Business of Well-being

The Weight Loss Game: Are Corporations Sending Mixed Signals To Employees?

The Weight Loss Game: Are Corporations Sending Mixed Signals To Employees?

If people in your office are gaining weight, you might be part of the problem.If you're a visitor to almost any office, in any city or town, you'll most likely find a dish on a desk or counter filled with wrapped candies or mints. The person who greets you, a secretary, assistant, or manager may offer you coffee, tea or some other beverage such as soda, juice, or hot chocolate. All kinds of water including flavored water, seltzer and club soda are also available - all free, gratis, no charge, on the house.

But you're only on the premises for a limited period of time. If you're an employee, these same items are yours for the taking. Feel a little bored? Grab a bite of this and a handful of that. Visiting another department? Taste the brownies on someone's desk; the one with the sign that says help yourself. Go into the lunchroom and have a spoonful of lasagna someone brought from home.

And that's only half of it. At the hint of a meeting, food is ordered, offered, proffered, and paid for by the company - are you sending mixed signals to your employees by encouraging them to eat in a healthier way while supplying rooms full of free chips, candy, hot chocolate, and soda? Are you allowing boxes and bowls of food to be visibly left on counter and desk tops? Are you the boss who orders lunch for all employees to keep them happily in the office on a rainy day?

Are expense account lunches and dinners part of your overall sales plan? It's not necessary to change foods, but rather habits of thought, word, and action. And it wouldn't hurt if the company for which you work were on board 100% rather than sending mixed signals. If there are 250 employees there may be 250 birthday celebrations including 250 birthday cakes.In previous years, employees always went outside the office to have lunch and/or to run personal errands at lunch time.

The average work day used to be 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 or occasionally 6:00 p.m. with an hour lunch break. Today people come in earlier and leave later - lunch outside the office is a thing of the past. One woman I spoke with, told me her office often has meetings at breakfast, lunch and dinner time; a recent breakfast meeting consisted of the usual oversized bagels, pastries and muffin fare; seldom is there ever cereal, eggs, or even a piece of fruit available. Lunch meetings are almost always sandwiches, even when clients are present.

She comes to work at 8:30 a.m., and is always there after 7:00 p.m. And the food goes on. After a certain hour, many companies have to pay for an employee's dinner. Add to this abundance of things to eat, there are boxes and bags full of chips, nachos, pretzels, and popcorn available 24 hours a day; a finger-food eater's delight! Even if someone started out with normal eating habits, the barrage of food may trigger compulsive eating when everyone else in the office is gluttonizing and no one wants to be left out.

Can a weight gain be far behind? One suggestion to help your employees is to not tempt them with food they normally wouldn't eat at times they most likely wouldn't eat. Have meetings at times not usually thought of as meal-time. Serve only hot and cold water in pretty pitchers with nice glasses or china cups. If someone is eating while meeting they're usually too distracted to contribute in a meaningful way or to even speak when their mouth is full. It's difficult to take notes while your hands are holding a sandwich.

There are things you can do to help your employees while not aiding them in gaining weight. Different things work for different people. Try rewarding your employees with something other than food.

  1. Some employees want extra time off; let them come in late or leave early one day or more each week. Extra vacation days are always a welcome bonus.
  2. Give presents. There are companies that offer gift cards for any dollar amount. You can reward your employees by letting them pick their own gift.
  3. You can pay all or part of a health club membership. Or bring in an expert to teach a stretch class or to discuss healthier ways of eating.  Workshops and lectures are available for any topic offering non-business related ones as well as ones with a business or health slant.
  4. Encourage people to use the stairs; walk up one flight and down two instead of always using the elevator. At NYU Dental School, they've affixed signs near all their elevators.
  5. And when you must have food available, order platters of food over sandwiches. It will enable each person to pick the amount of food they need, not just to eat however much is stuffed between two pieces of bread. A hearty soup with a salad is another satisfying choice. And once you've thought of what type of food you want delivered, halve the order. Most restaurants serve double (and even triple) the amount that is needed. I once worked for a company and when I had to order lunch for 20 people I'd order for 10 and there was still a huge amount of leftovers. People always eat more when there is more. Your company will save money and your employees won't be walking around later in the day saying: "Oooh. I ate too much."
  6. At every meal, supply knives and forks even if they are plastic. Pretty paper plates add to the slower eating. The slower you eat, the less you'll eat. Employees can learn to put utensils down between bites of food, to sip water between bites of food, and to make sure their mouths are empty before inserting more food if they know there will be a reward for their slowest-fork-on-the-block status.

These are just a few of the many things business management can incorporate into their overall goals for the year. Employees who feel better about themselves will pay you back with increased productivity. When it comes to an overweight office staff, you can be part of the solution, or part of the problem. The choice is yours.

About The Author

Caryl Ehrlich is the founder/director of The Caryl Ehrlich Program; a comprehensive step by step behavioral approach to weight loss. She teaches her one-on-one program in your office, in her office in New York City, or if you're out of town or out of the country, by telephone, fax and email.  

Caryl is also the author of Conquer Your Food Addiction (Free Press), which teaches people how to change habits without diet, deprivation, props or pills. Caryl welcomes questions or comments about The Program and the behavioral methods she incorporates into her weight loss teaching, as well as offers for speaking engagements for charities, corporations, schools, as well as workshops tailored for each situation. For further information: or call 212-986-7155.

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