle School staged a sit-in and boycotted their cafeteria fare as a demand for more healthful options.

The inspiration for the foundation came from Rip Esselstyn, a firefighter and triathlete who wrote the best-selling book “The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds,” who came to speak to the foundation’s advisory council. His physician father, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., renowned for solving cardiac ailments through nutrition, authored the book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure,” which cited studies to show that dietary changes and nutrition can cure heart disease. Those writings have become wellness bibles.

Though Mr. Mercer personally funded the organization for the first few years and is expected to continue to lend financial support, it has been transitioning over the past year to a “community-based” funding model, Ms. Taylor said. The foundation accepts and encourages donations and also seeks out grants. She said she is “absolutely” confident that it will be able to stand alone on its own as a program.

This year, participants must pay a $150 fee to participate—a marked increase from the approximately $50 fee charged previously. Ms. Taylor said the increase covers the materials, and that the next challenge will be the first to use “The Wellness Challenge Guidebook: Beginner’s Guide to the Wellness Challenge,” a book that compiles literature that was distributed separately in past challenges.

“The foundation does not make a profit on the Wellness Challenge,” Ms. Taylor explained, adding that it costs the foundation several hundred dollars per person to sponsor the challenge. “As the program has evolved and grown, and in order to provide quality programming to the community led by trained facilitators, we needed to increase the cost.”

The foundation is launching a new Wellness Zone membership program in the spring open to graduates that would include cooking classes and lectures. Graduates can already take advantage of opportunities to use the treadmills at the YMCA in East Hampton and the indoor track at Southampton Youth Services for free for an hour on designated days. It also has begun partnering with local businesses: Each time there’s a challenge, it asks a local business to provide food. This time around, Schmidt’s Market in Southampton Village will do the honors, Ms. Taylor said.

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How about some contact information or some links to the Wellness Institute?
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Jan 26, 13 2:22 PM
Or Wellness Challenge...or Foundation (whatever happened to who, what, where, when, why, all in the first paragraph?)
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Jan 26, 13 2:23 PM