At work right now, we’re having a wellness challenge, where the overall challenge is made up of several dietary and exercise challenges. (It seems this wellness challenge lives almost entirely in the realm of physical wellness.) A lot of the mini-challenges — like an exercise log and recipe invention — fit very well with my likes and needs. A few of them — like a food journal — make me a wary. And the overarching challenge for the series of events is a weight loss challenge.
I shouldn’t have been surprised since the weight loss challenge has been an annual event since I’ve been here. And the supposition has always been that one participates in the other events as part of the weight loss challenge. But this year, I was taken aback at the strength and surety of my own reaction. “Why did they have to go and fuck that up?”
Certainly, I can see the appeal that weight loss holds for a lot of people. However, setting it as the lynchpin in a wellness challenge is a flawed strategy for wellness.
- Even if all participants performed exactly the same on all the other food and exercise challenges, individual bodies are going to respond differently. Weight (loss or not) isn’t a reliable indicator of participation in the other activities.
- Some people may have their weight remain the same or even go up as they begin or continue to practice healthy physical habits. It would be disingenuous for a wellness challenge to focus on weight loss at the possible expense of healthy practices.
- For some people, dieting and weight loss are emotionally fraught issues. It would be dangerous for a wellness challenge to focus on weight loss at the expense of mental and emotional health.
And it’s not cool to exclude some of us from conversations and activities about wellness because we don’t want to lose weight.
I asked about this last year, tentatively and without revealing any personal stake, to receive a tepid response. The organizers were perfectly polite but apparently operated on the assumption that the other challenges existed to make the weight loss “more enjoyable and engaging” — to support the weight loss because who wouldn’t want to lose weight? — rather than as legitimately “enjoyable and engaging” activities on their own, independent of any weight loss goals.
Last year, I ended up not participating in most of the activities and feeling pretty bummed out because of that. Whatever larger problems exist in the world, or even in my workplace, it’s ostracizing to feel like something fun is happening but that I’m not welcome to participate in it because I don’t want to lose weight.
This year, I was more direct and personal in voicing my concerns. “I’d love to participate in some of these challenges, but participating in the weight loss challenge would not be healthy for me. Is there a way to participate in some activities but not others?” I did not get a direct response. However, later that day, the organizers sent out another email explicitly clarifying that employees could participate or not participate in individual activities as they chose.
This is a step in the right direction, though I’m sure I’m still setting myself up for some coworkers asking me:
- Why I’m participating in the challenges if I don’t want to lose weight?
- Why don’t I want to lose weight?
At the moment, however, being part of a group where I can talk about it trumps feeling excluded from the group so that I can’t.