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Dear Employers, COVID-19 Weight Loss Challenges Are More Harmful Than Helpful

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

I just recently came around to understanding diet culture and how it has ruled my life and society. How it has taught me that I am not good enough nor will I be happy unless I am thin, white and compliant.

I have a confession. When I had a staff at a large nonprofit, I started a weight loss challenge and support group for the women on my team.

We met periodically and discussed our struggles and bemoaned about how we could not keep it together to stop binging on forbidden foods. We also all got pedometers to measure our steps and we reported them daily on a big board in the staff kitchen. We gave away prizes too to the “successful.” 

I am sorry to all the women I put through that. What you weighed was none of my business and how you conducted yourself with food and fitness had no place being discussed in the workplace. The message I sent was “You are not good enough just the way you are, and you need to change to conform.” We did it all under the guise of promoting healthy habits and wellness. I was wrong to promote these programs and I did my staff and myself a disservice.

It is a setup to fail

I want to warn you that you should not start or participate in these challenges in your workplace post pandemic. We are all showing back up to work in our post pandemic bodies. They are okay just the way they present by the way.

I am already reading on Facebook how everyone is starting to comment about each other’s bodies either asking how you lost the weight, or saying you must have had a bit too much sourdough bread. It is nobody’s business how you show up to work. Just come dressed appropriately and that is all that should be required. Workplace weight loss challenges in the name of wellness (or lowering company healthcare cost) are demeaning, exposing and rife with risk of eating disorder behavior or disordered eating. 

Dieting does not work. Sure, you can deprive yourself in the short run but eventually you will go back to previous habits, your body will go into starvation mode and you will enter refeeding to deal with the deprivation you were experiencing, eventually gaining more weight than you lost. 

Peer pressure is not wellness. Tough love is not wellness. Force is not wellness. Shaming is not wellness.

The alternative

If you want to support wellness at your workplace, go to a four-day work week, a livable wage, equal pay, paid leave, cover mental healthcare as you do other care and honor mental health days. We live in a culture that forces us to strive for a norm that is not normal. We all are different and come in all different shapes and sizes. Our relationship with food and fitness is a personal journey that does not warrant feedback and scrutiny from society and especially not from the people we must work with every day.

I commit to never again supporting an effort to change anyone’s body in the name of helping them. That is the same respect I want as well. I am a fat woman who has spent her entire life trying to be something I am not or can be. I do not want anyone to go through what I have been through. It is horrific and soul crushing.

So go out shopping and buy your new back to work wardrobe and show them how it is done with confidence and style. You can do this.

Lead image via Getty Images

Originally published: May 17, 2021
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