Linda Foster Benedict
One year later and 40 pounds lighter, the chancellor of the LSU AgCenter has changed to a healthier lifestyle.
Bill Richardson, who is 6-foot-1 and weighs just under 220, did this by methodically following guidelines prescribed by AgCenter nutrition educators.
To keep on track and to show the world – and his employees – it could be done, he went public with his experiences by writing a daily blog.
He started the "Chancellor’s Challenge" on Oct. 1, 2007, and included this reasoning for doing something so bold and risky:
"I will put myself forward as a case study of one. Over the next year I will provide a daily blog, Monday through Friday, of my experience in making a commitment to the recommendations that the AgCenter espouses to the residents of our state."
His commitment was cemented when he found out his body mass index (BMI) put him in the obese range. And he was elated several weeks later when his monthly assessment showed he had finally moved down to the overweight category.
"I don’t know that I’ll ever get to the normal reading unless I can grow taller," he joked.
He found that keeping a food log helped him stay within the 2,200-calorie per day plan the nutritionists had given him. Instead of his usual snacking in front of the TV in the evenings, he could satisfy his desire for sweets with a low-calorie ice cream "Skinny Cow" treat.
But a lifestyle change isn’t easy. It’s a continuing journey, as he calls it, and it can get quite discouraging. In the blog, he wrote about the guilt he experienced when he overindulged and about how easy it is to come up with excuses not to go for his walks.
He also had some misconceptions about how to lose weight and live healthier. But a team of nutritionists, who wrote responses to his blogs, cleared those up for him and for his readers. The blog averaged more than 1,000 page views per month.
Only time will tell if the blog was as successful for others as it was for the chancellor. The blog was the impetus for a Live Fit for Life campaign for AgCenter employees spearheaded by a wellness committee.
The committee has sponsored many statewide activities including lunchtime seminars, which can be viewed live on the Internet, and contests.
In one contest the team that racked up the most improvement in number of steps on their pedometers – the Shreveport "Soil Brothers and Sisters" – took top honors.
The committee is sponsoring the first 5K run/walk during the AgCenter’s annual conference in December 2008.
And the blog continues. Beginning in November 2008, the wellness committee took it over and is populating it with weekly blogs from AgCenter employees who describe their experiences in changing to a healthier lifestyle. Richardson has said he will contribute occasionally.
In his last blog on Oct. 31, 2008, the chancellor said his life has been changed:
"I lost weight, greatly improved my blood chemistry, changed eating habits, and made the exercise program a consistent part of my everyday activities. The most rewarding part of the entire experience for me, however, was the many positive comments I received from readers who were motivated to address lifestyle issues after reading the blog. I’m convinced the blog not only saved some lives, but also extended the length of and added quality to the lives of many others."
Not a bad claim for a chancellor to make.
All the chancellor’s blogs are still posted on the AgCenter’s Web site. Go to Chancellor’s Challenge and then Previous Posts.
(This article was published in the fall 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)