On Target Living

Okemos native Chris Johnson ran into a dilemma shortly after he graduated from college. After obtaining a business degree and discovering that working as a grocery delivery person was not satisfying, he returned to graduate school in nutrition while continuing to deliver Frito Lay products to grocery stores. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he started to see inconsistencies between what he was learning about nutrition and physiology and what he was seeing and delivering in grocery stores. He continued on both tracks, but the seeds of a new idea had been planted.  He knew that we needed to change our relationship with food.  

Soon he started working as a trainer at the Michigan Athletic Club, and started doing some speaking about health, using a visual aid he had created - a “target” that allowed readers to see the very good foods (at the center) and those that are very bad (the outside ring) and everything in between. This target seems to be an easier way to think about healthy or “on target” foods than the FDA's food pyramid.

I was surprised, as I looked through the On Target Living website, to find a recipe for pancakes. As a sometimes triathlete and pancake lover, I often wonder if my eating and my athletic goals are at odds with each other. But one of the first things I found on Johnson's website was a recipe for pancakes full of whole grains and fruits—that still looked and tasted like pancakes.

Eating the foods we love while obtaining the physical health and wellness that we know we need can be very difficult. We have emotional, social and all kinds of other relationships with the food we eat. So change in eating, in exercising and in other parts of our daily routine can be very hard. But changes are necessary to the pancakes, and to the people who eat them, if we want to obtain optimal health.

The USDA has tried a number of ways of telling people what to eat. This year, they made the move of telling people to eat less. This not so radical move (we all know eating less is part of weight loss) made headlines. The USDA had never said that before. Why not? Perhaps because we don't want to hear that kind of practical advice.

On Target Living materials and coaches focus on three categories of change: Food (nutrition), Rest and Rejuvenation and Exercise.

It's a Lifestyle Change

“The population that really needs to get physically active is uneducated about exercise and nutrition. They have to get to a good beginning position first,” says Matt Johnson, Chris's son and the Marketing Director of On Target Living.

That's where On Target's fitness videos come in. They focus primarily on proper alignment and posture. Those words might remind you of yoga; that's no coincidence, says Matt Johnson. “We have a series of workouts we call foundation exercises. They consist of some yoga poses that everyone can do like half moon, warrior two and warrior three. These are beneficial movements that everyone can do.”

It's not just our exercise routines that we need to change. Johnson's Targets show us what we can always consider as good choices: oats, sweet potatoes, many green vegetables, lean proteins like free range eggs, game meat, almonds and cold water fish; and also, what we should stay away from at all costs: unsurprisingly, sodas, pizza, hot dogs, and movie theater popcorn top the list. But the convenient thing about the target is that we can rank all the in-between foods as well: lean red meat is still a “good” food in moderation, as are white potatoes and red wine.

Some people who have had success with On Target Living have actually reduced their need for prescriptions. Significant changes in weight, fitness or nutrition sometimes mean the reduction of underlying health conditions. Matt Johnson notes that sometimes people might ask a doctor which prescription they need, but not what lifestyle changes would address the condition that requires medication. The changes guided by On Target Living can be significant, and they can change our health—and our health care costs. They are trying to get that message to large businesses as well as individuals.

Healthy Living in Michigan

But On Target doesn't just help individuals. “We do a lot with corporations and trying to lower their health care costs,” says Matt Johnson. Chris Johnson has worked with Auto Owners Insurance, Jackson National Life and others. “Corporations are an untapped aspect of the market that we haven't yet capitalized on,” says Chris. He explains that On Target Living works for measurable results. They take a company's initial health care expense and track changes over time as their program progresses. “That gives a bottom line motivation for improving health of individuals at businesses,” says Matt Johnson. “We know this can increase productivity and profit. We have to take this into account when selling our services to companies.”

On Target has a lot of corporate clients here in Michigan, a state that often ranks high on the list of states with the most obese people. But Johnson notes that they would like to have a lot more clients in their home state. “Michigan's just a little behind in the trend—it doesn't mean Michigan won't ever be where California is, we just are behind. It gives us some motivation that we can help people—it's just about getting in the door,” says Matt Johnson.

They would also like to get involved with school systems, like Lansing and Waverly Public Schools. “Something like Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is just what we need,” says Matt Johnson.

As is evidenced by some cities' negative reactions to Jamie Oliver's show, change can be hard sometimes. It can be especially hard at such a large scale as a school system. Matt Johnson acknowledges this. “It all breaks down to change—people are scared of change,” he says. “It is easy to eat a piece of fruit but the long term change is hard. Part of Chris's presentation and coaching is figuring out your why - why are you here today, why do you need change? You can rely on that why when you run into difficulty along the way.”

A person's “Why” could be anything from being in better health to spend time with grandchildren, to reducing the impact of medical conditions like back pain or diabetes, to finishing the upcoming Hawk Island Triathlon. Or getting to eat the occasional pancake—and not feel bad about it.

So, what's your why?

Leslie Wolcott is a freelance writer and writing teacher here in Lansing. Visit her website and follow her on twitter @LeslieSue.

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Chris Johnson teaching a class in Lansing and with his son Matt.

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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