Wish you didn’t have the day job? Convinced you’d do better if you could just get away from the pressures of work? Think again! You can make office life a positive influence when it comes to eating healthily and losing weight by joining – or starting – a workplace slimming group.
Here in the UK, Weight Watchers has announced a scheme to start clubs in workplaces, called, imaginatively enough “At Work”. (In the US, this has been going for a while.)
The office can be full of temptations and pitfalls for the unwary dieter. Whether it’s the buffet at a meeting, the colleagues who (unwittingly or otherwise) sabotage your diet, or the effects of stress, it’s easy to pile on the pounds whilst at work.
Being part of a diet, health or weight-watching group, then, could make all the difference. Having the support and encouragement of workmates who share your goals can be a huge boost to motivation – very much needed when it comes to turning down a cookie during that mid-afternoon energy slump. And the occasional element of competition might not go amiss either; if you know you’re having a weigh-in on Monday, your office diet club might boost your self control even when you’re not at work over the weekend…
Some dieting groups like to use slimming as a way to donate to charity, perhaps with each member giving $1 or £1 each week that they lose weight, and paying a “penalty” of $2 or £2 for no loss or a gain.
As well as the support of colleagues, the plans used for work-based clubs are more likely to fit into your lifestyle — and the meetings can be easily arranged during a lunch-hour or straight after work.
The Weight Watchers AT WORK program is a group participation program designed to support the special weight loss needs and concerns of working people.
– UFC – Classes – Healthy Living
Weight Watchers at Work is a respected, popular, successful campus program. Hundreds of UVM employees have successfully lost weight and reached their goals since the Weight Watchers at Work started five years ago. The convenience of having the weekly meetings on campus has enabled busy employees to take advantage of this successful program.
– Weight Watchers at Work, The University of Vermont
So what are the drawbacks to dieting along with your office-mates? Usually, all will go well, but you might want to be prepared to deal with any problems that do arise. These might be:
In general, so long as the group members are sensitive towards one another and to other colleagues, it’s likely that an office diet group will be a supportive, fun and motivational experience for all involved. Many office dieters have commented that sharing something personal like weight concerns is a good way to feel closer to colleagues and to get to “really know” people.
Could you get your employer on board, either with Weight Watchers or with a similar club-based plan? The Daily Telegraph (a national UK newspaper) notes that:
With 18 million working days lost annually to weight-related illnesses, there is an incentive for companies to join the NHS in tackling the obesity crisis.
The work-based weight loss clubs which require a fee (such as Weight Watchers) are great ones to encourage your boss to pay part or all of the costs for! If you do decide to go for this route, try getting together a few like-minded colleagues who can help you persuade the management team that healthier, fitter employees are happier and harder-working.
Wouldn’t life be so much easier if your workplace was geared up to support your healthy living efforts?
Instead of having a vending machine stuffed with chocolate and a dingy cupboard of a kitchen, the Ideal Dieting Office would have free fruit and vegetables, a sparkling clean fridge, a host of supportive colleagues and a boss who’d let you take a two-hour lunch break to go to the gym …
The Ideal Dieting Office might be a fantasy, but there are some ways to bring your workplace a little closer to being perfect. Here’s how:
You walk into a sparkling clean kitchen. The cupboards are full of nice plates, bowls, mugs and cutlery. The fridge is huge and shiny, with a freezer compartment for frozen treats. The washing-up has always been done.
Okay, so your office has to make do with a rather poky little kitchen, and no-one’s seen fit to stock it with any crockery. The fridge is crammed with forgotten sandwiches and out-of-date ready meals. Whenever you try to leave something in there for more than a few hours, though, it inevitably goes missing…
What you can do:
Tempting seasonal fruit is always on offer – for free! Your enlightened boss believes that healthy workers are happy and productive workers, and makes a point of providing plenty of healthy snacks.
Your boss’s eye is firmly on the bottom line, and you know that any suggestion of freebies would not go down well. The only snack source near your office is the vending machine in the corridor – packed with crisps and chocolate bars.
What you can do:
You’re getting better results than ever at the gym, because your boss lets you take a two-hour lunch break to fit in a full session mid-day. And you and your office mates are performing so well, you’re allowed to leave work early to beat the traffic and make it home with plenty of time to cook dinner.
You’re lucky if you get a lunch break at all – usually you just grab a sandwich and eat it at your desk. You often end up working late, which means you tend to live on ready meals – at least it’s better than getting pizza delivered.
What you can do:
You love your colleagues and see them all as good friends. They’re all really supportive about your diet, and several of them are trying to eat healthily too – so there’s plenty of encouragement in the office. When it’s someone’s birthday, the focus is on fun treats rather than slabs of cake – maybe you all watch a DVD at lunch time, or play some silly party games.
Most of your colleagues probably don’t know you exist. Those who do aren’t interested in your diet – or actively scoff about it. When cookies are going round, people act hurt if you don’t take one.
What you can do:
Good luck bringing your office a little closer to the ideal. There’ll never be a perfect time or situation in which to diet – so make the most of what you’ve got, and go for it now!
(Image above by tracyhunter.)
(Note: this article is in many ways a rethink and update of what I wrote in Should you tell your colleagues you’re on a diet? The advice there still applies, but I’ve realised it’s often very hard to keep quiet about your lifestyle changes!)
One of the tricky things about going on a diet is knowing what to say to other people in the office. You might be tempted to say nothing about it, afraid of what colleagues might say (or think). Or you might be full of enthusiasm for your new eating plan, and keen to share details with everyone. Either way, there’ll come a point where some observant workmate asks “Why aren’t you eating your usual McDonald’s for lunch then?” or “Why do you keep turning down the gooey chocolate cake?”
You’ll want to think about:
If you feel reluctant to talk about your diet, have a think about why. Is it because:
All of these are common justifications for avoiding saying “I’m on a diet” to your colleagues. None of them are bad or stupid reasons, but it’s worth getting them straight in your own head. There’s nothing embarrassing or wrong about eating more healthily and taking care of your body. And just because you’ve avoided taking action on your health in the past doesn’t mean you can’t do so today!
Be proud of your resolution to lose weight, and just say to colleagues, “I’m trying to eat more healthily.” (Avoiding the “diet” word might be best, especially if you’ve had a history of being a “serial dieter” who starts a different plan each Monday.)
There’s no need to send a mass email informing the entire company about your new diet, how great it is, how much weight you’re losing, and how they should all join in.
However, if you’ve been working with the same small circle of colleagues for several years, they’ll naturally be interested in what’s going on in your life. It’s a good idea to mention to them – not in a dramatic announcement, but just at the water cooler or over lunch – that you’re dieting. They’ll almost certainly be supportive.
The people you don’t want to tell about your diet are those who you just never get along with. Although I’d love to say that I’ve never had a personality clash with a colleague, there’ll always be people I just don’t get along with. If you have an “office enemy” or two, keep quite about your diet when around them. They’ll just use it as ammunition to needle you. (“Hey, Becky, aren’t you on a diet? You shouldn’t be eating that cookie.”)
One of the greatest things about being open with your colleagues about your healthy living attempts is that you’ll almost certainly find some of them are keen to join in! When they see you eschew the office chocolate run in favour of homemade sandwiches, they might be prompted to follow your example.
If there are enough people interested, perhaps you could start up a dieting group in the office for mutual support? Or try getting together after work once a week for a game of basketball, badminton or football. There could even be a chance of persuading your boss to arrange corporate gym membership, so that you can all get a discount.
You might find someone willing to be your dieting buddy, which could be a huge help when you’re feeling a moment of weakness! (They’ll help distract you from that huge box of chocolates that the boss brought in.) And chances are, there’ll be some successful dieters amongst your colleagues – often people who you’d never have guessed were once overweight – and they may have some great tips to share.
(Image above by ‘S’)
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Do you go into work each morning, promising yourself that you’ll be good and avoid the vending machine, corner shop, greasy canteen food and the humungous lattes from the local coffee place?
And do you find that, by five o’clock, you’ve succumbed … yet again?
Of course, there’s always a good excuse:
What if you could guarantee resisting that temptation to buy a coffee/chocolate bar/doughnut … every time? What if you could be certain that you’d stick to your packed lunch of sandwiches rather than heading to McDonald’s?
No, I’m not going to give you some motivational self-help waffle. I have one very simple practical tip: leave all your change and cash cards at home. If you don’t have 50p for the vending machine, you can’t get chocolate – however much you might think you need it. And if it’s sandwiches or starve, you’ll eat that healthy lunch you prepared.
And even better, you can save a bit of money every week to treat yourself to something you really want.
(Image above by Rogue Soul)
What do you associate “holidays” with? Fun, lie-ins, travelling, new places … and good food, along with some inevitable weight-gain. Perhaps you don’t mind putting on a couple of pounds for the sake of really enjoying yourself … but what if your colleagues’ holidays are making you fat?
A couple of my workmates have already been away and others are off over the next few weeks. Holiday-season has started early – and each returnee brings back something to share with the rest of us: fancy chocolates, foreign sweets, bags of nuts…
When there’s a treat on offer, it’s very hard not to feel a sense of entitlement; we want our fair share. Everyone else gets a couple of those posh chocolates – so why shouldn’t we?
“You’ve been eating really healthy all week and you’ve decided you get to have a piece of cake at a birthday lunch. But by the time dessert is served, you’re totally full. Plus the cake is a kind you don’t even really like.
So you eat a monstrously big piece anyway, and don’t even enjoy it.
Q: Why the hell did you do something so dumb?
A: Because you had already decided “I get a piece of cake today,” and you felt entitled to eat it.”
Exactly the same reasoning applies to office treats – we might not even have been “eating really healthy all week”, but we tell ourselves things like:
Ask yourself what you’re really entitled to: a treat now (leaving you thinking “sod it, I’m quitting my diet for the day/week”) … or long-term success in meeting your health goals?
Sometimes, we don’t even get as far as justifying why we deserve the treat. We just grab one without thinking. This often happens when goodies are being passed round; someone appears at your desk, you dip your hand into the box automatically, and before you realise what you’re doing, you’ve scoffed a handful of chocolates. Or you go to make a cup of tea, and someone’s left a giant bag of honey-covered nuts by the kettle, and you pop a few into your mouth…. (not one of my better dieting moments this week!)
Get into the habit of automatically saying, either to the person offering, or to yourself, “I’ll have one later, thanks.” Once half-an-hour or so has passed, make a conscious choice. Perhaps you really want to try a bit of something exotic (we had proper Turkish Delight earlier this week) – fair enough! But you can live without a hunk of the giant Toblerone from Switzerland…
Two more of my colleagues are off on holiday next week, but I’m away the week after – so hopefully the rest of the office will have finished up all the tempting treats before I’m back at my desk …
(Image above by eszter)
If you’ve worked in several different jobs, you may have noticed interesting patterns. One place of work might have a constantly topped-up cookie jar. In a different office, perhaps everyone gets together on Fridays for a pub meal. And in a third, you might find a trend towards snacking on fruit or eating salads at lunch time.
It’s unlikely that the HR department is particularly prone to employing people with an love of carrot sticks in one company, or a tendency to bring in cake in another. Rather, we tend to match our eating habits to the people around us – and for many of us, the people we spend most time around are our colleagues.
What can you do if your regular team lunch involves someone nipping down to the nearest pizzeria? My advice would be to simply join in! Sitting there with a wholemeal sandwich and an apple will feel awkward, make other people uncomfortable, and is hardly conductive to team bonding. And demanding that “We should order something healthy for a change” is unlikely to go down well with whippet-thin colleagues who can’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Limit the damage by making sure you have a healthy breakfast and some fruit mid-morning, so that you’re not ravenous by lunch-time, and by planning a lighter evening meal.
Does everyone in your office troops to the pub on Fridays for lunch, to celebrate the weekend being just a few hours away? If you tend to end up eating far more than you need (and perhaps indulging in a sneaky glass of wine or pint of beer too), you might find it best to limit these trips.
I find that disappearing to the gym is a good excuse not to look like a spoilsport. Alternatively, plead work pressures (“You guys go to the pub, someone’s got to stay and cover the phones”). But do try to go along once or twice a month – especially if you rarely sit down to eat with your colleagues. It can be a good chance to chat, and there’s no rule saying you can’t be friends with your workmates.
Many workplaces have an established pattern of bringing in treats. In my experience, one of the best health-wise is having a tin of cookies which people take it in turns to top-up as it runs low. This might seem counter-intuitive, but having sweet treats around constantly means that people are able to “take them or leave them”.
Commonly, though, colleagues will bring in treats on birthdays, or on return from vacation. This often leads to a mass feeding frenzy, as everyone in the office wants their share of the goodies. And you’ll not be Mister Popular if you insist on bringing in a fruit basket when it’s your turn…
If such treats are a fairly infrequent occurrence (perhaps a couple of times a month), go ahead and indulge, even if you’re on a diet. A single cupcake isn’t going to ruin your week. Just make sure you don’t fall into the “It’s free food and I want my fair share” mindset…
If it seems as though it’s someone’s birthday every other day, or if it’s the summer and people are constantly returning from abroad laden with exotic chocolates, you may need to ration yourself to only having one of these treats every week. Read my advice on how to refuse a cookie if you’re worried about hurting a co-worker’s feelings.
All of the above may sound a little negative, and I wanted to end by demonstrating how co-workers and an office environment conductive to healthy eating can have a very positive effect.
At one small company where I worked whilst a student, the office consisted mainly of enviably slim women. There was occasional cake on people’s birthdays, but not on a day-to-day basis. We had a well-equipped kitchen, and a break room where people ate together. There was a strong encouragement from senior members of staff for people to “take their full lunch break” and usually at least half the employees would go out for a walk together at lunch-time, through the grassy area around the buildings (we were based on a large business park.)
I noticed that people frequently brought salads in for lunch – especially the male employees (something which I’ve not seen happening in other places of work). One larger lady who was new to the company started a diet, and met with encouragement and support. To me, this was strong evidence that healthy living habits can spread between colleagues.
If you feel your office could have a healthier environment, why not invite colleagues out for a walk, or suggest sitting down for a proper lunch break together rather than grabbing a sandwich at your desk?
(Image of pizza above by Slice)