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CHP CEO Mike Connelly Took His Weight Loss Challenge to the Boardroom

separator Often, you have to take a commitment to weight loss to a new level if you want to be successful. That’s what Mike Connelly, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Healthcare Partners, decided to do when he got serious about getting healthier. 

Connelly says that he’s always been challenged by weight, but when he was younger, he was able to counteract that by being active. “At the end of high school and during college and graduate school I incorporated a lot of exercise into my schedule,” he says. “But then I got married and I was working full time and going to law school at night. I gained about 40 pounds during night law school,” he says. “I pretty much took that weight on and off for the next 30 years.” 

A little over a year ago, Catholic Healthcare Partners launched its “Creating Healthy People” campaign, a comprehensive program that was created to raise associates’ awareness of health issues and to encourage and empower them to take responsibility for their own health challenges. The program began with a health risk assessment that measured such things as blood glucose levels, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol level. 

Connelly took part in the assessment and, he says, results showed “I was basically off on all but the glucose. It was becoming apparent that I needed to deal with it.” 

Making weight loss a work goal
It’s no secret that Americans as a group are heavier now than they’ve ever been. This rise in obesity and overweight creates a higher incidence of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, gall bladder disease, sleep apnea and other chronic conditions. The toll it takes on this country, physically and economically, is high. 

Connelly says he believes that weight is comparable to smoking in the impact it’s having on our nation’s health. He decided it was time for him to do his part to take responsibility. “I had a duty to do something about it myself, to start at home,” he says. 

Several years earlier, Connelly had learned that for him, stress triggered overeating.  “I joined Weight Watchers a few years ago and found it very educational,” he says. “I learned I’m a stress eater. My job is stressful, so that’s a difficult combination. I learned that food can’t be the way you deal with it. Eating isn’t constructive.”

But even with this new perspective on his challenges with weight, Connelly struggled, as so many people do when they’re trying to make weight loss permanent. Then, he had a new idea. “I had an insight for switching the psychology. I decided to make this a work goal, because there’s never anything about work that I don’t give 100 percent. I made it a formal public objective with my board and management team.” 

Now, his weight loss number comes out every month. It’s public knowledge in the company that Connelly has embarked on this journey. It’s a fascinating way to approach weight loss, but in some ways, it makes all the sense in the world. Connelly is playing to his own strengths in this venture, knowing that he’s goal-oriented and performance driven. He says he got the idea from a law colleague, who was talking with Connelly about the fact that very often, employers can have an influence on people that families can’t.  

Asking only of employees what he’s willing to do himself
It’s hard to imagine that employees wouldn’t appreciate learning that their CEO has the same struggles that many of them have, and that he’s been so open about it. Connelly says that people have been very positive about what he’s doing. 

When asked whether he sees himself as a role model for his employees, he quickly answers that he wouldn’t say that at all. But, he says, “I don’t ask anything of my employees that I don’t ask of myself.” Being so open, he feels, has made it easier for him to ask his employees to get motivated to change too. “I feel like if I’m doing it, it makes it more acceptable for me to be creating incentives and to ask them to get screenings as well.” 

Making it a lifestyle change
The biggest change Connelly has made is simple, yet it’s probably the hardest thing to do when it comes to weight loss. It seems that Connelly really just needed to put into practice what he already knew. “I accepted that I had to eat less,” he says. “I had learned about portion control and being conscious of everything that’s going in. You really do have to count calories.” And he says he knew that “the fad diets weren’t the way to go.”  

Exercise is a key component of Connelly’s weight loss program. In the summer he swims a lot and walks 10 or 15 miles a week. In the winter, three days per week he gets on the “dreaded treadmill” for 2.5 miles and does 1 mile on the elliptical. He lifts weights in between. He says he’s something of a “weekend warrior” now, since now he doesn’t have as many kids’ sports activities to attend as he used to. 

Connelly never intended to reach his goal in less than a year. “If you do it too quickly,” he says, “it doesn’t become a lifestyle change. I could do the gimmicks and lose weight fast, but I wanted it to be a day-in, day-out thing.” 

His strategies have been working. “When I started, I weighed 205,” he says. “I set a goal of 175, and currently I’m at 179.” The last four pounds have been difficult, he says, and lately he’s been concentrating on maintaining what he’s done and on making modest progress. In addition, his blood pressure has “hugely improved,” he says. His BMI went from “32 or 33” to 24.9 and his cholesterol is in the good range. (He acknowledges that he’s taking Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medication.) 

Connelly says he feels physically better now. And, he says, “My clothes feel better.” 

“I wouldn’t claim victory yet,” he says, “but I stop eating a lot sooner than I ever used to. I used to eat lots of food fast. Now I tell myself, ‘Okay, I’m probably full and need to get out of the kitchen.’ ” 

Family support has been helpful
Connelly says that something else he learned at Weight Watchers is that it’s one thing to abuse yourself with food, but teaching your children to do the same isn’t acceptable. He’s especially happy that his wife and daughter started on a weight loss program fairly recently themselves. The family motivation is helpful, he says, and adds, “Now everything that’s available to eat in the house is safe, between their food selections and mine.” 

Answering a call for life balance
Connelly says that spirituality was a motivating force behind his weight loss endeavor. He wonders whether the de-emphasis on religion in this country has something to do with the obesity problem. “I do have a spiritual belief in the expectation of life balance,” he says. “Spirituality calls you to do that, whatever the religion. For me, it was a call that wasn’t being taken.” 



Source:
Personal Interview with Michael Connelly, President of Catholic Healthcare Partners - December, 2005



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