Is Your Job Making You Fat?

How to watch your weight in the workplace.

By Leanna Skarnulis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

When Madeline Phillips moved from the U.S. to Saipan (in the Northern Mariana Islands) and went to work in an insurance office, it wasn't long before her weight started creeping up. No wonder: About three times a week, foods like cake, doughnuts, fried rice, or fried Spam appeared in the break room.

"I've never seen anything like it," she says. "Everyone you encountered would tell you that so-and-so brought such-and-such, and then they'd watch to see if you ate. It was a sign of your acceptance of them. Taking the food brought you into the group, and not taking it kept you out."

After a few months of sociable eating, Phillips decided to call a halt. "It's very nice to be accepted, but it's also nice to be thin. When somebody offered something, instead of taking it I'd laugh nervously and say, 'That looks great.' I don't think it fooled anybody."

She kept her weight under control, but says she never did fit in with her co-workers, most of whom were overweight. Today she works in a different office where food isn't an issue. Perhaps it's because there's no break room.

Social pressure to eat is one of many reasons some workplaces seem to promote weight gain, experts say. Others include stress, skipped meals, ever-present vending machines, and, of course, those tempting treats brought in by co-workers.

And then there's the all-day temptation that happens when your job is all about food. A 28-year-old cook at a pizzeria in Omaha says that when he and his co-workers tire of eating pizza (and the boss is gone), they tap their network of neighborhood eateries and trade pizza for ice cream, burgers, etc.