This is the third in the series of major wellness harms perpetrated on employees by wellness vendors and indifferent employers. These narratives have been painstakingly compiled, edited only lightly, and with no detail omitted other than the victim’s name and employer. I won’t tell you who the perps are yet, other than to say that the vendors I have consistently noted to be the best — American Institute of Preventive Medicine, Health Advocate, HealthCheck360, It Starts with Me, Limeade, Redbrick, SelfHelpWorks, Sterling, Sonic Boom, Sustainable Health Index, US Health Centers, US Preventive Medicine — are not among them.
- Part 1: Recovering executive with anorexia nervosa begs not to be weighed…DENIED
- Part 2: Recovering technologist with bulimia told to “fit into his skinny jeans”
I used to work for a county health program that established a workplace wellness program. One cold January morning, I returned to work for the first time in nearly eight weeks. I had taken a leave of absence after a suicide attempt and inpatient treatment for chronic depression and anorexia. I had gained a few pounds and my depression had stabilized, and I was looking forward to returning to work I found meaningful.
But when I walked in the door, I was inundated with signs about our workplace weight loss contest—a “Biggest Loser”-style competition. For someone who was struggling desperately to gain weight, this was nothing less than an affront. Signs told me that “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Besides being the same slogans plastered all over the anorexia-enabling websites I used to visit, I had spent the past decade feeling exactly how skinny could make you feel—miserable enough to complete a near-lethal overdose.
I pulled my chin up, set my things down at my desk and walked into the break room for a hot cup of coffee. There, on a big sheet of blue posterboard, was a tally of how much weight everyone had lost. Veronica in accounts receivable had already lost 3.4 pounds. Then, flooding in my inbox were the emails encouraging us to only eat half our lunch, and to try to sneak in an extra workout during our lunch break. Never mind that these behaviors were exactly what had landed me in the hospital. Now, I had a prescribed diet developed in consultation with my dietitian.
For several months, I tried to grin and bear it, but eventually, the madness was just too much. I couldn’t bear the meetings about how good steamed broccoli was. I couldn’t stand working in an external environment that was, quite possibly, more toxic than the internal chatter I endured all day. The poster listing everyone’s weight loss statistics was removed upon my request, but the fact remained that the workplace wellness program had created an environment that was anything but healthy. I had to quit my job.
Perhaps my experience is an unavoidable side effect of a war against obesity that some have determined should be won at all costs (and regardless of strong evidence that existing wellness programs don’t work).
But when you consider that around one in 20 Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in his or her lifetime, that’s a lot of collateral damage.