Work Wellness Challenge

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

F pyramid

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:

  1. Why I’m participating in the challenges if I don’t want to lose weight?
  2. 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.

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I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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Posted in ahimsa, non-asana
6 comments on “Work Wellness Challenge
  1. Quercki says:

    The fit club I joined a few months ago didn’t mention weight loss on their home page. They talked about “meeting you at your fitness level” and I liked that.

    I asked if my friend could have the same deal I have, and the owner sent me a very weird contract for my friend that linked to a weight loss-focused video and the contract offered to buy a new pair of jeans at the end of the year for “up to $300.” I was astounded that there ARE $300 jeans, and was not surprised that my friend didn’t take the offer. I wouldn’t have either because it focused on weight loss.

  2. Some people are thin enough that they feel no pressure to lose weight. Maybe they are going to feel excluded from the program, too. Although I’ve noticed the increasing creep of the assumption that everyone should lose weight and that thinner is always healthier.

    I would go so far as to say that it’s misleading to make weight loss the centerpiece and frame all the other activities mainly as contributing to the weight loss. It gives people the impression that these activities primarily affect health by contributing to weight loss, when it’s pretty well established that they have independent benefits and that activity levels are a better predictor of health than BMI is. And it makes people like me who are fed up with weight loss everything all the time start to associate their advice with weight loss and feel less like listening to it.

    • Tori says:

      Although I’ve noticed the increasing creep of the assumption that everyone should lose weight…

      Last year, I mentioned to a coworker who’s both thin and athletic that I wouldn’t be participating because of the central focus on weight loss. Her response was something like how “everyone could stand to lose some weight,” which I think says a lot about societal assumptions regarding weight loss. To say, “I’m not interested in weight loss” at a wide variety of sizes is bucking a trend.

  3. G says:

    My work had one of these too. (I wrote about it over at https://runningwhilefat.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/work-healthy-living-programs/)

    It was very hard to decline to participate– I wanted no part of their weight loss goals but everyone who asked me about it knew that I was already doing lots of activity; there was a lot of “Well why not??” and I didn’t want to ruffle feathers with my answer. (Plus it was a poorly-designed program to begin with…)

    I think it would be good for me to have a pat answer ready to give for your question #2. This would involve “coming out” with my HAES practice, though…

    • Tori says:

      For me, I’ve discovered that I can get away with, “I’d rather focus on eating reasonably and healthfully and exercising on a regular basis. If those are what my body needs to lose weight, that’s fine with me. But if I do them and don’t lose weight, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth doing, you know?”

      It has the advantage of being true (speaking in terms of my personal priorities) and the advantage of not shutting out weight loss as a possibility, which apparently makes it more palatable to my coworkers.

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