As many employees spend longer hours on the job, they’re also having more meals, snacks and celebrations with colleagues — and that isn’t always great for the waistline, as reported in WSJ’s “Work & Family” column today.
Some coworkers pressure dieters to eat forbidden foods. Others pass home-baked snacks desk-to-desk. Some tease colleagues about their diets, or even order them restaurant foods they aren’t supposed to eat. All these pose a major hurdle for people who are trying to slim down, according to a survey of 325 dieters last January by Medi-Weightloss Clinics. An ongoing poll of thousands of dieters on the weight-loss website SparkPeople cites co-workers as the second biggest source of negative pressure for dieters — second only to spouses or partners.
And peers’ attitudes can make a difference. A study published in the journal Obesity last month says having teammates who exert positive influence is linked to greater weight loss among dieters. Being surrounded with peers who criticize or discourage a dieter has the opposite effect.
Colleagues often mean well. Some see offering delicious food as a sign of friendship or affection, says Becky Hand, a registered dietician with SparkPeople. Many people don’t understand how hard it is for others to lose weight. They might feel guilty that they aren’t eating a healthier diet themselves. Some might be afraid of losing a friend who changes her life by losing a lot of weight.
Whatever their motivations, critical co-workers can make life tough for dieters. One business analyst I interviewed says that when she opens several containers of salad ingredients for lunch at her desk, co-workers often stop, stare and say, “Omigosh, that’s a huge salad,” or, “What do you have there — three lunches?” Others ask, “Don’t you ever get tired of eating salad every day?” she says. While she tries to laugh it off, “sometimes you don’t want a running commentary. There are days when you just want to eat in peace.”
Other colleagues are genuinely worried when a co-worker drops a lot of weight fast. An Ohio college professor I interviewed was startled when she returned to campus after slimming down over summer break in 2009 and was met by co-workers who asked point-blank, “You look great. Do you have cancer?” she says. “I was floored.” The professor understood her co-workers’ concerns, because three co-workers had died of cancer that year. Nevertheless, she was so shaken that she went home that evening and broke her diet by baking and eating brownies.
Readers, how do your co-workers influence your eating? Do they ever pressure you to eat something you know isn’t healthy? If so, how do you respond? Do you ever bring treats to the office? If so, how do you feel if a co-worker refuses to eat any?
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