Workplace Weight Gain: Job Making You Fat? (cont.)

"I can eat all I want because I spend a couple of hours a day at the gym," says the cook, who spoke to WebMD on condition that his name not be used. "But most people [at the workplace] just keep getting fatter."

Even if you can't spend hours at the gym, earning a living -- even in a temptation-filled workplace -- doesn't have to earn you extra pounds as well. Experts who spoke to WebMD recommend a two-pronged approach: Enlist support, and have a plan of action for yourself.

A Healthier Workplace

First, take a lesson from employers who are actively promoting good health habits in the workplace.

Logan Aluminum in Russellville, Ky., has an 11-year-old wellness program most workers can only dream about. The company has about 1,000 employees, mostly male. Each year the company sets company-wide goals and encourages work teams and individuals to set goals.

Last year's employee goals included reducing body mass index (BMI), exercising at least three times a week, reducing tobacco use, increasing use of seat belts, and lowering health-care costs.

"Kentucky ranks fourth among states in the incidence of obesity," says Logan's wellness director, Teresa Lovely. "Around here, people raise tobacco and eat fried food."

Last year, Logan saw a 4% increase in the number of workers whose BMI is in the acceptable range and an 8% increase in exercise. Of the 900 employees who set wellness goals, 800 met them and received $50 gift cards.

"That's very high participation," says Lovely. "The first year we had individual goals was 1997, and we awarded incentives to just 10 people."

The wellness program includes classes, a fitness center, and a policy of offering healthy alternatives whenever the company provides food. For example, in addition to hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, and soda at the company picnic, there are grilled chicken breasts, baked chips, bottled water, and fresh fruit. "We've made these changes, and people accept them," says Lovely.

What can you do in a workplace that isn't quite so diet-friendly? Virtually every company has people who want to control their weight. Lovely suggests that health-conscious workers get together and hold contests on their own to lose weight, increase exercise, or reduce BMI.

Most weight loss contests reward people for losing the most weight, but Lovely advises caution. "Sometimes that encourages unhealthy behavior," she says. An alternative is to reward everyone who finishes the contest.

She adds that holding a contest doesn't require money: "People love to earn points."

Some people avoid contests because they don't want to publicize how much they weigh or how much they're losing. In this case, Lovely suggests holding a "celebrity" weight loss challenge in which people report their progress using an alias such as "Jennifer Lopez" or "Will Smith."

When You're on Your Own

Worst-case scenario: all your co-workers seem to be part of a conspiracy to make everyone fat. You can still triumph. You just need a strategy you can live with, says the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic "Recipe Doctor," Elaine Magee, MPH, RD. She describes her plan:

"All your co-workers seem to be part of a conspiracy to make everyone fat? You can still triumph."

  • Don't eat what you don't enjoy. Why eat oatmeal cookies if you don't care for them? You can always say, "I'm not hungry right now."
  • Don't deprive yourself, which can lead to overeating. "I'd have a hard time passing up a strawberry whipped-cream ring," says Magee, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. "So I'd have a small piece and enjoy it."
  • Eat only when you're hungry. "If it's Jim's birthday, and I'm not hungry, I'll wrap up a piece of cake and put it away," says Magee. Do the same if you're out for lunch with clients or co-workers and have a hard time saying "no" when the dessert tray comes around -- even if you're already stuffed. "If I go to the Cheesecake Factory, I'm not leaving without a piece of cheesecake," says Magee. "I take it home and share it with my family."
  • Be forewarned when eating out. "Restaurants serve large portions, the food tastes great, and we overeat," says Magee. "Try to order sensible menu options, and remember that appetizers can add a lot of fat and calories. Enjoy a salad or light soup before the meal so you'll feel full faster and can save half the entree."
  • Limit yourself to one treat every day. Have in mind what a "treat" means to you -- maybe one cookie, three chocolate kisses, or one scoop of ice cream. If both Marylu and Dana bring cookies, you don't have to risk offending one of them. Eat one cookie, and wrap up one for the next day.
  • Guard against the workplace candy dish. If you're limiting yourself to one treat a day, look at the candy and ask yourself, "Is this the treat I really want?"
  • Don't skip meals. Feelings of stress, deprivation, and hunger have a way of sabotaging your best intentions. Keep some lower-fat bean-and-cheese burritos in the break room freezer and nuke them when you have just 10 minutes to eat.
  • Contribute healthy foods to the office potluck. Magee likes to take a vegetable platter with light ranch dressing or a fruit platter to potlucks. Her recent book, Fry Light, Fry Right, includes recipes for portable dishes like sweet potato chips, egg rolls, stuffed mushrooms, and battered artichoke hearts. "These are pan-fried or oven-fried versions of favorite fried foods using 'smart fats' like canola and olive oil."
  • If you work with food, set a limit. "I love pizza," says Magee. "If I worked in a pizza parlor, I'd try to have one slice along with minestrone or a salad."
  • Don't try to convert your co-workers. "Lead by example," says Magee. "Living your healthy life is the best advertisement."

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors