workplace weight loss programs and eating disorders, giving a reference for a coworker who drinks heavily, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Workplace weight loss programs and eating disorders

My workplace just decided to do a casual team-wide (60 people) weight loss competition/event. Participation is voluntary and each participant puts money in the pot initially plus a dollar for every pound lost. The winner wins the pot at the end.

This came at me out of the blue, because I have an eating disorder, and I avoid those teammates who like to talk about their eating and diet habits all the time. But now everybody around me is talking about it all the time, and I thank god nobody has asked me if I am participating yet (everybody is doing it, not just overweight people but perfectly healthy people). This is seriously triggering and upsetting for me. I don’t want to go the the team manager and say “shut it down!” but is there something I can do to raise awareness that there are people with eating disorders around and this sort of thing is a problem? Without actually saying that that person is me, ideally.

You can absolutely say to your manager (or anyone else), “You know, this kind of competition and the frequent discussion of dieting that it generates is really problematic for people with eating disorders. Is there a way to tone it down or even reconsider it entirely, in light of that?” My bet is that they won’t call it off this time, but it might make them more sensitive to how and how often it’s being discussed, and it might get them not to do another in the future. But there’s also a chance that it will have no impact, at least in part because it may seem theoretical to them (“some people could…” as opposed to “people in this office definitely do…”).

Because of that, if you’re willing to confide in someone — either your boss or HR — that you personally are being impacted by this, you might have more of an effect. You shouldn’t have to do that, but the reality is that it might have much more of an impact.

Also, in the future, if you get a chance to speak up while the idea is still in the planning stages, it’ll often be easier to shut down at that point. You can say something like, “I’ve read that experts now discourage this kind of event because it’s so dangerous for people with eating disorders. And it leaves out people who don’t want to lose weight. How about we do a voluntary walking challenge or something else that isn’t tied to pounds lost?”

2. Giving a reference for a coworker who drinks heavily

A coworker of mine recently dropped from full-time to part-time hours by choice — he began taking partial Social Security benefits which limit the maximum number of hours worked per week. At the same time, our growing company was short on desk space, so he began working those hours from home. I probably worked in the office with him for about six months before his arrangement changed. His work is low-level but still in a critical workflow, and consistently reliable though not large in volume due to the limited hours he’s putting in.

This seems to be a good fit for him, and as far as I know he plans to continue working this way for the foreseeable future. He’s a nice person, and I still see him at work social events, where he has a reputation for imbibing substantially and often.

He recently emailed to let me know I had been listed on his references for another job he was applying for. This would be a live-in assistant for an elderly person with dementia. (He has no local family so moves around the city every few months, often house- or pet-sitting.) I am not a nurse or doctor, and don’t work in the medical field. I am not his supervisor. I do, however, rely in part on his work product to complete my tasks. He has no intention of quitting our company so I will need to continue to work with him.

Should I give a reference? If so, what should I say? I don’t feel like I can testify to how he would be as a caregiver, or as a direct report, and this is a job that I feel has a great degree of intimacy with someone who might not be able to speak for themselves.

If you took away the “imbibing substantially and often,” I’d say you should give him a reference that speaks to what you know of his work, while clearly explaining the caveats you gave here — you can’t speak to what he’d be like as a home care assistant, but just to his work as a teapot painter (or whatever). There’s still value in that type of reference, because you can speak to things like reliability, ease of working with him, conscientiousness, etc.

But the drinking thing gives me pause, given the type of job he’s applying for. “Drinks a lot at work social events” doesn’t inherently mean “irresponsible drinker who would jeopardize someone’s care.” In fact, it probably doesn’t mean that. But without knowing more details, I don’t think I can tell you whether you should or shouldn’t agree to be a reference. To figure it out, I think your best bet is to give some thought to what you know about his responsibility in general and whether you’ve ever seen him do anything like drive after drinking too much or behave inappropriately to people at these events, and maybe even consider talking to him about your concern to see how he reacts.

3. Should I contact a former coworker who’s lying about having a master’s degree?

In my previous company, I worked with a woman who claimed to hold a master’s degree. She includes this information on her resume and her LinkedIn profile, and she tells people verbally that she has a master’s degree. Through another coworker, I learned that she in fact is “one class away” from completing her master’s program. I doubt the validity of this because she was notoriously a liar (and not a very efficient worker, either, to be honest).

She moved to another state and has since been out of work (nearly two years now). Besides taking personal insult about this (I worked hard and spent a lot of money to put myself through college while working full-time in order furnish my resume with a degree, the honest way), I also think it’s hurting her chances to find work. Once an employer discovers her embellishment, the offers are rescinded and she’s branded a dishonest candidate.

On one hand, I feel I should let it slide. It’s her business if she wants to conduct herself dishonestly. But on the other hand, I’d like to send her a message to tell her the best way to find steady employment is to be honest!

My field is HR and this is sadly common, I’ve discovered. I feel like I’m the only person I know who hasn’t embellished or outright lied on their resume to get better jobs. Should I send this woman a message? I feel like the only way to change this slimy practice is one person at a time.

No, you shouldn’t. It’s really not your business — she’s a former coworker who you don’t appear to be close to and you’re not being personally impacted by her lie, so you don’t really have standing to say anything. Moreover, it doesn’t sound like you even know for sure that she’s lying (although even if you did, that wouldn’t warrant contacting her). Roll your eyes, figure that she’s going to screw herself over at some point if this is true, and move on.

4. My new coworker bites his nails constantly

I am a contractor, and my company hired a new contractor to take on some additional tasks at the site where we work. I am expected to train him and introduce him to everyone so they will know to start tasking him.

He bites his nails during meetings. All the time. I sat across from him in one meeting, and his fingers stayed in or near his mouth for at least an hour. He’s only been to a few meetings so far, but I find myself planning strategies to avoid sitting near or across from him in future meetings. I’m sure he is annoying others too.

I’ve asked him to take notes during meetings in the hopes that it would curb the nail biting, but it hasn’t helped, so I know I need to be more direct. How do I bring this up without embarrassing him while also being effective in stopping the nail biting? Should I mention this to him directly since I am training him (though we have the same job title so we’re more like peers), or would it be better for me to mention it to our boss at the contracting company?

His work has been great so far, so I want to encourage him–not alienate him. I do want to nip this in the bud though since it’s majorly annoying, and I worry that it could cause others to avoid working with him.

Oooof. I’m torn on whether this is something you have standing to ask him to stop or not, but ultimately I’m coming down on the side of yes — that you have standing not to demand he stop, but to alert him to it as a thing that’s distracting. I’d just be pretty matter-of-fact about it — “I don’t know if you realize, but you tend to bite your nails throughout meetings and it can be pretty distracting.”

I wouldn’t mention it to your boss though, not unless it continues and you think it’s going to cause issues with clients or something like that. In general, it’ll be far less awkward if you say something to him than if your boss does, since it sounds like your boss may not be regularly working with him (and thus would have to address it via secondhand information, which generally isn’t ideal).

5. Asking about nursing rooms before starting a new job

I’m starting a new job next week and I’m also currently nursing a seven-month-old. At my currently role, I can use my lactation room three times a day, which is great. How do I ask my new job about using the nursing room? Do I have to wait until I start? It’s going be physically uncomfortable to skip an entire day, but I think I could do it.

No, don’t do that to yourself! Ask ahead of time. Send an email to either your HR contact or your new manager that says, “By the way, I wanted to mention that I’m currently nursing and will need a private spot for pumping a few times during the day. Is that something I need to arrange ahead of time or is there something like that already set up?”

Just be matter-of-fact about it, since it’s something that they should be matter-of-fact about in return.

{ 440 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I put this down below, but wanted to put it up here too to increase the chances of people seeing it: There’s been lots of comments on workplace weight loss competitions and wellness programs in general, but less advice for the OP about what she should do in her situation. Anyone want to tackle that, since that’s going to be more helpful to her?

    1. Jaguar*

      I’ve never been in a similar situation, so approaching it with total emotional detachment, I’d like to think if it was something I couldn’t stand, I’d make fun of it.

      “Are you participating in the weight loss program?”

      “No, I’m actually trying to gain weight right now.”

      Obviously, depending on how sensitive OP is about their weight, that might be hard to do. But it would deflect the conversation entirely and allow them to address it directly.

      1. Anon for this*

        We don’t know the nature of OP’s eating disorder (anorexia, binge-eating disorder, bulimia, or EDNOS), so they may be maintaining or losing instead – or have goals totally unrelated to their weight. But I think a firm “no” to participation in the program is good advice.

      2. Ife*

        “So if I gain a pound, does that mean I get to take a dollar out of the pot? Instead of putting a dollar in?”

        1. Vicki*

          I’m having trouble with the concept of paying if I lose a pound. Shouldn’t I pay if I don’t? (If I joined… which I wouldn’t… but still…)

    2. C Average*

      I haven’t read through all the comments yet, but given how much the OP is being triggered by this, I think it would be worth her while to find some time to meet with a nutritionist or dietitian who specializes in eating disorder recovery.

      My stepdaughter has battled an eating disorder, and part of her recovery process was regular sessions with such a person. It was immensely helpful. (I sat in on part of each session so that I could gain insight on how the rest of the family could help reinforce her learnings. She’s only 14, so she very much needs the rest of the family on board with her recovery.)

      For example, we met with the dietitian right before an extended family trip to talk about how to handle eating away from home. What if the food being served by her grandparents wasn’t something she was comfortable eating? What would she eat instead? How would she handle the logistics of buying food or preparing her own food in someone else’s house? How would she approach her father if she needed help navigating this stuff? (I wasn’t going to be on the trip, so she needed to be comfortable working out these details with her dad.)

      Another time, we discussed how to handle lunch hour at school. She wanted to eat with her friends, but didn’t want them commenting on her lunch. We worked through some things she could say to them to shut down those conversations without revealing more than she wanted to about her eating disorder.

      It was really, really helpful to anticipate likely scenarios and work out talking points and strategies for handling them. I think all people who battle disordered eating would benefit from doing this kind of work. You’re not going to be able to control your environment and the people in it. Food is everywhere, and talk about food is everywhere, and triggers are everywhere. That’s not likely to change in the near term, unfortunately.

      1. coffeepowerredd*

        I was struck with how triggered OP was at this competition. I think in an office setting this large, there are bound to be some things which you’ll just say “thanks but no thanks” and go about your way. I hate to say it but OP you may need some real help if just hearing people talk about dieting and food is triggering you so hard.

        1. peachie*

          Have you ever had an eating disorder? I haven’t, but even I can see how being surrounded by people who are getting REWARDED for CRASH DIETING (I’ve taken part in such a competition — it can get really unhealthy really fast) could be painful and triggering for someone who had an eating disorder.

          It sounds like she is in recovery from an eating disorder, meaning she likely DID get some “real help” (and if she didn’t, I’m sure that has NOTHING to do with how difficult it is to access mental health care in this country…).

          Many mental disorders are lifelong conditions. I know that for some things, like eating disorders or substance abuse problems, the individuals who have them prefer to refer to themselves as “in recovery” rather than “recovered,” no matter how long they have been clean or eating in a more healthful way. This is because it is often a constant battle not to slip back into the old ways. I can’t understand it personally, but I know it’s a difficult, never-ending battle and I admire the hell out of the people who are fighting it.

          Your comment struck me as callous. I’m sure you’re of the opinion that “everyone is triggered by everything these days!!” — such a cool and original thought, by the way! — but I’d recommend occasionally considering that maybe, just maybe, some people are going through things that you know absolutely nothing about.

          1. DoDah*

            This comment is interesting.

            Recovering anorexic here. I get it–it’s really easy for me to fall off the wagon and start over-exercising and not eating. My former workplace used to have a few “Biggest Loser” type of competitions every year. I was not going to be the one who complained as I didn’t want to be seen as The One Who Ruins All Fun Things. What I did was:
            – Make sure I doubled down and planned my eating for the day. I made sure I had nutritious and healthy meals and snacks with me–as opposed to leaving my daily intake to whim and whimsy of the day.
            -Took a walk or meditated at lunch to make sure I was away from the talk-time of lunch and breaks.
            -Developed a pleasant, neutral and uninterested response if people wanted to talk about it around me.

            1. peachie*

              Ugh, I’m sorry you had to be a part of that but I’m glad you found good ways of coping. The “taking a walk” can make a huge difference in your headspace, I’ve realized.

            2. peachie*

              Also, I apologize if my comment was out of line — this is obviously not a problem I’ve dealt with personally, so I’m certainly not the expert. I have had a lot of experience with the interaction between work culture and my own mental health, so that’s where I’m coming from.

          2. slick ric flair*

            It’s a game that, for most people, is for a fun work activity. If they were to do “office walks” and someone is sun-sensitive, then they can’t do that either?

            1. C Average*

              I suspect you’re being facetious here, but I’ll play anyway.

              This competition is all about weight loss (through diet, exercise, etc.). That’s the whole point of the program. And eating disorders are all about an unhealthy fixation with weight loss (through diet, exercise, etc.). The focus of the competition and the focus of the disorder have a huge amount of overlap, and it’s a constant topic of discussion.

              The equivalent would be for the workplace with the sun-sensitive person to hold a competition for who could develop the darkest tan, and to have everyone constantly comparing tan lines.

            2. Sarah in Boston*

              I think this is a bit of a strawman as I don’t know of any mental health conditions triggered by walking that can have such a devastating physical impact in the way that eating disorders do. Besides, those crash diet competitions aren’t that healthy for anyone. For walking, people can do it inside or outside with physical protection for sun sensitivity. It could be time based rather than distance or steps, so different physical abilities could all participate. Eating challenges could be about eating more vegetables and drinking less soda. There are definitely more and better options here that are not triggering to people who have a very difficult disorder that they can’t avoid (and your example is definitely either avoidable or much more easily managed).

              1. peachie*

                I totally agree — I think the big problem (and fallacy) is that things like this say “less weight = more healthy.” First of all, that’s just not true — second of all, EVEN IF a person would medically benefit from losing weight, that doesn’t mean “lose all the pounds you possibly can.”

                There are so many employee participation things that could encourage healthy habits that have nothing to do with weight!

                Give everyone a pedometer and have a walking contest. Better yet, give away “benchmark prizes” rather than overall prizes, so, say, ANYONE who walks 50k steps a week (for example) gets a $10 Amazon gift card. That way, all fitness levels can be accommodated.

                Have a healthy lunch recipe competition — maybe use certain nutritional guidelines to establish what the meal can/can’t include (% of protein, vegetables, etc.). You could do a taste test or just share the recipes and have employees vote — best tasting, easiest to make, etc.

                Send out trivia questions about nutrition and health and give prizes (either for the first or maybe the first, second, and third person to answer correctly) related to health — water bottles, healthy snacks/lunch, gift card for a healthy local restaurant, free yoga class at a local gym, pedometer, yoga mat, etc. There are LOTS of cheap things that would actually help people, you know, get healthier (instead of just dropping as much weight as possible because… health?).

                Have employees establish their own goals about habits they’d like to increase or avoid (ex, do yoga every day, don’t drink soda, etc.) and set a reward system based on “streaks” rather than on interpersonal competition.

                The more I think of it, the more the “competing with your coworkers to be THE HEALTHIEST” is the part that really bugs me. There is no “the healthiest.” We’re all at different levels. We all have natural body types and abilities. We have different lifestyles and limitations. Programs like this should be about encouragement and empowerment, not competition and weight-shaming.

            3. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot*

              Is there a type of sun sensitivity that is triggered by *talking* about walking in the sun?

              Because there are types of eating disorders that are triggered by *talking* about food, measuring/portioning, dieting, counting calories, exercise, etc.

    3. Joseph*

      Explain to her boss or HR that such a program makes her feel uncomfortable and she doesn’t think the weight loss is really an appropriate target to use because of: (a) Eating disorders, (b) It’s not fair to everybody since there’s different amounts of weight to lose, (c) For some people, losing weight is actually unhealthy, and (d) Weight is not necessarily a great measure of health in general [see the comments below, there’s plenty of people going into more details about all of these, plus more]. This way you can disagree without needing to specifically go into detail about your personal problems. Then you see what kind of answer you get back and respond appropriately:
      1.) “We understand and will remove weight as a criteria, but still will push employees to be more active”. Good enough.
      2.) “But we really want to encourage employee health…” Jump in with some other ways to achieve the goal. Maybe they reimburse employees for up to X dollars per month on physical activities (gym memberships, dance lessons, whatever as long as it’s physical). Maybe they set up a monthly lunch seminar discussing a health-related topic (nutrition, exercise, etc). Etc.
      3.) “Nope, we’re sticking to it. Why is this an issue?” Here is where if you really feel strongly, you need to be honest that your reason for not participating is your personal health issue.

      The real trick here is that you need to do this privately, professionally and calmly. People’s bodies are (fairly) a very personal issue, so you need to make sure to stay cool and keep your emotions out of it. Remember that while they may be doing it wrong, their heart is in the right place.

      1. Ife*

        I like this approach. There are so many reasons that this type of challenge is a terrible idea, and presenting several of those reasons (a) strengthens your argument, and (b) makes it less likely that boss/HR will assume you have an eating disorder.

        1. TempestuousTeapot*

          Another thing is that some of these weight loss competitions don’t really promote the ‘healthy lifestyle’ beyond the immediate competition. Yes, competition is fun, and many of us thrive on it. But it isn’t very inclusive, so it inherently fails the team building test. Not to mention, many people have all manner of health needs that could be negatively impacted by them (not just eating disorders: physical injuries, asthma, diabetes-is impacted by weight fluctuations, hypoglycemia, thyroid). Most people don’t want to put out there if they have one or more of these. Some might compete anyway for fear of being seen as not valuing workplace culture. Healthy choices as an initiative might be a better method since that can work more individually, respecting health concerns and privacy, while still granting workplace inclusion. Perhaps the group walking as an alternative. At break times, everybody participating gets up and does two rounds around the office?

    4. Manders*

      The first thing I would do is set up an email filter that will send any emails with trigger words or words related to the competition into a separate folder or straight to spam.

      I suspect that the talk about food ramps up around lunch and maybe around breaks when people are gathering in the break room/around snacks, so maybe it’s time to find somewhere else to eat until the competition is over.

      Depending on OP’s relationship with her coworkers, maybe it would also be possible to say, “All this diet talk is getting old! So, who’s watching the Olympics?” or something every time the subject comes up.

    5. Lora*

      Here’s a link to the 2012 Rand study on workplace health programs and how to design a program that has good employee engagement and incentives, and they describe successful vs not-successful interventions. Maybe OP1 could send this to the boss or program owner and note that this particular thing they have chosen to do is not as successful as other interventions and incentives – pointing out other things that have worked better (which are tied to health, not weight loss), and the section about how to gauge what will be most useful and have the best impact on employees without being perceived as punishment (pg 36)?

    6. peachie*

      Check if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Mine does and I didn’t know about it until I had been working for two years! You may be able to get some counseling sessions to work through this one issue.

      Obviously, all these programs work differently, but mine asked when I was free and found a therapist for me — even taking into account my preferences of location, gender, specialty, etc. I got in in less than a week and I got six free sessions (and am now continuing to see her through insurance). SO easy, and a short burst of therapy might be really useful for you as you deal with this specific problem.

      And I hate any talk of weight or dieting in the workplace; it SUCKS that they’re running this program. Some people have no idea how damaging that kind of thing can be.

    7. Jammer*

      I haven’t finished reading all the comments below, so my apologies if this has been suggested already, but would it be possible for OP1 to talk to HR about her eating disorder and frame it as a disability? Perhaps they can work with her to set up some sort of accommodation, like allowing her to work from home for the duration of the competition. That’s an extreme solution and it might not be feasible, but perhaps it’s worth trying since the situation is making work so difficult for her.

      I would also approach the manager about not repeating this kind of competition in the future, for all the reasons everyone has already mentioned. I would offer alternative suggestions for “wellness” initiatives going forward, like free tai chi classes after work for those who are interested, or walking groups during morning breaks, or the occasional catered salad bar lunch.

  2. Jeanne*

    Workplace dieting programs are extremely controversial. People have eating disorders or they have other medical problems that make it difficult to lose weight. Maybe they can’t afford to pay for the program. All kinds of reasons. But I think they are becoming more common not less as companies attempt to save money on health insurance. Lots of places offer “discounts” on health insurance if you jump through hoops to prove you are healthier than your coworkers. They don’t want to say they’re charging more if you have any health conditions. Or you pay more if you refuse to jump through the hoops. I hate these programs. Either it’s a benefit or it’s not.

    1. Mookie*

      Unless one actually works in a specific medical field or in certain kinds of healthcare, employers should not be encouraged to behave as arbiters of “wellness”–particularly when it comes to their employees–and bodyweight is not a magic metric for Peak Health when regarded and measured in isolation. Weight, in general, is an arbitrary and poor indicator of health. My medical history dictates that I need a lot of muscle on a very small frame to be physically well without medication. Programs that make weight loss a competition would punish people like me for looking out for myself, and would punish anyone who doesn’t need or want to lose weight. Absolutely counter-productive, an actual bureaucratic nightmare (as opposed to the straw Orwellian fantasies most folk dream up), and a complete waste of time and money better spent on, I don’t know, work? Earning your wages or salary doing what you were hired to do?

      1. Mookie*

        Honestly, people should not be arbitrarily encouraged to lose weight for cash. People shouldn’t be intentionally losing weight without some kind of medical supervision. This is such a lazy, amateurish approach to life-long health: let’s throw some money at a perceived problem and make people fight over winning the pot like on t.v. That’s the ticket. I hope the employer’s health insurance discourages this kind of thing.

        1. Mookie*

          There are plenty of people (athletes and people with EDs, as two examples) who are past masters at gargantuan and fast weight loss, and if we’re hard up enough to do it, one of us might risk a heart attack (stroke, esophageal rupture, or worse) trying to score that pot.

          1. Ellie H.*

            I think that competitive weight loss competitions at the workplace are stupid, but it’s not the responsibility of the company or anyone running a contest if an individual chooses to make decisions that endanger his or her health.

              1. JMegan*

                And for a really good example of the company incentivizing it, check out Carissa’s answer below. She has a “choice” between participating in the program and paying $600 for insurance, or not participating and paying $1200. I don’t want to speak for her, but that doesn’t sound like a particularly good set of options that allow for individual choice.

              2. Anna*

                I can’t agree. I agree with Mookie that it’s a huge problem to have companies involved in wellness, but I’m with Ellie. At some point the company can’t be held responsible for the personal choices of its employees.

                The incentives are outside job performance so they aren’t really relevant in this case. There’s no direct impact on your raises (at least as far as we know), or how you’re perceived by your employer, so the monetary reward is a “nice” addition, but it isn’t the difference between having a job and paying your bills or not. And usually they’re so small an average person isn’t going to hurt themselves to earn it.

          2. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot*

            Yeah, the moment I heard about the weight loss competition we’re having, I just knew someone was thinking “Well, I’ll just stop eating, exercise 6 times per day, and misuse diuretics to lose water weight.”

        2. Joseph*

          “I hope the employer’s health insurance discourages this kind of thing.”
          Actually, the whole reason these things exist is BECAUSE of health insurance companies. They look at your overall company’s risk factors and set rates accordingly. So the health insurance companies offer discounts to the company (usually big ones!) if you can show that you’ve got an active employee wellness program and that your overall risk profile is improving.
          But how do you show an improvement in the risk profile? Your HR department needs some kind of trackable metric to show improvement. And it’s hard to measure something as nebulous as lifestyle changes, since so much happens outside of work. Unless your HR person happens to be an expert in health, HR is probably going to go with the absolute simplest trackable metric – weight loss.
          You can certainly (and correctly) argue that companies aren’t doing the wellness programs right, but it’s the fault of our healthcare system putting companies in charge of something they really have no business managing in the first place.

          1. Mel*

            I’m with you if employees are paying 100% of costs. But if a set of employees is making premiums higher for all other employees and they’re doing it with claims for preventable or controllable conditions why wouldn’t I provide incentives that help me offer better and cheaper benefits? Even offering things like free meds and no co-pays for preventable stuff aren’t always enough incentive to get people to change behaviors. People change though when their pocketbooks get hit.

            1. Mel*

              Not to mention there’s a lot of evidence out there that people are more likely to change when you threaten a penalty vs offer the same incentive as a reward.

              1. Anna*

                Because a company shouldn’t have that much say in your health or life. From the outside you don’t know what’s preventable or not and it’s a bad move to think you do.

                1. Mel*

                  why not? They’re most likely paying a significant portion of the premiums. It’s not much different than requiring you to go safety training or defensive driving as part of their efforts to decrease premiums and claims they pay.

                2. Mookie*

                  Because no evidence exists that significant weight loss is sustainable. Voluntary weight loss programs to achieve aesthetic results are fine, but, again, employers are not in the business of providing untested, amateur medical advice on a bad assumption (that all weight loss is good, achievable, and has a direct bearing on a person’s health and longevity).

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              1) Health is very individualized and weight or, god forbid, BMI, which is a simplistic measurement that is highly misused in the health industry, are not indicators that someone is unhealthy or the cause of premium increases. Basing someone’s premium on weight and BMI alone is unfair and hitting people in the pocketbook for things that might not actually be problems OR might be caused by other health-ameliorating things (like weight gain as a side effect for people on prescribed medications). By BMI, my husband is bordering on “morbidly obese”, but his physicians recognize that he’s just a very tall, large-framed person who, other than a genetic condition, is in good shape and healthy. I would have him in an eating disorder clinic if he weighted what the BMI index tells him he should because he’d be emaciated.

              2) Long-term lifestyle changes, which can promote health, are often at odds with the nature of American workaholism. You know what would help me lose weight? More reasonable work hours and not being on call 24/7 and having time to take a lunch break, which I’ve stopped doing because people start contacting my boss to locate me if I’m gone for more than 20 minutes during the business day. Don’t make me sign up for a “wellness plan” that tells me I have to exercise an hour every day and get 8 hours of sleep when I’m expected to work for 9-12 hours every day. I have to commute (minimum of an hour each way around here) and make sure my kids remember what my face looks like, too. Wellness plan compliance becomes another job on top of the already demanding job I have.

              3) Weight loss competitions and the types of “wellness plans” incentivize short-term, significant weight loss that is often unsustainable over time and, when structured in a time-limited way with total pounds lost or percentage of body weight lost, are incentivizing temporary and unhealthy weight loss.

              4) The employer, even if they’re just implementing some prepackaged insurer-provided program, becomes and arbiter of what is and is not “preventable and controllable” when very few of them have the education or training to make that decision.

              5) Low weight =/= healthy.

        3. Katniss*

          I hate this stuff so much. I was terrified my company would tag me as someone who needed to be a part of these programs during the biometric screenings this year, because I’m about 20 pounds overweight. But I gained that weight because I got sober and was eating my calories instead of drinking them, so overall I am probably ten times healthier this year than I was last year. They have no way of knowing more details about anyone’s health and no business knowing it, so just looking at weight is their indicator is ignorant and problematic to the extreme.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Katniss, that’s awesome, good for you (for getting sober). It can’t have been easy.

          2. Mel*

            if they’re doing this stuff without offering a health coach or a dietician who can do one on one consults they’re doing it wrong.

            1. ToxicNudibranch*

              Sometimes even if they do offer a “health coach”, the information is misguided and incomplete.

              Previous “health coaches” who have come in to help at my last two offices include a paid trainer from WW who thought all excess weight was due to depression and low self worth, a dietician who skoffed at the idea of vegetarianism, and a very kind and enthusiastic man who was sincerely convinced that essential oils and detoxing one’s mind were the key to weight loss.

              I would hope a licensed dietician or nutritionist would be a better choice, but there’s no licensing board or set of knowledge inherent with being a health coach.

        4. mazzy*

          For cash is dumb, but the idea is good. Who cares that they are now pushed by insurance companies? Some people want to do them anyway. I had a large successful one a few months back. Weigh ins, recipes, motivational speaking, talking about what trips you up.

          What concerns me here is the constant office discussions OP notes. That doesn’t need to be part of this. What exactly are they talking about all of the time?

          1. JessaB*

            There has yet to be any proof that anyone bar a very small percentage of people can keep the weight off more than five years and also, dieting and regaining causes a higher weight set point, so most people end up gaining even more weight. I’d agree to do this only once they show an absolutely proven way to actually really lose weight. Because so far nobody has. Or the billion dollar weight loss industry would not be required to put up that “results NOT typical” asterisk on every single advert.

            1. martini*

              Totally agree JessaB, they are asking people to do something that will actually hurt them in the long term. I agree with Alison’s post that they should be focusing on behaviours instead: # steps, going to the gym, eating more vegetables, I’ve heard of a wellness program that asks people to log how many glasses of water they drink.

              1. martini*

                Oops, forgot to say that focusing on healthy behaviours is also a good strategy for the OP, if someone asks what she thinks about the program or if she’s taking part, something like “nope, but I’m focusing on getting more exercise this month. I went on a great bike ride on the weekend” or similar would be a good strategy.

          2. Cordelia Naismith*

            I strongly disagree. The idea is not good. If some people want to lose weight, they can do it on their own time instead of involving the entire company in a weight loss program when you aren’t privy to the personal health details of all your co-workers, as this letter demonstrates. The potential for harm far outweighs the potential for good.

            1. Mel*

              Who doesn’t want a company to pay for stuff youd normally pay for yourself? I’ve never heard of anyone who thought gym discounts/onsite gyms and other health type benefits were a turnoff when looking for a job. Sure people may not decide to use them but they still appreciate that they’re an free/cheaper option.

            2. Mazzy*

              But it only involves personal details if someone decides to share them. Some coworkers actually seemed to like the idea of a place to vent about their issues, of course, it didn’t carry over to the office during normal hours. In fact, you wouldn’t even have known who went unless you stayed late and looked in the conference room.

      2. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Or there’s people like me, who had undiagnosed hormonal issues since their early teens, breathing issues at night due to a malformed nose and take medication that encourages weight gain.

        Unless I’m in a really bad depressive episode during which I stop eating completely losing weight simply doesn’t happen for me.

        Seriously, two years ago I lost a lot of weight because of that. I was still fat, mind you. When my grandma saw me next, she said: ‘Wow, you look good! Whatever you’re doing to lose weight, keep at it!’

        At that point I’d barely stopped thinking about suicide all the time and had gotten some of my emotions back.

        I really don’t recommend suicidal depression as a weight loss plan…

        1. AthenaC*

          I can somewhat identify – recently I’ve been through some stressful stuff which has caused eating food to be Not a Priority for me. So I’ve lost weight. And everyone compliments me on it! I appreciate the sentiment (sort of?) and I’m not going to lie I do like the size I am now better … but at what cost? I would gladly take the extra pounds back if I could undo the last 4 months of crap.

          Also, I’ve lost a lot of hair. Like, a lot. It’s so thin now. So yeah, while I’m fitting into clothes I haven’t worn in years I have this thin, frizzy, unkempt mop on top of my head where I used to have thick, full curls.

          Really not the tradeoff I wanted, but oh well!

          Good luck to you and hope you feel better.

          1. Collarbone High*

            Apologies in advance if you’re not looking for advice on the hair loss …

            I lost about a third of my hair when I started taking a biologic drug for Crohn’s disease, and had bald patches all over my scalp. My doctor suggested taking prenatal vitamins and biotin supplements, and using Rogaine. It really did help and my normal hair started growing back in within a few weeks. Good luck to you, hope your situation is better now.

            1. BeautifulVoid*

              Oooh, thank you so much for these suggestions! I’m going through the same thing right now, and my doctor said I can switch biologics if the side effects get to be too much, but I’m hesitant to mess around with it if it’s otherwise doing what it’s supposed to, you know? I’ll head out to the drugstore today!

            2. AthenaC*

              Thank you – I really appreciate the suggestions! I’m already on the prenatals (started taking them ~14 years ago during my first pregnancy and just kept taking them), but I will look for biotin as well.

          2. Jadelyn*

            When my fiance and I separated in 2012, I lost over 20 lbs in two months because I had no appetite. I would eat maybe one meal a day and have a few cups of coffee while at work and that was it, because I was hurting and grieving and depressed and just had no interest in food except insofar as I had to have enough to not actually pass out. I’m lucky nobody ever commented on the weight loss – or rather, they’re lucky they didn’t, because I’m not sure I’d have been responsible for my actions in the face of receiving praise for experiencing the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

        2. fishy*

          I hear you. Not all weight loss is a sign of good health.

          I have bad associations with losing weight, because every time I’ve lost more than a couple pounds, it has been for awful reasons, e.g. being too depressed to care about eating, too anxious to leave home to get food, or not being able to afford to buy enough food. During those times, I hated being complimented on being thin because it just reminded me of why I was thin and how much I hated being hungry all the time. After those bad situations were resolved, I gained the weight back and was much happier and healthier for it!

          1. AthenaC*

            Exactly. Personally, I was thinnest when I was homeless for a few months a long time ago. Can’t eat if you can’t afford food! And then my clothes were too big and my bras didn’t fit … not that I could afford to buy clothes that fit, either!

            Anyway, glad your situations are resolved!

        3. Noble*

          I lost 45 pounds in about a month when I was suicidal/experiencing the worst depressive episode of my life. Everyone was so proud of me when they saw me on the other end of the worst parts and looking all thin and in shape *major eye roll*

          2 years later I am in a very good place with my emotional and mental health, unfortunately I am also +50lbs right now and many people wonder “what happened!? you were doing so good!” (If they only knew!)

          I think about people who are heavier looking because of medications or cancer treatments or any of those things and I think about people are very thin for the same reasons.

          This just shouldn’t be a part of the workplace. I don’t mind a workplace having a gym or healthy food options in the cafeteria or vending machines, but creating a focus on it or a competition does seem highly insensitive.

        4. GOG11*

          I can empathize. I recently met a friend for lunch and, in the course of things, we talked about some health problems I’d been having. As part of it, I mentioned that I’d lost about 10% of my weight (my BMI was still in the middle of the chart before I lost the weight, to give an idea of how much I didn’t really have to lose in the first place). Even after mentioning all the problems I’d been having she said “yeah, but I bet you feel amazing!” I know she meant well, but I had to resist saying yes, I’ve traded the weight for the inability to eat foods I’ve always loved, chronic pain, and bouts of nausea, insomnia and fatigue because being a functional human being isn’t as cool as being thin.

          I hope you’re doing better now. You and your health are so much more important than your size.

      3. Reverend(ish)*

        Truth. One company wellness program a few years ago tried to tell me I was obese and to lose 20lbs for extra insurance discounts. My primary doctor was outraged because, well, I was far from obese. The company just had no clue had to account for a woman that weight lifts. They finally quit bugging me about it when I told then I could deadlift more than their body weight.

        1. dragonzflame*

          Yeah, in NZ a while ago there was a thing about a rugby player getting denied health insurance because his BMI put him at obese. Of course, it was all muscle – those guys can be huge.

          This is a really stupid initiative. I suppose it’s supposed to be all about team building etc., but for me I’m someone who is lucky enough to be able to maintain a healthy weight with next to no effort (though now I’m in my 30s I may be in for a rude surprise!) so I’d feel a bit excluded by something like this. I wouldn’t participate anyway but still.

        2. Christine*

          I had a full physical and submitted the biometrics form to my employer’s insurance company. They turned around and sent me documentation telling me that I was pre-diabetic and at risk for a heart attack. My physician didn’t mention any of that. We discussed my eating habits and making healthier food choices but one blood test out of many doesn’t state you have a condition if you change your eating habits from that point forward. I think they were wrong in sending me a diagnosis, they should have referred me back to my physician.

          1. Trig*

            TIL that it’s common practice in the US for your company to require a health screening.
            It seems like such an intrusion! I am horrified and so grateful to live in a country with socialized healthcare where my health, weight, bloodwork, etc are absolutely none of my company’s business!

            1. irritable vowel*

              I’m not sure how common it is – I have never heard of this happening with employer-provided healthcare here. Perhaps we’re just hearing more from people who have had a bad experience with a relatively uncommon requirement.

              1. Amelia Parkerhouse*

                We have to do a biometric screening, physical, certain screenings (mamo,colonoscopy,vision test etc) plus “activities” of your choice including a weight loss challenge, daily step counting, blood donation etc in order to qualify for a discount on our insurance. They say the health screenings are confidential. Who knows really.

            2. Lemon Zinger*

              It’s really NOT common practice in the States. I would say it’s uncommon, but not unheard of.

        3. Just Another Techie*

          I had one coworker who entirely baffled the nurse doing our company’s annual health checkup. By one metric (the electronic body fat % measurement thingy, which absolutely was not calibrated for a woman who weight lifts) she was considered dangerously underweight, but by BMI she was considered obese.

          I actually am fat, but I also work out a lot, and once when a doctor just wouldn’t stop about “You really need to exercise you know” I just pressed into a handstand and held it until he shut up.

          1. JessaB*

            BMI is not a reliable indicator of anything. Firstly weight lifters and those with a large muscle mass (athletes) can have BMI that show overweight. Also BMI was designed to be used as a population measure (to measure famines and things,) never to be used on a single person.

            1. Artemesia*

              It works fine for the average somewhat sedentary worker; it is silly to use it for athletes or people who work out a lot or weight lift.

              1. Hrovitnir*

                Not even then. Probably about 60% of the people I know have BMIs that correlate to roughly what you would think their body fat % indicates. Not that body fat is an indicator of health or fitness in itself but if we want to talk about obesity and the hormonal effects of large quantities of adipose tissue, we should measure that, not height/weight.

                It’s fine as a population statistic because large numbers smooth it out – as it was designed for. -_-

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                I doesn’t take into account frame size or other factors. As I noted above, my healthy husband, a sedentary office worker, routinely shows up as obese on the BMI because he’s huge, Midwestern farm stock. He’s over 6′ tall, and he has very broad shoulders and a big frame. The man is huge but not fat, and his weight is not a concern for his physician, who is familiar with his actual health profile rather than some insurance company worker that plugs two numbers into a calculator.

            2. K.*

              Yeah, I read somewhere that The Rock’s BMI means he is technically obese, but … I mean, look at him. He’s doing fine. (Really, really fine.)

              1. Natalie*

                His height is probably also a factor – BMI doesn’t scale well for people outside of the fairly average height range.

                1. Manders*

                  It goes the other way too–if you’re short enough, you can be in the normal range of the BMI chart while actually not weighing enough to be healthy.

                  I think BMI was originally developed for measuring the health of a population, and isn’t a good measure of an individual’s health.

          2. OlympiasEpiriot*

            Handstands. And here I thought they were mostly useful for getting blood to my brain during a break in a long lecture period! I am thrilled to learn they can also get narrow-minded docs to can it.


        4. AMT*

          Hate, hate, hate this. I’m also a powerlifter (male—I’m sure it’s worse for women) and people love to comment on what I’m eating. YES THIS IS AN ENORMOUS BURGER. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK OF MY “METABOLISM.” I AM NOT “LUCKY” THAT I LOOK LIKE THIS OR EAT THIS WAY. IT IS WEIRD THAT YOU ARE SO INTERESTED IN MY BODY AND FOOD CHOICES.

          1. C Average*

            I think “It is weird that you are so interested in my body and food choices” is kind of a perfect response to these sorts of comments!

          2. Hrovitnir*


            This forever. Just stop, everyone everywhere.

        5. Noah*

          They tell guys the same thing, “your BMI indicates you are obese”. Umm…nope, just athletic thank you and I do not plan on losing weight just to keep our health insurance discount at a certain level.

      4. Emma*

        Uugggh this is such an awful idea. Do they have any idea how incredibly bad intentional weight loss is for most people’s health? :/ Evidently not…

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          When these stories come up here, I think we should make them aware by mailing these threads to the employer.

      5. FiveWheels*

        My build and appetite are such that the less I exercise, the less I weigh. (I’m naturally very lean and no exercise means losing muscle.

        This whole scheme is ridiculous – it would punish a lot of athletes for getting more fit!

      6. Mark in Cali*

        I would argue that the entity that is subsidizing your health care costs can most certainly behave as arbiters of wellness. While the employer may be required to offer a health insurance option, I don’t believe they are required to subsidize it to the extent that allows people to make choices that adversely affect their health and starts the make costs unmanageable for the employer. If you don’t like their emphasis on health and the programs they develop to that extent, then you have the option to get a different health plan (not subsidized by your employer and continue on earning your wage and salary and doing what you were hired to do.

        My company is self-insured, so I can imagine they have a very mindful watch on how they pay out medical claims. These programs aren’t meant to be a personal attack on each individuals health choices, rather, they help “move the needle,” for (at least in my office) a bunch of people who eat hamburgers daily and sit at their desks all day.

        1. Dana*

          If that’s true, and I’m not necessarily in agreement, but if so then those arbiters have a duty to learn what wellness actually is, and not rely on lazy, stereotypical and unhealthy misconceptions. Which every single one I’ve ever heard of does.

        2. Judy*

          Then that entity should do things like encourage healthy behavior. Does every morning meeting with food have to be donuts? Does every afternoon meeting with food have to be cookies? If someone goes to a 5 or 5:30 exercise class, does a manager really have to say “Taking a half day today?” when you leave at 4:30 or 5? (That one happened to me at a previous company, an unrelated manager saw me walking down the hall at 4:30. Note this company’s “business hours” were 7:30 to 4 with 30 minute lunch.)

        3. the gold digger*

          They are not “subsidizing.” They are paying premiums that cover the cost of the employee’s medical care plus the cost to administer the plan. Health insurance companies are not charities and they do not deliberately run at a loss. The employer contribution to the premium is considered part of the employee’s total compensation.

          If the costs become unmanageable for the employer, the employer will either cut back the benefits (to reduce the premium) or will increase the employee contribution. But the employer’s cost is a fixed amount for plans that are not self- insured.

          For a self-insured plan, the employer takes more risk, but still has re-insurance to cover things like head injuries and premature babies. If you really want to control medical costs, tell people to stop riding motorcycles and to stop having sick babies.

          1. Mark in Cali*

            But you are all acting like the employer who is (call it subsidizing or paying a premium) making health care costs more manageable for everyone on the plan should cater to each individual’s very specific needs. I don’t disagree that there’s a bit of a disconnect with the wellness programs but then plates of donuts and bagels at every corner, but I’m just sensing this entitlement and idea that the plan at large should leave people to their choices when the employer is investing a significant amount of money into some of these plans for their employes.

            If I were paying premiums to make health insurance more affordable for my employees I would rather try out a weight loss content over banning donuts from the break room.

            But what you are suggesting is that a company paying premiums on their employees’ health insurance shouldn’t encourage people to manage their weight, rather to stop riding motorcycles and having sick babies? I’d like to see that communications plan.

            1. Sarah in Boston*

              They can encourage me to lose weight when they can show me a program I can follow that will actually work for more than 12 months (and yes, I have successfully lost 40 lbs with Weight Watchers at one point and I have it all back now and a bit more). Until then, forget it. I’m not going to yo-yo diet to make a checkbox happy.

        4. Mookie*

          Nope. They’re not “subsidizing” anything. They brokered an agreement with you in exchange for your skills as an employee. The government and the employees themselves are doing the subsidizing.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Not to mention, even for people who actually do need to lose significant weight, a competition like this is essentially useless for a whole host of reasons.

      1) The faster you lose weight, the faster it comes back. Slow and steady weight loss over an extended period of time is weight loss that can endure; a brief but intense spree of weight loss plays total havoc with your metabolism and doesn’t let your body adapt to the lower weight as the new normal. All those folks who won Biggest Loser on tv are either right back where they were or are actually even heavier.

      2) For people who are seriously obese, you have to be super careful with exercise, because it’s so much easier to do serious damage to yourself if you take a fall or strain something. Trying to go from zero to Rocky Balboa is a terrible, terrible idea. (And if the goal is to reduce healthcare premiums, I wouldn’t think that encouraging people to go court injuries is particularly productive.) So, again, a “Biggest Loser” kind of scenario where the goal is to drop a whole lot of weight in a very short time results in unsustainable exercise practices and ramps up the danger of injury.

      Basically when it comes to weight loss, slow and steady 100% wins the race. Sustainable, safe exercise doesn’t give us that satisfying “Rocky Balboa training montage” storyline, but it actually results in long-term benefit.

    3. LaSalleUGirl*

      The Student Affairs division of the university I work at organized the only Wellness Challenge that I would ever have agreed to participate in (that’s not the division I work in, so I wasn’t invited, but if they ever do it again more broadly, I’m in). The challenge was voluntary and wasn’t connected to weight loss or to health insurance at all. When they said “wellness,” they really meant wellness. You earned points each day (or each week?) by engaging in healthy activities, whether that meant eating a serving of vegetables or taking a 10 minute walk or meditating for 10 minutes or getting a full night of sleep. There was a long list of ways to earn points, and you could combine them however you wanted. It was designed to accommodate and encourage people who didn’t ordinarily do these sorts of activities (hence the fairly low exercise/meditation times), but it was a long enough list of activities to include new potential activities even for people who exercise regularly and eat healthy meals.

      1. Mona Lisa*

        The university where I work has been doing something similar this year in conjunction with their comprehensive wellness program. (Which actually is a decent program focused on physical and mental well-being.)

        They subsidized Fitbit purchases at the beginning of the year, and anyone with a fitness tracker can participate in stepping challenges. There are branded prizes available for people who meet goals of different levels. It’s pretty self-focused in that one can set his or her own goal and earn a small prize (water bottle, thermal zip-up, etc.). Challenges like this that aren’t tied to health programs or insurance and are completely voluntary seem to be OK to me.

        1. baseballfan*

          This makes sense to me. I agree that arbitrary weight loss means little in the grand scheme of health. I gained weight when I was training for marathons because RUNGER. (I probably should have eaten less, but whatever, I was running 40 miles a week). I also gain muscle mass with weight training. The scale in those cases was not a useful measure of my health or fitness.

          But incentivizing people to be active and set their own goals, which they are rewarded for meeting – this makes sense.

    4. Alton*

      I’m iffy about wellness challenges in general. I did one a while back that wasn’t weight-loss based and that was pretty low-pressure (and also not heavily advertised. Only people who were participating received any updates about it), but I can see how there are a lot of ways this could be executed poorly and create an uncomfortable situation for people.

      Revolving it around weight loss is just stupid. That’s such a personal goal. Not everyone needs to lose weight, not everyone can (or should) lose weight quickly or in large enough quantities to win, and not everyone can lose weight. Weight isn’t something you can directly control. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage people, as a whole, to focus specifically on weight loss. That’s why we have all those commercials for “dietary supplements”–people have been taught that losing weight is more important than being healthy.

    5. Carissa*

      My employer contracted with a local wellness company to create and administer a wellness program for employees. It is completely useless. The rep gets 2 hours per week and we have 85 employees at this location and then 5 other locations she is supposed to be working with. It’s a lot of talking and copies of article she read, plus many workplace “challenges”, including a weight loss competition.

      It does not take into account people with have chronic medical conditions or people who may be dealing with a temporary medical condition (pregnancy, taking a strong medication that messes with your weight, etc). We have to have a lipid panel done each year and they measure our height, weight, BMI, waist circumference, etc. I feel really uncomfortable having a complete stranger telling me to pull up my shirt and lower my waistband so they can measure my waist. Not to mention the fact that I have hypothyroidism and had gall bladder removal surgery and a hysterectomy, all which affects your weight and other side effects that can make it hard for me to maintain a healthy weight and makes losing weight pretty difficult. We get a discount on our insurance if we participate ($600/year for 1 person vs. $1200/year for 1 person). With all the medications and medical bills, I pretty much have to participate in order to have somewhat affordable health insurance.

    6. BananaPants*

      I no longer participate in my employer’s “wellness” program because it’s focused on weight almost to the exclusion of anything else. It’s not worth my time to have to have blood drawn and a public weighing and blood pressure taken at the beginning of the year followed by twice-monthly calls with a “health coach” who quizzes me on my weight, my exercise levels, questions my diet, and badgers me to lose more weight – all to save less than $20/month on premiums. This is required to get the premium discount for employees (and their covered spouses) who are overweight ONLY; someone with high blood pressure and diabetes who’s a normal BMI doesn’t have to do any of the health coaching but someone who is fit and generally healthy but with a BMI of 26 is expected/encouraged to lose weight.

      Realistically I’m probably always going to be be in the overweight category on BMI unless I have bariatric surgery. I was “overweight” according to BMI when I was an NCAA Division 1 athlete working out for 3-4 hours a day, for crying out loud. No amount of badgering by a total stranger on the telephone is going to magically give me a different build or different genetics or cause me to lose 80 pounds overnight.

      You know what was helpful? When the corporate fitness center did a 100% voluntary walking/step challenge and gave employees FitBits for an 8 week program of increasing step count by 10% every week after the first week. Those who met the challenge were entered in a raffle to win nice prizes. I lost 15 pounds just by doing that challenge, and it was fun – but no one was forced to participate and weight loss was not the metric for gauging success.

      1. Erin*

        This seems like overkill. The few discounts I’ve liked have been a non smoker discount, with the option to participate in a free smoking cessation program to get the credit as well. A know your numbers annual health screening that was a blood draw, height, and weight. It could be done on site or at your doctor’s office. You didn’t have to do anything with the information. It generated a report and you just had to acknowledge it to get the credit. Promotes awareness over activity (except for smoking, which is scientifically proven to be bad for your health).

        1. Awkward Interviewee*

          This is what my employer does too – discounts for not using tobacco and for getting a yearly screening (no matter what the results are). I like it, because I’m getting a free few tests (blood sugar, cholesterol) that my dr would probably want once a year anyway. Though my numbers are always fine, so the screening is no big deal for me. My poor coworker, who is overweight but it’s because has chronic health issues, got a bad nurse educator for her screening one year who basically fat shamed her. She was pretty upset.

      2. Carissa*

        If I could still be on my husband’s insurance, which does not require this ridiculous measuring & coaching, I would drop my current insurance and go back on his. His employer instituted a rule that if you have a working spouse and insurance is offered by their employer, they have to take that insurance as primary and then his is secondary. That caused a major uproar.

        1. Photoshop Til I Drop*

          This is really common now, and it stinks. I know someone working for a health insurance company who can’t even put his spouse on his plan unless she’s unemployed.

      3. Hrovitnir*

        “Someone with high blood pressure and diabetes who’s a normal BMI doesn’t have to do any of the health coaching but someone who is fit and generally healthy but with a BMI of 26 is expected/encouraged to lose weight.”

        Euuuuuuugh, that is revolting.

    7. Kiki*

      While I agree that perhaps weight loss programs might not be great at work (I’m a powerlifter and lean although my BMI is through the roof and so I am “obese” lol), I’m a bit torn here for two reasons. First, certainly, many folks need to lose weight. Second, here’s my story: I was never able to have children. I know many people choose this, but I didn’t. It’s hurtful to me when yet another coworker gets to have a baby shower, and all the talk and fuss that goes along with it. But I don’t get to rain on someone else’s parade. I just walk away, or put on headphones. Basically, chin up and carry on. And when I’m in a really bad mood from all this I go to the gym and throw around some heavy crap and scare the yoga ladies.

      1. notfunny.*

        There is a big difference between “raining on someone’s parade” and being triggered.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            I don’t think notfunny was trying to diminish your feelings. I, too, can’t have children. I understand how much it hurts every time you attend a baby shower or find out someone is pregnant or see children being taken away from abusive/neglectful parents because you know you would be a great mom/dad. But there *is* a big difference between being upset about something and being triggered to engage in disordered eating behaviors or self-harm.

            1. Kiki*

              How then does she handle the commute home? Photos of food, restaurants, people reading diet books? Food and eating are pretty pervasive, as are children. We all have problems, some more serious and some less so, but no matter what it is, we need to develop our own coping mechanisms. That might be an alternate behavior (in my case), or getting help. But we do not get to control what others do, or make choices for them.

              Just because someone is determined to see the glass half full doesn’t mean they don’t have any problems. They have simply made a choice.

              Want a great core workout? Come lift with me. Forget yoga and pilates. I’ll give you a sixpack. ;)

      2. librarygirl*

        “scare the yoga ladies” – my new favorite reason for convincing myself to go to the gym and lift.
        Thanks! =)

    8. Amara*


      I really don’t see the problem here. No one is being forced to participate, and OP’s not even being dragged into all the weight loss conversations/facing scrutiny for not participating, but they’re being “triggered” by all the conversation they’re overhearing?

      If co-workers are unaware of OP’s eating disorder you can hardly expect them to avoid talking about their own personal weight-loss efforts in front of the OP. And if they ARE aware, it seems like co-workers are giving OP space and not demanding OP join in, or scrutinize OP’s eating habits or something like that.

      Most people spend their weekdays eating at work, which usually covers breakfast and lunch, and sometimes dinner. It’s the perfect environment to try and make some diet changes towards the goal of weight loss, and doing it with others can help keep people so inclined on track and provide a support system.

      As long as co-workers aren’t targeting OP with all this (and aren’t continuing to do so after OP states they’re not interested in discussing it) it doesn’t seem right to go to management and ask everyone to stop talking about their own personal actions and decisions.

      I feel bad for OP, but I don’t see why their problem should become their co-workers problem. Does any talk about food or dieting or weight loss trigger the OP? How are they supposed to know? And if they do, should the whole office avoid those topics at all because the OP is uncomfortable about it?

      1. C Average*

        I have a family member (a stepdaughter who lives with me) who is recovering from an eating disorder, and it’s been very eye-opening to me to learn what sorts of things she finds triggering. It’s made me realize that I talk about food and weight and body image constantly and quite casually as a matter of course, and so does almost everyone. I’ve had to completely re-learn how and when to communicate about these topics in order to create a supportive, non-triggering environment for her.

        I don’t think that level of self-censorship is a reasonable expectation for one’s colleagues. As I mentioned in a comment above, I think the OP would benefit from some sessions with a good dietitian who specializes in eating disorder recovery. They could develop some scripts and strategies for navigating the triggering situations that will inevitably arise.

        That said, it wouldn’t hurt anyone to give some thought to how you speak about food, weight, other people’s bodies, etc. We all do it, and we could all be more mindful of whether it’s helpful or necessary. Whether we’re saying of a colleague, “Man, I wish I the body to wear an outfit like that” or whether we’re looking at someone’s lunch and remarking, “That looks healthy! Now I feel bad about the junk I’m eating,” or whatever, could we instead just . . . not say anything?

      2. Lara*

        Like a lot of people, you don’t know what the word ‘triggered’ means and you’re equating it to hurt feelings. Triggers are things that set off involuntary responses in people with trauma and / or mental health problems. Often PTSD.

        I wish more people who mock the idea of being ‘triggered’ realised that they were basically mocking veterans and rape victims.

  3. Abso-Anon*

    OP#4- Your best bet is to focus on what effect his nail biting may have on how he’s perceived. I get that you (and perhaps others) don’t like it, but it’s a VERY difficult habit to stop.
    It is possibly tied to anxiety and in starting a new job, well, that makes people anxious. Maybe when he’s more comfortable, it’ll lessen.
    Go in with empathy and compassion and you’re likely to have a more productive conversation.
    Good luck.

    1. Callietwo*

      Oh my god. There are pictures of me biting my nails as an infant. I’m 57 years old and do whatever I can to not bite in front of others but it’s nearly, if not completely impossible. Hot sauce, special polish, cactus juice, rubbing hot peppers, hypnosis, therapy, wrist bands to snap when I realize, etc etc. You name it, I’ve tried it and I still gnaw on my stubs. And my hands hurt from it, you’d think that negative consequence would be enough. But no.

      You could easily say something, it won’t make a damn bit of difference for most of us nail biters other than make us both seriously uncomfortable and probably have me gnawing even worse than before.

      1. Jinx*

        I started biting my nails as a kid, spent years struggling to stop, and now I compulsively pick at my cuticles instead. Which is less hard on my teeth but my fingers still look like a warzone so… sort of a win? Compulsive habits suck.

        1. lfi*

          compulsive cuticle picker here too. have had a very stressed few hours and my poor thumb is shredded. the only time i was able to not do it was with fake acrylic nails but those ruined my fingernails. alas.

        2. scarydogmother*

          For me it’s the entire area around the fingernails. Every single one of mine are shredded and raw. It’s easier for me to quit smoking than quit picking and gnawing at my fingers. If bleeding onto your my boss’ desk couldn’t get me to stop, I fear nothing will.

      2. Mreasy*

        I got my tongue pierced at age 21 as an attempt to stop biting my nails (and, you know, to be cool) – and it worked! I did the cuticle picking for a long time, til I started obsessively clipping anything resembling a hangnail with a tiny pair of nail clippers I always keep on my person. Now I chew my lips & the inside of my cheeks. Better, maybe? But still – near-impossible to quit a habit like that one!

        1. Aealias*

          Nail clippers for the win! I got on top of my life-long nail-biting habit by wearing fake nails for several months (I hated the way they felt, and unlike the gross-tasting nail polish and stuff, persistence didn’t wear them away) and then trimming ragged edges, tears, etc. immediately, before I could be tempted to nibble them smooth. I still tend to backslide in times of high stress, but as long as I use those clippers, I can go weeks now without gnawing a nail to the quick, instead of hours or days. (My experience is not universal, your mileage may vary.)

        2. Annie Moose*

          Yessss, nail clippers are how I finally broke myself of nailbiting. If I found myself going after some misshapen nail, I made myself stop, grabbed the nail clippers, and trimmed it neatly instead. Removing the trigger (uneven, rough, etc. nails) helped a ton, plus getting into that mental state of “but your nails are nice and smooth now! If you bite them, it’ll make them uneven again! AND WE CAN’T HAVE THAT!!!”

          Unfortunately, picking at my cuticles is an ongoing problem. I’ve tried to do use the same strategy, but with mixed results. When I get really stressed, my hands are just awful, I pick until I bleed, but the rest of the time it’s not so bad.

        3. Trix*

          Omg yes! Cuticle clippers are a must for me (not even nail clippers, the angles are never there to actually clip what I’d otherwise pick), my good pair live in my purse, always, along to a small thing of the only hand lotion that is actually moisturizing and I like the scent and texture of.

          Only way I’m able to have any control over not having raw bloody cuticles all the time. Even now, on a particular stressful day, it can still happen quicker than I notice.

          (And if we’re having dry, cold weather and I’ve been neglecting my hand lotion to boot, man alive I regret it for weeks.)

      3. don't touch yourself in public*

        The nail biting is distracting, but it’s also unsanitary. I have worked with a few people with habits like this. From nail biting, to slathering their finger tips with saliva when turning pages, to nose picking, to hands on their crotch scratching away or just cradling their genitals. It’s gross.

        Some people will sneeze/cough into their hand then reach out to shake. Or at functions with food, lick their fingers and hold out their hand as they introduce themselves. One woman would slice birthday cake, lick the icing off her fingers and hand the slice to you then slice the next piece. One person would lick her fingers when turning pages and taking notes that the corners would still be moist. I would even keep throw away pens at my desk so that when shelled one and left it all slobbery I cold just flick it directly into the trash.

        And the men who won’t take their hands of their crotches!!! Dear lord that’s the worst of all. I even knew one guy who actually put his hand IN his pants touching his junk and would ask to hold my pen :|

        Have you seen the state of some people’s keyboards?!?!? The CDC should come into the typical office and start taking swabs. I’m not even a germaphobe or whatever. I have certainly dropped food on the floor and proclaimed 5-second rule and eaten it :) But people at work give me the heebie jeebies.

        You are basically in a public place touching all the communal things like doorknobs, pens, keyboards, papers, whatever. PLUS you’re often asked to shake hands with people. This is disgusting. And someone should say something. If his manager doesn’t, would certainly happily tell him that I didn’t want to shake his hand, or let him use my pen, or let him see my binder, or whatever and why.

        1. Artemesia*

          My son and I have both cut our colds by about two thirds since disinfecting public key boards we use before typing and washing our hands when getting to the office or home after riding the bus or metro. If you can avoid touching your face and wash hands often it really does cut germ transmission. I used to work on communal computers in a photo lab and started cleaning the keys with a lysol wipe before use; it did reduce colds that I was getting a lot before doing that.

        2. Venus Supreme*

          +1000000!!! People think I’m weird because I sanitize everything in my office, including the stapler and the arm chairs.
          Also at my old job my old boss vomited in his trash can and continued to work. I disinfected the whole place. I don’t know if he was sick or hungover, but I wasn’t chancing catching a bug like that.

          1. Anonymous in the South*

            I clean/sanitize my desk monthly and more often during cold/flu season!! I also clean all my work apparatuses (phone, stapler, keyboard, etc).

            When contagious people come to work instead of staying home, I have a can of Lysol that gets sprayed every time they come within six feet of me. I know we don’t get enough sick days but I shouldn’t have to use all 3 of mine in January because Bob didn’t stay home for 24 hrs after starting antibiotics when he had strep. GO HOME BOB. USE A SICK DAY OR VACATION DAY BOB.

    2. Dweali*

      Yep definitely go with Abso on this, stay away from how annoying you find it and just give a heads up kind of talk. When I was reading it, my first thought was coping mechanism but I could be projecting since I have pretty severe (at times) anxiety and biting/picking/chewing my nails and cuticles is just one of the tics I have. The only thing that ever got me to stop is some medicine was on (even CBT didn’t make me stop) but that while on that medicine I gained 60ish pounds in about 6 month time frame so I stopped taking it and refuse to start it again. I’d rather have tics than gain massive amounts of weight.

    3. Christine*

      I wouldn’t say a word. I have the same habit. If not biting, I’m picking at them. When I feel like someone is monitoring me, it ups the anxiety that is part of it; and I get even worse. If you feel you have to say something, say it’s distracting to you and others, than do not bring it up again. Us biters are extremely self conscious about it … it’s no worse than someone that smokes. Would you say something to someone that smokes at work? The only time I have ever said anything to someone about smoking was that they were taking excessive breaks and instead of 5 minutes to smoke, they were outside for 20 – 30 minutes running their mouth with other smokes, 4 – 5 times a day.

      I would leave it along for the next 2 – 3 weeks, than bring it up. You could make his anxiety worse if he feels like you’re watching him.

      1. Trix*

        I understand what you’re coming from (you actually seem to be channeling my husband, 100%), but I’m not sure that comparing it to smoking is the best analogy.

        I say this both as a smoker and as someone who has been picking at her cuticles since I stopped biting my nails at age 11. In general, you shouldn’t be terribly affected by a smoker at work. They go outside (at most workplaces), and many are fully aware that the lingering scent is bothersome (and that we can go so noseblind to it), so they wash their hands when they get back, pop a mint if they’ll be in a small space with faces near each other, try to keep outerwear laundered frequently, things like that.

        And if they don’t do those things, it’d be completely reasonable to ask! “Hey Reginald, I’m sensitive to the scent of cigarettes, would you mind washing your hands when you get back from breaks?”

        If someone is being inconsiderate at work at work about smoking, it should absolutely be brought up. And as someone who doesn’t want others to have to deal with my habits, I sure hope that someone at my job would say something.

    4. Ruth*

      As someone who has bitten their nails basically their whole life and also suffers anxiety, I also want to point out that whilst it could be a nerves thing, it may also be a concentration thing. There’s a lot of times when I realise I’m already biting my nails- for example when watching tv or thinking. My advice would just to be casual like Alison has stated- don’t say something negative such as ‘you should really stop doing that as it looks bad’ because it will be embarrassing for them. Just say that you realise it could be a concentration thing but might be pretty distracting to others in the meeting.

      I am very jealous of all non-nail biters :(

    5. Kiki*

      The only way I was able to stop biting my nails was to go and get fiberglass tips. I go every other week. I know for sure if I took them off, I would bite them again. OP, I know you find this super distracting and a bit disgusting, but please examine your own house as well and walk with compassion. Do you also have any habits that you could work on? (desk eating, hair flipping, split end picking, pen clicking, etc — all pulled from my coworkers!)

    6. OP #4*

      Thank you for the advice!

      I also have a bad nail-related habit–if I have a hangnail, I MUST rip it off, no matter where I am. I can’t focus on anything else. This has a relatively easy solution since I just file my nails short to avoid hangnails, but I know how bad the temptation can be.

      Hopefully my coworker is becoming more comfortable since multiple people have praised him for doing a good job so far. After our next meeting (assuming he still bites his nails), I am going to say something along the lines of what Alison suggested and maybe mention my own nail issue so he knows I sort of understand.

    7. zora.dee*

      Ack, I’m feeling terrible now, bc I am a cuticle biter. I try to keep it to a minimum when in a meeting/talking to other people at work, but I totally do it at my desk. And I do find myself doing it in meetings a few times.

      It is definitely tied to my anxiety, the more nervous and stressed out I feel, the more I do it. I don’t have the bandwidth now to totally stop the habit, but I’ll try to be more conscious of doing it in front of other people. I feel so bad that people might be noticing and totally annoyed by it! Ah!!

    8. Lynn Whitehat*

      Agreed with most everyone else. It’s a tough habit to break. If he could easily stop, he would have by now. Say something, ONCE, if you really must, but the odds of him just up and stopping are low. I have a similar thing going on; it’s anxiety-driven, and when I’ve tried to stop, the anxiety came out in ways that were a hundred times more destructive.

  4. AM*

    Embarrassed, lifelong nail biter here commenting on #4. I understand your position, but I just wanted to caution: I would be terribly embarrassed and mortified if someone said something to me about it.

    I *try* to control the habit as best I can at work, but sometimes (especially during stressful times) it still spirals out of control.

    I’ve tried so many methods – special polish, hypnosis, even full therapy with a psychologist – and I haven’t been able to fully beat it, only cut back.

    1. Chameleon*

      I’m an unembarrassed lifelong nailbiter. I don’t usually notice I’m doing it, but they are my damn nails. Mind your own business and your own manicure.

      1. A Dispatcher*

        It’s a habit most people find gross and unprofessional though (rightly or wrongly). One could say the same thing (it’s my own damn nose) in reference to nose picking…

        1. Jaguar*

          One could say the same thing about wearing dirty sneakers. Where does the line separate things we find unpleasant about other people but have to accept versus things we find unpleasant about other people so they need to change come down? Because I think it’s entirely wrong that OP doesn’t like a coworker biting their nails and assumes it’s the coworker’s problem. It’s OP’s problem. You can relate to your coworker and share your concerns, but if it still happens, you have to live with it.

          I mean, honestly. What is with this right people think they have to force others to conform to their ideals?

          1. Althea*

            I’m with you on this. I hate, haaaaaaaaate, the sound of people chewing – and it’s worse as the volume goes up. But it’s my issue. I can’t reasonably ask coworkers not to snack near me, particularly with carrots/almonds/pretzels/etc. I find the sound gross and incredibly distracting, but it’s on me to deal.

      2. Leeza*

        Sure, they’re your damn nails, but if you do it in public, you make it my damn business. I hate seeing people bite their nails, especially when its accompanied by that horrible clicking sound. An adult with his fingers in his mouth for a long time is gross. Bad enough when its someone in the waiting room at the doctors office, but to be subjected to that every day at work? Someone should definitely speak to this guy. He can at least try to control himself during meetings.

        1. The Bread burglar*

          Tons of things gross people out that shouldn’t or aren’t their business. How many letters has AAM had yo answer from people who complain/get complained about for things like blowing their nose, sneezing, coughing too much, the woman who’s boss thought tampons/pads were disgusting?

          I’m not a nailbiter and never have been. But I know it can be tied to anxiety for a lot of people. And its not an easy habit to break. Just like people who chew on pens, tap pens, etc. If its distracting you can say something like AAM suggested to let them know its distracting. But its not something “to be nipped in the bud.” And beyond asking them to be mindful of it distracting people there isn’t much more you can or should do. Try to ignore it.

          1. Colette*

            Well, sneezing and coughing aren’t really voluntary. Nail biting is, to a degree – I realize the it’s a habit that could be tied to coping with involuntary conditions like anxiety, but there are other ways to cope with anxiet.

            1. Heather*

              Chronic nail biting is in the same category of disorders as trichotillomania, skin picking, etc., so it’s actually not voluntary once the habit is firmly established. I wish it was – my nails would look a lot nicer if it were just a matter of willpower. It actually takes some pretty intense behavioral retraining, which is really hard to do without professional guidance (believe me, I’ve tried).

              I know you absolutely didn’t mean it that way, but from the perspective of a chronic nailbiter, having people suggest you just quit biting your nails and cope with anxiety in other ways is kind of like being depressed and hearing “just snap out of it.” It doesn’t work that way. :(

              1. fposte*

                There’s quite a range, though, from people who idly nibble to people who are obsessively driven; not everybody who bites nails is at the extreme end of the spectrum. A lot of people *can* redirect their physical self-stims.

              2. Annie Moose*

                If I had a nickel for every time I was told to just stop biting your nails/picking at your cuticles!!!, I would be a very wealthy woman. (mostly from my mom) It’s just plain not that easy. It’s a compulsive thing, and it took me a lot of effort before I got out of the habit of nailbiting (and picking at my cuticles is an ongoing issue). Very often, I literally wasn’t consciously aware I was doing it, which makes it difficult to stop–because I didn’t consciously start doing it in the first place!

                I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the Letter Writer to gently bring up the subject, they just need to be aware that it may not be an entirely controllable thing, and you may have to settle for less nailbiting or more subtle nailbiting as opposed to none whatsoever.

              3. Colette*

                The employee may need professional help, yes. And maybe she doesn’t want to do that (or can’t do it for other reasons) – but there may be professional consequences, including people being less interested in working with her, or finding her presence in meetings distracting.

                Minor nail biting doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but someone who bit their nails like it’s their job would distract me from a meeting.

          2. Leeza*

            I’m sure its extremely hard to quit. I’m not saying he should be told to never bite his nails at work ever again, but I don’t think its asking too much for him to make a conscious effort to control it during meetings.

            1. Secretary*

              That’s actually is asking a lot. I am also a chronic nail biter, and to ask me to “control it during meetings” means that I would have to have my full attention on my hands… and NOT on whatever was happening in the meeting which would be more unprofessional.
              I’ve tried putting everything you can think of on my hands, having people remind me, inflicting pain on myself when I do it (you should have seen the welts) and I’m still biting my nails until they hurt or bleed. It’s humiliating to have people tell me it’s gross because they’re absolutely right and there is nothing I can really do about it at this point.
              #4 just needs to keep hand-sanitizer on her and leave the poor guy alone.

        2. Anna*

          Maybe he can prevent it during meetings, but just because something happens in public doesn’t automatically make it any of your damn business. When was the last time you walked up to someone having a conversation in public and jumped in because it was your damn business since it was happening in public?

      3. nofelix*

        I bite my nails when stressed. I do think it is other people’s business if they have to start wondering which items in the office I’ve touched after my fingers have been in my mouth. I try to be subtle and focus on cutting down, and if someone said something I’d appreciate it can effect them.

        1. Jinx*

          I’m a cuticle-picker instead of a nail-biter, but it’s very similar – stress and anxiety related, which means I do most of my picking at work. Meetings are particularly bad, especially the ones that just involve sitting. I’ve tried to get around it by having something to do with my hands (stress ball, pen and paper, etc.), but it’s hit or miss whether that works.

      4. Jen*

        I’m with you – though if someone said something to me about it, I’d probably be embarrassed. :(

      5. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I can hear people biting their nails and that click/thunk sound drives me crazy, similar to when I can hear someone drumming their fingers.

        1. Elle*

          I’m a nail biter as well, and it really bothers my husband. He sharply says my name if he sees me doing it, which used to get on my nerves…until I saw/heard my daughter doing it, and I realized just how annoying it is to see/hear. I try to stop now when he catches me!

        2. Venus Supreme*

          Yup! I can’t stand the sound. I also can’t stand the sound of people chewing. I usually wear noise-reducing earphones and listen to music when I’m in situations like this.

        3. zora.dee*

          Yeah, but I’m grossed out by the sound of people cracking their knuckles. It is like nails on a blackboard to me. But I don’t ask people to stop, because it’s a common habit and I don’t feel like it’s a major issue that needs to be addressed. I try to block it out, wear headphones, etc.

          But I guess if I was sitting next to someone who was literally doing it constantly all day, I would probably gently ask if they could try to keep it to a minimum, because it’s a really distracting sound to me. I feel like there is a middle ground on this stuff.

      6. Cafe au Lait*

        Yeah, except I am incredibly squicked out by people biting their nails. I can hear you, and it sends shivers down my spine. If I see you doing it when you’re at a public service desk (cashier, library circulation staff, etc), I will ask you to wash your hands before interacting with me.

        Last year I highly offended my grandmother’s childhood best friend when I asked her to stop licking her fingers between cutting the cake and plating the slices. I did not care; I was so grossed out that I refused to touched the very nice luncheon for the rest of the afternoon.

      7. Manders*

        It’s one of those things where yes, technically you are in control of your own fingers, but you can’t control the reactions of your coworkers. A lot of people are grossed out by the sound of nail biting or the sight of someone’s fingers in their mouth, to the point that it could hold this guy back at work if someone he needs to impress is constantly distracted by the nail biting.

        LW is already trying to avoid sitting too close to him, and is picking up on signs that other people are annoyed too. That’s the kind of thing that really can hold someone back professionally, whether it’s fair or not.

      8. cheeky*

        It’s not pleasant to witness, and it’s unprofessional. I think most people would understand that it’s a habit, but a bad habit.

    2. Myrin*

      I don’t think this is what you’re saying but I do want to point out that just because something is potentially – or even likely! – embarrassing for someone doesn’t mean one shouldn’t still bring it up if it is distracting/annoying/gross/unprofessional/whatever. And seeing how the OP even asks “[h]ow [to] bring this up without embarrassing him”, I’m sure she’d use appropriate and kind (body) language when talking to her colleague and not descend upon him loudly and mercilessly.

    3. Annonymous*

      As a lifelong nail biter I wanted to chime in as well. I understand others may find nail biting disgusting. However a lot (maybe even most) of nail biters want to stop. I know I’ve been trying to stop for at least 20 years. I can’t think of something more embarrassing-that could trigger a biting episode making it worse instead of better- than someone saying something to me about it, which would make me even more nervous and self conscious. I know many people think that nail biting is a choice. I would ask you to try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for just a little while. Extreme nail biting is horribly painful and not at all enjoyable. It’s not a coincidence that nail biting is classified as pathological grooming by psychologists. Don’t believe me? Check a DSM.

    4. Grey*

      It’s the same way when comes to finger lickers. I had a coworker who ran two fingers over her tongue to flip through pages or to pick up any piece of paper, even if it was in a sheet protector. There’s no easy way to ask someone to quit doing that. And who should be embarrassed? Me, for being a germophobe? Or her, for dabbing spit on everything in my office?

      I resigned myself to just wiping down everything after she left.

      1. Mr. Mike*

        Just out of curiosity, at what point do we ask, “If you find something distracting, what can you do to concentrate more effectively?” We seem to cater in this country to people finding others’ habits disconcerting, but don’t realize that a) there are just as many habits that others find annoying about us, and b) we are not the authority on everyone else’s idiosyncrasies. If I am annoyed at something that my coworker is doing and ‘can’t get my work done’ that is my responsibility. No one is ‘making’ me be annoyed, it is simply a comparison of my value systems against those of someone else’s and by calling it out, I have just made the judgment that I’m am more important than the other. And by doing so, I get to reinforce my importance and not really understand what is bothering me about the behavior in the first place.

        Does that mean that there are behaviors that should be called out? Absolutely. But there are certainly plenty of things that don’t warrant this type of attention.

  5. L*

    “I’d like to send her a message to tell her the best way to find steady employment is to be honest!”
    Good grief. If she is having job offers rescinded over the incomplete M.A., don’t you think she would realize on her own that lies about her education are wrong and also a horrible strategy?

    Also, what if she does actually have that M.A., and she can’t get a new job in her new city for one of a million other possible factors? If that’s the case, how weird would it be to get a patronizing/scolding email from a former co-worker out of the blue?

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yeah, if she hasn’t gotten the message by now through her own consequences, a lecture from a former acquaintance isn’t going to change her mind. People lying on résumés is a problem, yes, but it’s not one you can solve, OP.

    2. MK*

      The thing is, the OP is clearly not motivated by a desire to help this person get employed; it’s pretty obvious that she feels a mingle of contempt and dislike for them. So interfering is inappropriate no matter what.

      And if the coworker was indeed a bad employee, it’s possible that the reason she isn’t getting a job is bad references, not her lying (if indeed she is lying, the OP’s information about it is pure hearsay).

    3. NP*

      Hi, all. OP here regarding the embellished resume. I have since deleted her from my LinkedIn contacts. I think what bothers me most is the lying and that it’s common. As recommended, I’m definitely going to mind my own beeswax about this one. But I think this is a growing problem that people feel resumes are a place to stretch the truth.

      1. Colette*

        I don’t think it’s as common as you do, but if it’s what you’re seeing, how about volunteering to give an HR perspective to people at career centres?

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          I think it’s only really common among people who have a very flexible relationship with ethics and integrity.

      2. F.*

        As a former HR manager, I would rather find out at the resume stage that people are lying than to have them give me a squeaky clean resume to get hired and have their true character come out after. Verifying their educational level, if it is absolutely critical to the job requirements, is the way to weed out the liars.

        I also used to get upset at people who lie, cheat and otherwise manipulate the system to gain an unfair advantage. Leave it. Don’t let her live rent-free in your head. When all is said and done, your own integrity is one of the few things in life you have absolute control over. Let her reap the consequences of her own actions, as it seems she already is.

        1. Jinx*

          “Don’t let her live rent-free in your head.”

          This this this. I sympathize with OP because I really struggle with anger and frustration when other people seem to be getting ahead without following the rules, because It’s Not Faiiiir! Unfortunately my dad was right all those years ago – life isn’t fair. The best thing you can do is shrug it off and focus on yourself, because you can’t do anything to stop people from being dishonest and dwelling is just going to make you unhappy. Trust me.

          1. CMT*

            The “life is fair” lesson is one where it wish I’d listened to my parents a lot earlier. They tried to warn me!

        2. Bwmn*

          This to the thousandth degree.

          I used to work in a part of the world where in addition to professional skills, multiple language skills were valued in various ways. Aka – a position would desire native tongue in one language (in this case English), but then list a strong desire for some kind of competency is a second or third. I was always very upfront that I was a native English speaker and lacked the other language skills (either at a professional level or at all). I knew, with certainty that there were a number of applicants padding their language skills – either their comfort in English/writing in English or strength in second/third languages.

          While it was infuriating to get passed up for jobs I know I would have done well at and that they were likely hiring people with fewer technical skills in favor of some language fluffing – all I could do was tell myself that those were organizations that weren’t hiring well. If a company will hire someone that lies about having a Masters, just take that as a sign for yourself.

      3. Jerna*

        I thought it was super weird when my current job requested a copy of my Master’s, but I guess that kind of thing is needed! I would be terrified to lie about something like that.

      4. Always Anon*

        I am very surprised that blatant lying on a resume is that common. Embellishing? Doesn’t surprise me. But, out right lying about if you’ve worked somewhere or if you have a degree is shocking given that so many employers now conduct background checks.

      5. L*

        Outright fabrication of education and job history is common? Or embellishment is common?

        Personally, the idea of being caught doing either during a job search terrifies me, so much so that I sometimes wonder if I am underselling myself. The trouble with embellishment, though, is that it’s easy to be critical of it when you have a job. When you find yourself in the position of desperately needing a decent, steady paycheck and you don’t have quite enough experience to beat out the other candidates and get a call back….well, how does someone get more experience without having enough experience? It can be an awful Catch 22.

        1. NP*

          Outright fabrication. I see it on probably 1 of every 5 resumes. I’ve rescinded offers after the background check came back with a discrepancy, more than once. I’ve also had to explain to an employee that if he’d had the degree he claimed he did, we could continue to pay him in the salary band he was hired at, but since he didn’t, his salary was reduced going forward. The guy wasn’t even embarrassed. He was like “oh I’m such a rascal, you caught me.” Makes me sick!!

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        I’m kind of wondering what you’re considering “lying”. Obviously, someone who claims to have completed a degree that they have not is a lie and a substantial one, but are we talking about using overly flowery language to make job responsibilities sound fancier than they actually are? I see a lot of resumes, and my HR recruiter has never reported a a significant amount of resume fraud.

        I also think that, if you’re willing to take it on hearsay and an inherent dislike of your former coworker that she IS lying when you don’t know that firsthand, it kind of sounds like you are willing to believe the worst of people without solid proof. Overall, I would recommend spending less time policing the behavior of others, if it’s just going to wind you up. Some people suck and are going to be dishonest, and you can screen them out of your candidate list and move on. Focus on doing your job well and figure that karma’s going to sort a decent amount of this out in the end.

        1. NP*

          By “lying” I mean “LYING.” I know more than one person who has fabricated a degree and many people who have made up entire companies, jobs, credentials (a la George costanza!) to get a better job. It’s a despicable practice and its commonplace, in my experience.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Degrees are easy to verify, and that easily weeds a candidate pool down and avoids bringing in someone with ethical issues. A bachelor’s is required for the positions I recruit for, and we check with the university from which they claim to have graduated. In the 15 years I’ve been managing, no one who reach the stage of degree validation (part of our required background check) was dumb enough to lie about such an easily verifiable fact.

            Do you mind sharing what industry you work in? This is just not something I have ever had major issue with in legal — I’m sure it happens, but it’s so hard to get away with these days with all the information available online (either their LinkedIn resume or the names of their former supervisors) that I don’t find most people that come across my desk bother with trying to make something up. The worst I’ve gotten was the guy who mentioned, as we walked him out, that he had a recent possession conviction and that wouldn’t be a problem, right?

            I HAVE caught people using titles that they didn’t/don’t have on LinkedIn, but, when I asked about a current employee doing this, HR tells me that they don’t check up on people’s social media presence on that level and would simply supply the actual job title if asked to verify employment. It’s not worth their time/effort to police LinkedIn. In some cases, the inaccurate title is closer to the industry standard of what they actually do, in others, it’s outright puffery, which I don’t get because, again, it’s so easy to verify nowadays.

            1. NP*

              Sure. My industry is insurance (personal and commercial). I suppose legal attracts a different type of candidates. =)

  6. Bend & Snap*

    #3 this letter sounds oddly informed and invested about what boils down to an acquaintance. If it bothers you to see the claim, take her off your LinkedIn.

    But really, this is a weird thing to be fixated on, given the relationship.

    1. The Bread burglar*

      Thats what I thought!

      It feels less like you want to “help” her and more like you want to rant/lecture because you feel that everyone lies on Resumes (I don’t) and think it cheapens your hard earned credentials.

      She has moved states. She doesn’t work with you anymore. Obviously if she hasn’t found a job in 2 years that shows her lying isn’t paying off. She probably knows thats part of it but is still trying it and thats her problem. But sending what will likely be a passive aggressive email to tell her you believe shes lieing on her resume and thats why she isn’t getting work is not an act of helping.

      Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and move on.

    2. Leatherwings*

      Yes, particularly since it seems like its been years since they’ve worked together (if she’s been unemployed for two years). That’s a weird sort of fixation on a persons career.

  7. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: Unfortunately I think it’s impossible to suggest that the contest be stopped without your manager picking up on your motivation. However, if you’d still like to say something, you could try something like, “I am on a special diet for medical reasons and cannot enter the weight loss competition. Is there any other way I could participate in the health initiative? I feel left out.” I’m sure there are people in your office who are average weight or underweight and are unable to lose weight on a whim, as well as people who could be considered overweight, who simply aren’t interested in sizing themselves out of their clothing for a stupid work contest. Competitions like these assume that everyone is starting with 10-20 lbs to lose and that’s not something that your boss should decide for you. I don’t think you’d reveal anything about yourself by pointing that out. I’d also take issue with anything that encouraged my boss and coworkers to start looking at and scrutinizing my body, but that might be a “me” thing.

    1. Jen RO*

      Or simply people who are average weight or overweight who don’t *care* about losing weight because they are happy with their bodies the way they are.

      1. Mando Diao*

        True! I was just trying to put it in objective terms that a moronic manager can’t argue with. “I’m already on an eating plan and I have no weight to lose anyway” doesn’t have any emotional or subjective underpinning (ie what OP wants or feels) and isn’t likely to get stretched out or debated.

      2. The Bread burglar*


        Seriously these programs assume you have a bunch of weight to lose. And emphasize that your value is measured by your weight. You can be healthy and overweight and the flip side and be unhealthy and a normal weight.

        It would be much better to have a health initiative encouraging people to walk more or participate in other health activities. Basically everyone would benefit from drinking another bottle of water a day but not everyone will benefit from trying to lose pounds.

        And frankly my current weight/body shape is nobody elses business and I wouldn’t want it being discussed by others. Or the subject of a workplace competition.

        1. FiveWheels*

          Not to nitpick, but not everyone will benefit from drinking more water. Some people are on medically recommended reduced liquids, and healthy people can drink too much water and mess up their sodium/potassium levels.

          There are very few health directives that apply to everyone.

          1. Ellie H.*

            This is so incredibly unlikely and rare though. “Drink more water” is such banal and generic health advice, it’s not really even worth paying attention to.

            1. FiveWheels*

              I know two salt phobic people who, on a very minor level, gave themselves pretty horrible and debilitating recurring cramps because they constantly drank large quantities of water. It threw their electrolytes out of whack. I also have a relative who is on a reduced liquid diet due to a heart condition.

              The point is that a lot of health advice isn’t universally applicable. While each individual piece of advice might only have a handful of exceptions, I believe one-size-fits-all advice is harmful. People should be encouraged to listen to their bodies.

              1. Newby*

                I hate when people decide to give me generic health advice that is not applicable to me. I heavily salt my food because my doctor has me on a high salt diet. If I don’t heavily salt my food, I have to take salt tablets that hurt my stomach. Many people see me do this and decide to tell me how unhealthy it is and how I should not do that. This has happened multiple times, usually from people I barely know. It is none of their business to begin with and I should not have to justify my dietary habits. Even advice that is generally true has exceptions.

                1. FiveWheels*

                  Yep. My blood pressure is very low, if I don’t have a high salt diet I get severe muscle pain. It is still fascinating that people who are unhappy with their own health/fitness (based on how often they seem to obsess about how badly their diets and exercise plans are going) still feel the need to warn me about my sandwich.

            2. fposte*

              Agreed. Though I’d argue from a different perspective–there’s really not much evidence that people *need* to drink more water. I’d be okay with it as a harmless way for a wellness initiative to keep busy and not delve into problematic areas, though.

          2. Rat in the Sugar*

            At some point you’re going to reach “not everyone can have sandwiches”, though. Personally I think giving out generic advice like that is useless because it’s so general, but if your doctor has you on a very unusual and special diet or exercise plan than you should know to ignore truisms like “drink lots of water” or “be active during the day”.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Right, but turning it into an incentivized work plan *excludes* people who have requirements that keep them from doing X.

              Not cool.

              I’d actually love to see one where people can sign up and aver that they are doing at least X of a list of options (without having to say which X), that then lists all the positives. A long enough list and small enough X _should_ allow for everyone to pick some that will suit them.

      3. nofelix*

        I’m underweight and couldn’t participate, but I’m not sure what the issue is here since the programme is voluntary and there’s no penalty for non-participation. As long as participants are discrete in their discussions it doesn’t effect anyone.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          The issue is that being surrounded by an atmosphere where people’s fluctuations in weight are noted and treated as a value thing is really screwed up and can be super damaging. Weight loss, even for someone who is overweight, is not automatically a good and beneficial thing — and believe me, the atmosphere is really noticeable even when you’re not participating.

        2. Jinx*

          I think that’s the issue – it sounds like OP’s coworkers are talking about this constantly, which is stressing her out.

      4. Irritated Anon*

        See, the level of judgement against these programs is startling to me. I am floored by the comments I’ve read. They are voluntary! If you don’t want to do it, then don’t! If people talking about it upsets you, put on headphones, ignore the conversation, walk away, whatever! The comments towards these programs boil down to “I think they are dumb/unhealthy/unnecessary for my goals; therefore, they shouldn’t happen”. If the workplace had a voluntary book club, and you didn’t want to read for leisure, would it illicit the same comments that this has? The “don’t do things I don’t like” are hitting Reddit levels in here.

        I have participated in these things in the past. I’m a very healthy weight and live a very healthy lifestyle. I am never going to win any contests because I don’t have any weight to lose. But I don’t think that programs that get you to at least think about your diet and/or fitness are bad (there are bad weight loss programs out there, but I’m generalizing here). I’ve made new friends who wanted a workout buddy this way. I love cooking healthy and these events have helped me find people to discuss a passion with.

        If you are happy with where you are at – awesome! These programs shouldn’t make you feel bad about that. But some people need groups for accountability. Some people find motivation in different ways. Let them have their enjoyment. If you choose not to participate, it literally has nothing to do with you.

        1. Vendrus*

          It has something to do with you when constant discussions and peer pressure makes it unavoidable. It has even more to do with you when it is a company-wide event (which is very different to a book club which is a) vastly more low-profile and b) about people’s preferences, not their bodies).

          There is plenty of well-informed and outright professional medical advice on how intentional weight loss should not be attempted without medical advice, and I highly doubt this company is shelling out on specialists to talk to each competitor. Actually, that’s something that makes it even worse – they’ve turned a physiological issue into a /competition/. There is a serious risk of people damaging themselves trying to win, even if the effects are not obvious to others.

          Some people need groups for accountability, or motivation. They can have their enjoyment for but for sanity’s sake keep it out of workplace events!

        2. Apollo Warbucks*

          I was at work last week when I saw the news that a plan had crash landed and then burst into flames my reaction to that news was very mild my co-worker on the other hand was freaking out big time as his wife and son were flying into that city on that day on the air line affected. A totally different perspective to the same event, and both reactions were perfectly valid

          The OP has a serious medical condition that is likely be be made worse by the focus on food and weight loss, I wouldn’t mind this type of even in the office even though I wouldn’t take part in it, but I can understand how others could reasonably object to them.

        3. Colette*

          How would you feel about a book club that 95% of the company was participating in, with people competing to see who could finish the book first and discussing the book at every opportunity?

          Let’s assume you aren’t participating because you’re working full time and going to school and don’t have the time or energy to read anything extra. All of your friendly conversations with coworkers are taken over by the book, and even if you’re sitting at your desk, you hear people talking about the book. How voluntary would it feel?

          What if the book was a fictionalization of a real tragedy in which you lost someone you love? How would you feel hearing people talking about it multiple times a day. It’s just a voluntary book club, right?

        4. Katniss*

          Because “all weight loss = good” is a terrible and damaging way of thinking that we as a society shouldn’t be encouraging, especially in a work place where ones weight has nothing to do with one’s performance. If they want to focus on health (which I still think is questionable but whatever, that isn’t the discussion) there are dozens of other ways to do it without tying it to weight.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Or that “trying to lose weight as fast as possible to beat someone else” is not really a healthy way to do it, even if one does want to lose weight.

          2. Anon for this*

            + 1000 to both Katniss’s and Kelly’s comments.

            I was in a relationship for two years with someone who was absolutely obsessed with weight loss and weight management. (Great person otherwise.) I got to listen to weight-related rants each time we met. It was really the first time that I had front-row tickets to the weight-loss shit show. Turns out, there are a lot of ridiculous assumptions involved in it. Starting with “the lower your weight the better”, on to, like Katniss said, “all weight loss = good”, “everyone can lose weight”, “the faster you lose, the better”, and of course my favorite, calories in – calories out. I swear I’m going to lose it if I ever hear that one again. Mind you, I’m a very healthy weight and in great shape for my age, and yeah I do watch what I eat – but not to the point of starving myself, and not to the point of not giving a crap whether my diet is balanced and whether it includes produce, fiber, fat, protein etc, as long as it’s low in calories. Keeping to a diet where you (a generic you) don’t care what you put into your body, as long as you’re under X calories per day, may keep you thin, but it’s the fastest way to destroy your health in my opinion. I came out of my two years together with that person extremely disillusioned and burned out on the whole “fast weight loss for the sake of fast weight loss” concept. That an employer would consider bringing that kind of quackery into the workplace and make it a contest, with prizes, between their employees, just blows my mind.

            We’ve had these contests at a few OldJobs. People would get an email invitation to sign up for a Weight Watchers contest, chuckle at it, delete, and get back to whatever they were doing before the email showed up in their inbox. No one I knew took that stuff seriously. I would not be comfortable working at a place where people were as invested in it as OP1’s colleagues seem to be.

          3. Rebecca in Dallas*

            Agreed! I spent most of my teen years obsessed with my weight. Not eating disorder per se, but just overly concerned with the number on the scale and on the tag of my jeans. As an adult, I’m a distance runner and calories are my friend! Carbs, even! And ironically I eat way more than I did as a teenager but weigh less! At this point in my life, if I lose weight, it’s a sign that something isn’t right (usually my anxiety is starting to creep up on me).

          1. Anon For This*

            I understand it can be damaging, but I don’t think that in and of itself is enough. It can’t be the world’s responsibility to protect the OP or anyone else from the realities of being around other people. Are people weirdly focused on the program? It’s possible. And frankly it’s weird to run in to that sort of focus at work. At the gym you might expect it from some people, but at work it’s weird and frankly doesn’t belong.

            The program is useless and dumb, but I don’t think “how it makes me feel” is going to be a good argument. But I think the OP could kill two birds with one stone and approach it as a distraction from work and that people are hanging around talking about it a LOT. Perhaps the OP will get some traction on that.

            1. KellyK*

              It’s not “the world,” though. There’s a general expectation that employers not subject you to health hazards that aren’t directly relevant to your job and that they make allowances for specific illnesses or allergies. Most workplaces prohibit smoking inside, and if the designated smoking area is too close to a spot where an employee with asthma has to pass through, they may be obliged to move it. Workplaces with employees who have airborne allergies often restrict their employees’ use of peanut butter or fragrances or other allergens. Expecting someone recovering from an eating disorder to listen to people talking about the minutia of their diets is actually pretty similar to asking someone to inhale secondhand smoke or allergens. (You can debate which is worse or more avoidable, but eating disorders are deadly. This isn’t something harmless and benign we’re talking about, but a serious health risk.)

              “How it makes me feel” might be a bad argument when it translates to “I feel annoyed” or “This irritates me.” It’s a darn good argument when it really means “It gives me a horrible migraine” or “It makes me throw up,” and it should get the same consideration when it means “It triggers panic attacks” or “It dramatically increases the likelihood of an eating disorder relapse.”

        5. Alton*

          I think these programs can be done well. I did one at work that was very small. I only knew about it because some sporty people in my department saw an announcement somewhere and thought it’d be fun. There was no pressure to sign up and only those of us who did sign up got any communication regarding it.

          But there are a lot if potential problems:

          – If it’s a bigger program that a large number of people are doing, people who aren’t participating might feel put on the spot or pressured to join in.

          – Challenges where points are gained by weight loss (instead of just logging steps or workouts) can actually be medically harmful.

          – For someone with an eating disorder, a lot of diet and exercise talk at work might be more than just uncomfortable. Some people struggle with falling back into patterns of starvation, over-exercising, or binging/purging, and have to control their exposure to diet talk. No, workplaces can’t take responsibility for people’s mental health. But challenges like these can make it hard for people who are normally able to avoid or manage their triggers, and managers should be sensitive to the fact that having a lot of diet and exercise talk in the office could put someone in a difficult spot.

          I think some challenges are find if they’re discreet. The problem is that a lot aren’t.

        6. Always Anon*

          I think the programs themselves have a tendency to have the opposite effect of what they intend.

          I don’t have a problem with a program offering fitness classes or healthy cooking classes, etc., what I dislike is that they equate weight loss with positive self-worth. Not to mention, weight loss competitions of this nature simply don’t work in the long-term.

          1. Anna*

            It’s like fat-free foods. What they found was people just ate more of them. :)

            I think healthy choices is a better approach than weight loss any day.

        7. Elsajeni*

          I think it’s a fair point that “I think it’s dumb” or “It’s irrelevant to me personally” are not particularly good reasons to object to other people doing something — although, even then, being pressured to do something that’s irrelevant to you, in a work context where the people pressuring you to join in potentially have the power to affect your career, is no good. But the main objection I’m seeing here is that these programs are unhealthy, and sometimes actively harmful both to people who choose to participate and to people who choose not to participate but have to hear about it. I think that’s a very sound objection — especially to programs that are promoted as health and wellness initiatives.

        8. Artemesia*

          And if you don’t like sexist remarks at work or racist ones, put on headphones? Seriously? Being surrounded by constant discussion and judgement about weight seems pretty aversive to me and I haven’t had a weight problem; I can imagine what it is like for those who have eating issues.

        9. Kerry (Like the County in Ireland)*

          It’s not really voluntary when you are subject to financial and social coercion.

      5. Mander*

        This. I’m fat and probably not that healthy and not really happy with my body, but I DGAF at this point. I am no longer willing to make it my highest priority in life because it has taken over most of my mental space and clouds everything else I accomplish.

        I was sitting at my PhD graduation ceremony, waiting for my name to be called, and I began to cry. Because I was proud of myself? No. Because I managed to reach a lifelong ambition despite a lot of setbacks? No.

        I was crying because I was fat.

        Crappy initiatives like this weight loss competition only serve to reinforce the kind of thinking that left me beating myself up over my appearance instead of taking pride in myself and my achievements.

        1. Mreasy*

          YES. Exactly. People of all sizes deal with the garbage messaging that body size = value. I am an average-sized person who has struggled with it all my life, and have only come to an okay place in the past few years. Dieting being shoved in my face, like this workplace initiative, could go a long way toward undoing all that personal work.
          People just assume you want to be congratulated on how your body looks! I’ve lost weight on a medication for a severe psych condition that also causes fatigue (and therefore, I’m ironically unable to work out as much). Whenever I see someone I haven’t seen in awhile, they mention my weight loss as if it’s a good thing. It’s all I can do not to just give them a deer in the headlights stare at this point, because I was a great size before, and muscular! I want the rest of my butt back! The assumption that everyone wants/needs to be thinner is just stupid and poisonous and terrible, and workplaces should NOT be promoting it, for employee groups of any body size.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Yep, I have a very similar story. At one point in my life, I was severely broke and trying to survive on about $500-700 per month. My diet, every day, was basically black coffee, ~a quarter can of black beans, and white rice, and on top of it, my job was on my feet, moving around all day. So of course, everyone insisted that I looked so great because I was losing weight! Never mind my complexion had gone to grey and I was exhausted and freezing cold all the time. Nope, you look great, Boochie! Keep it up!

            (I came out of that with an eating disorder, too, because of course I did.)

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I had a similar experience when I moved to the east coast and had a very low-paying job. When I got back, people said, “You’ve lost so much weight!” Yes, because I had quite literally nothing to eat! :P

              I would never starve myself because of this, but I now have a tendency to hoard food.

  8. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    This weight loss competition, in addition to being as ill-advised and potentially harmful in a number of ways, sounds poorly designed as a contest! You have to commit more money as you lose weight, but only the person who loses the most weight gets to win? That means the runner-up loses more money than anyone else! Which means dangerous behavior is more and more incentivized for the people “in the lead”. Ugh.

    (Side note: I’m also skeptical of anything that tracks weight to the pound. It’s too variable to be that precise. I’ve been weighing myself a lot lately because I’m pregnant and tracking my weight gain, and maybe it’s just my scale, but I fluctuate a TON. I apparently weigh almost three pounds more tonight than I did at 9 this morning.)

    1. mags*

      That’s totally normal. Everything you ingest will cause you to gain poundage, and everything you release will, of course, decrease it. Even a change in clothing can add/remove a surprising amount of weight. Supposedly first thing in the morning after using the bathroom is your “true” weight.

    2. Former Invoice Girl*

      “You have to commit more money as you lose weight, but only the person who loses the most weight gets to win?”

      Plus, who loses the most weight? I’m not sure how competitions like this are done, but it’s clear that someone who has 40 pounds extra weight will have the potential to lose more than someone who is only, say, 20 pounds overweight. It would be very unhealthy for the latter person to try to “outwin” the former. (I realized I may have said something stupid here – I really don’t know how these competitions are done.)

      Putting weight loss in the frame of a competition sounds really unhealthy in general as well.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I think this has actually come up on the Biggest Loser–the biggest men are usually bigger than the biggest women, and have more loseable weight, and some of the women have gone to unhealthy extremes because they can’t beat the men any other way.

    3. Amadeo*

      Yes, your weight fluctuates up to 5 pounds in a single day. Which is why it’s usually recommended to weight yourself at much longer intervals than daily so you can see a trend better. I’m indifferent to these sorts of contests, people are gonna do what people are gonna do and I don’t have to participate if I don’t want to. I can understand, though, how the constant food/weight talk might upset someone who’s recovering from or has an active eating disorder.

      Perhaps you couldn’t really ask that they never have those contests again, but I think it is reasonable to request they keep the chatter about it to a minimum.

  9. Marzipan*

    #2, am I missing something? The one even slightly negative thing you’ve said in your letter (unless there’s more of it we’re not seeing) is that this person drinks fairly heavily *at social events*, and I’ll be honest, I’m having trouble seeing that as some sort of dealbreaking awfulness.

    I work in a role that has some similarities to what he’s applying for, and although I don’t drink, members of my team most certainly do at social events and I’ve seen them very much the worse for wear. They aren’t at work, it has no impact on their work, so… so what? I feel like perhaps you’re trying to suggest that you have some broader concern about him from pieced-together information (he went part time, he works from home, he moves more often than you do), without actually saying what it is. And, since we are (rightly) not allowed to engage in internet diagnosis of double-strangers, we aren’t really going to come to a conclusion on that point either. Possibly, you’ve tried to express a genuine concern so politely that you’ve diluted it (like if ‘he has a reputation for imbibing substantially and often’ is code for ‘and then behaving highly inappropriately’); or possibly you have a bad feeling but can’t put your finger on it exactly… and those feelings are worth paying attention to. But if what you’ve described is everything… then you’ve described a person who works reliably, is nice, moves quite a lot (which is not uncommon, in my experience, for many people who have a lower income or financial pressures, especially in an urban context), and takes part in social events. I don’t get, from that, exactly what’s worrying you.

    I totally agree that the way in which you know this person makes you not an ideal reference for him, because the work context in which you know him is very different to the work context he’s applying for. So, I think you could quite reasonably either suggest he find a reference who can speak more to that side of things than you can, or else go ahead and give a reference of the “My colleague Glibard Embersmith has always been reliable in preparing teapot spout reports” variety.

    1. Nico M*

      Who pays for the drinks? Maybe subsidised/free booze at work socials is all they can afford.

    2. Jeanne*

      If it hasn’t affected his work and he’s not doing really inappropriate things while drunk like hitting on you, I think you need to leave it alone. However, you are not required to be anyone’s reference. Just tell him that you don’t feel comfortable acting as a reference for him. He might ask why but just repeat you’re not comfortable with it and get back to work.

    3. MK*

      I have to say, I read some (perhaps unconscious) prejudice against someone with a non-conventional lifestyle in the letter.

      1. OP2*

        That’s not the case at all. I included that background because a job with a room might be a good fit for him.

    4. Evergreen*


      And also, if the role he’s applying to is particularly sensitive (which I assume it would be) they wouldn’t hire him unless he can provide other referees who can speak to his character and habits in more detail than it sounds like you are able to.

    5. Mander*

      I wasn’t sure what the deal was with this either. Someone who only knows me from work might say the same thing, that I drink quite a lot at social events or at the pub on the odd Friday night. But that’s pretty much the only time I drink, so it hardly indicates a pattern of me getting smashed all the time. The only inappropriate things I do while a bit drunk are talking a little too loudly and being enthusiastic about things that I normally would only show mild interest in.

    6. OP2*

      OP2 here. The background I have is that a) this person has a reputation for drinking daily, driving afterward, behaving inappropriately, etc., b) is not a nurse or doctor, and c) as someone with an alcoholic parent and grandparents with dementia, I asked myself whether my family would have wanted him living in the home. And I didn’t know the answer. The days at the end get hard and were hard on my family. But nursing care was expensive and too impersonal for my grandparents. I wrote to Alison because I wanted advice.

      To Alison’s point, if I speak directly with the coworker, he would likely dismiss my concerns. If I spoke with his boss (I won’t – only hypothetically), she would know about the alcohol-related behavior but also say that it does not affect the work we do, which again, is nothing like this second job. So I don’t really want to give a reference but also wouldn’t want the family to call me later to ask why I didn’t say anything.

      1. KR*

        Live in aid here. I’m not sure about your coworker but the type of work I do isn’t really health care. I basically do cleaning (since my roommate/aid person can’t), carry heavy things for her, help her take care of house stuff while she’s busy managing her illness and if she gets sick, get her to bed and medicine or call for help. Since she gets a large rent subsidy, I also pay utilities. So less like a nurse and more like a helper.

      2. Arthur Ransome*

        OP2, You say “this person has a reputation for drinking daily, driving afterward, behaving inappropriately, etc.”. Which of these have you seen yourself, and which are hearsay/rumour? So far you have not stated anything YOU have seen that is of concern. When someone’s career is at stake that is important.

        1. OP2*

          I do know that he drinks daily, behaves inappropriately afterward, drives afterward, etc. I’ve seen all of this. When I say that he’s had a reputation as a drinker for years, it’s not hypothetical.

      3. FiveWheels*

        Drinking heavily at social events is a non issue to me, but driving drunk is a giant red flag. If that’s the case he’s basically a habitual criminal.

        Do you know he’s a drunk driver, or is it hearsay?

      4. Marzipan*

        Thank you for the clarification – that helps to explain your concern more clearly.

        I think you have (or feel you have) two problems here – one is an ‘am I an appropriate person to give this person a reference for this kind of work?’ problem, and I think the answer to that is no, and that you can easily enough explain to him why not – you don’t know him very well, you don’t know him in that kind of context, you’re unlikely to be able to speak to the kinds of skills or attributes the employer wants to know about. So, I’d bow out on that basis.

        Your second problem, if I’m reading you correctly, is that you’re wondering whether you have some kind of moral responsibility to tell someone that he may not be the kind of responsible person they probably want for this kind of work. I don’t think that you do, based on what you’ve said. The worries you have about him are (I think) largely reputational, not things you’ve observed yourself, so it’s not even clear that they’re accurate – they may have gained something in the telling. Your own family experiences may also (quite understandably) be sensitising you to the situation. But as you said, you asked yourself whether you’d have wanted him there in that situation, and you didn’t know – it’s not a clear no. If it were – if you knew for a fact that he had multiple convictions for defrauding elderly widows, for example – you’d have a more pressing reason to tell someone (although I daresay we could still debate it and argue both sides). But if you don’t know him well enough to give a reference – and I don’t think you do – then you also don’t really know him well enough to chip in with concerns about him being unsuitable. It’s the responsibility of the people hiring for this job to judge whether he’s a good fit, and to seek references and appropriate information about him. Trust that they will do that.

        I also don’t think you should let the positive aspect of how a job that came with housing might help him out sway you. You sound as though your empathy for everyone in the situation is tying you in knots, so I’d recommend stepping back. It’s OK for this not to be your problem; you aren’t letting anyone down by not getting involved.

      5. Cordelia Naismith*

        If you have personal knowledge of any of this — if you have witnessed the drunk driving and/or inappropriate behavior yourself, for example — then I would bring it up. But it sounds like this is all gossip and hearsay. Comment on what you have direct personal knowledge of, and leave out the “everyone says” stuff.

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          Also, I think it’s totally okay to just tell him you can’t be a reference for him. You’re not his supervisor, just a co-worker, so that doesn’t seem weird at all.

        2. mags*

          Yes, that’s what it sounds like to me. If you do not have first-hand knowledge I would not bring this up again. It’s just gossip. The phrasing “The background I have…” “…he has a reputation…” are all very passive. It’s not concrete “He had six drinks at a work party we attended and I saw him behind the wheel 30 minutes later” Which makes a huge difference.
          If you don’t want to be a reference, you aren’t obligated. But I would stop bringing this up (and certainly not mention it to his boss!). Maybe the reputation stemmed from a single time he imbibed to much at a work event and the story got convoluted and followed him around. Maybe his cup is filled with ginger ale. Maybe he is a recovering alcoholic and has been sober for 4 years. Unless you are sure, it’s not your place to speculate.

  10. Dee*

    I really appreciate the first letter a i frequently have the same problem in my workplaces – although i don’t think i’d be brave enough to say anything when it comes up. I also come across workplace special events or themed months like ‘eating better’ and ‘steps challenges’ and find them just as bad and triggering to me.

  11. Security SemiPro*

    I hate those workplace “health” things. I think anyone with any medical complications does. I have a chronic disorder that, while controlled, means that any exercise I do has to be monitored, approved and modified by my physical therapist, pain doc, and osteopath. I, stupidly, thought I was fine last week and walked about a mile more than I am supposed to. It was awesome that I could do it at all, and I was happy about it until I needed to use my walker for the next day. (It turns out the specialists who have been monitoring my condition for multiple years know stuff. Dammit.)

    I can’t do steps challenges, weight loss challenges, and those health screens at work are not done by professionals who have spent multiple years with me and my stupid body. Basically, the whole process just reminds me that my body is broken and worthless, which doesn’t lead me to doing the hour a day of, hard, painful, work I need to do with it to remain able to stand and walk. Constant burbling from coworkers about strategy on these sorts of things can be anything from eyerolling to “I’d like to go home to cry now because my body doesn’t work and is out of warranty”

    I hate the whole mess, but it isn’t going away as long as insurers are going to keep trying to get rid of expensive employees (like me!) and my health care (and survival) is linked to having a job with decent benefits. These programs send a very clear message that my body is too broken for me to belong at my workplace.

    1. Jersey's Mom*

      I am 100% with you! For the last 2 1/2 years I’ve had a serious medical condition and am on various medications, specific diet and exercise regime put together by medical staff. I don’t want to discuss it with co-workers or explain why I can’t do the “Walking Everyday”, “Extra Steps a Day”, or (the one I hate the most) “Lose Weight and Get Healthy”. I’m in a large company (8,000+) and corporate is laser focused on ways to drop the health insurance costs. They seem to have no clue that they are going about it in an awful way.

    2. Roscoe*

      I get what you are saying, but I think your opinion on how insurance is treating you is a bit skewed. It actually does make more sense that if you are at a lower risk of costing them money, then your insurance should be lower. Somehow we are ok with this for smokers, but for overweight people (which also statistically does end up costing more) we want to pretend its not the case. Life insurance is more expensive for older people. Car insurance is more expensive for people with a bad driving history. Why is health insurance different?

      1. Katniss*

        Health should be affordable for everyone regardless of their lifestyle. I also don’t believe smokers should have to pay more. Health isn’t a moral measure or failing that should be rewarded or punished.

        1. FiveWheels*

          Certainly in the UK, smokers pay a lot on tax. I’m not sure about the current figures but certainly in the post tobacco tax has been greater than the entire NHS budget.

          1. Misc*

            Yeah, but there’s a difference between paying upfront to continue doing something and being penalised later if you happen to get sick.

            1. Katniss*

              Yup, I’m okay with being taxed for purchasing cigarettes. I’m not okay with being penalized for how they effect one’s health.

              1. FiveWheels*

                That’s exactly my point. Penalising smokers is unfair not just morally, but financially because smokers already contribute more than their fair share.

        2. Roscoe*

          That is fine. But I know a lot of people who fully believe that smokers should have to pay more for insurance. I guess I’m on the fence. I’m not opposed to it, but its nice that I’m getting a break on mine for not smoking.

        3. Temperance*

          No, but people who choose healthy habits shouldn’t shoulder the extra burden of supporting a smoker.

          1. Judy*

            But isn’t the point of insurance to spread around the cost? Some people are “winners” (by having a disease or injury????) and get more out than they pay in, while some people are “losers” (by being healthy???).

            And who decides exactly which habits are healthy?

            1. Jeanne*

              African Americans are at greater risk for some diseases. I guess we’ll have to charge them more. Etc. It gets really awful when you go down this path. I love your comment about the winners and losers.

              1. F.*

                This is an example of one of the reasons why legislation has been passed (in the USA) to make discrimination on the basis of genetic information illegal. African Americans would not be the only ones affected.

      2. OlympiasEpiriot*

        There are two ways to look at this: the individualist position and the pooled risk position.

        In the individualist model of insurance, the policy holder (the Player) is betting they’ll get ill and need insurance and the insurance company (the House) is betting they won’t. Ergo, if someone has a chronic condition or gets badly injured, the next time their insurance policy comes up for renewal, the House is going to demand bigger bets of the Player.

        Pooled risk means that there is a group policy. Imo, it is only a modified form of the individualist model when there’s a company policy because if a company has several employees who have expensive conditions, that company’s premiums are going to increase. Larger not-for-profit pools, like a labor union back in the days when there were actually large labor unions, or real insurance cooperatives have (1) diversified risk so are less likely to feel the hit from a small group of people getting expensive conditions (unless we’re talking about black lung disease and the miners’ union, and of that ilk) and (2) have a mandate to provide insurance for their members without profit-seeking. Those entities tend to keep premiums lower.

        It reads like you are regarding health insurance from an individualist standpoint. I guess that’s not wrong, but, I think it is actually anathema to what health insurance was supposed to be. Pooled risk is very different from a casino.

        On the other points: Health insurance is something that is not really the same kind of thing as auto/driving insurance or life insurance. There’s far tighter stats on the relationship between individual skills in driving and the costs a driver will incur due to absence of skills than between individual dietary choices and health (for example). And life insurance, well, that *is* a straight up casino model. It is guaranteed we are all going to die. It is only a question of when and how.

        1. F.*

          “It reads like you are regarding health insurance from an individualist standpoint.”

          Under the more finely delineated age bands for determining premiums under the Affordable Care Act (which will eventually affect nearly all employer-issued policies, not just those on the exchanges), they are looking at the statistical chances of health problems based on age. (Yes, they always have, but the groupings were much larger before the ACA.) That is why the largest jumps in premiums are for people in their 50s, regardless of how healthy the individual is. Although it is illegal to discriminate based on age over 40 or on disabilities, insurance companies are forcing companies to do exactly that in order to keep premiums even slightly affordable. One of the unintended (?) consequences of a poorly thought-out act of legislation.

          1. OlympiasEpiriot*

            Yeah, there’s lots of problems with the ACA. I wish they had first rewound and reestablished insurance companies as not-for-profit companies. It wouldn’t remove all problems (see outrageous CEO compensation, even in non-profit companies, for example) but, it would have taken away the constant drive for short-term shareholder profit.

      3. Knitting Cat Lady*

        It doesn’t have to be that way.

        Insurance really shouldn’t be for profit.

        The German insurance system is a bit strange.

        There’s two types of insurance. One is a non-profit model that is mandatory to have up to a certain income, the other is the for profit model Americans are familiar with and which you can access above a certain income. In that one what you pay is measured by your ‘health’ and risk factors.

        The non-profit thing?

        The employee pays a certain percentage of their wages every month and the employer matches that, so everyone pays the same relative to their income. This is the important bit.

        So a very healthy young person ends up paying more than they would in the for profit model.

        But nobody stays young and healthy forever.

        The young and healthy person will still pay the same percentage when they’re nearing retirement age and might have developed an expensive medical condition. In the for profit model many people end up not being able to afford the payments once they get past fifty.

        The lifetime cost of insurance in the non profit model is a lot lower than in the for profit model. There are no share holders who’s dividends have to be financed, after all.

        The whole thing leads to lower health care costs overall as well.

        Since the non profit companies represent most of the potential customers of health care providers and pharmaceutical companies they can drive a hard bargain.

        I looked a bit at imaging costs. As an example an MRI scan in Germany costs a few hundred €, while in the US it can cost up to a few thousand $.

        Really, the principle of insurance should be ‘from everyone to their ability, to everyone according to their needs’.

        There is plenty of fucked up shit in the German health care system. But at least it’s affordable and not completely broken like in the US.

        1. Bartlett for President*

          I lived/worked in Germany for three years, and was actually really impressed with the system in comparison to the US system – especially when TK sent me a refund check because they collected too much premium from us all! That blew my mind.

          I agree that there are some issues with the system, particularly the oddities in the German system that seem to go against frugality mindset that is pretty stereotypical of Germans (such as GPs seeming to act like coordinators and sending people for specialists for everything beyond a cough – that must increase costs?). But, I think the German system reflects a mentality that simply isn’t present in the United States: we’re all in this together. Those darn bootstraps.

        1. fposte*

          Eh. I don’t think it’s that simple on either side. There’s an epidemiology of smoking same as there’s an epidemiology of obesity, and both of them tend to take root when you’re a kid.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yeah–I’ve thanked my lucky stars many times that I wasn’t tempted by smoking in my teens, because pretty much everyone I know who smokes, got hooked when they were in high school. I know one more who picked it up in her early twenties to get breaks at work. I don’t think a ton of people start smoking at my age.

      4. Erin*

        I read an article (I forget where) that overweight people and smokers actually cost our health care system less over their lifetime because they live shorter lives. I’ll see if I can’t find the source.

        It seems foolish to punish smokers with more expensive health care. I like the approach of letting them earn the same non smoking credit by participating in a free smoking cessation program.

        1. Heather*

          I like that idea! Although I can see companies making it so they can only get the credit if they’re able to quit, which ignores the fact that it takes most people multiple tries to actually quit.

          1. CrazyCatLady*

            Yeah, that was a study paid for by Philip Morris, since then debunked.

            And that’s before taking into account the social repercussions of these premature deaths (loss of productivity in people of working age, dependents suddenly losing support).

      5. Cordelia Naismith*

        Call me crazy, but I feel like health care decisions should be made by doctors and other health care providers who are actually trained in evaluating their patients’ health, not insurance companies whose top priority is the bottom line.

      6. Jeanne*

        I was born with my illness. Trust me when I say those of us with illness are punished daily in many ways by society. It’s lovely that we are like drunk drivers. It’s easy to say what you are saying until you get sick or your child is sick.

  12. UnCivilServant*

    I find the behaviour exhibited by ex-coworker in #3 puzzling. Not in a “I can’t see someone doing that” way but in a “why do people do that” way. Excluding the case where the person lied on their resume when applying, it really had no relevence. Of my coworkers, I could only tell you the highest educational attainment of a handful of people – and those were the ones I had the most non-work related conversations with because it would occassionally be related to the conversation at hand. I could, obviously, be reading the letter wrong, but I got the sense of someone who was veritably bragging about this degree they don’t actually hold. I have run accross people who brag about degrees they do (presumably) hold but they don’t seem to realize that at this point, what they did at college isn’t particularly important, and harping on it implies they did nothing of value since.

  13. Grumpycat*

    OP1, I bet you’re also not the only one who feels this way about the contest. I’ve never had a full-blown eating disorder, but like many/most women, I have spent far more mental energy than I should have fretting about my body and dancing with disordered eating habits. An environment where fat = bad is repeated over and over would pick away at me and definitely start the cycle of “am I too fat? should I skip dessert tonight? what if I just lost 5 pounds?” all over again.

    My point is, this kind of non-medical weight loss program and shaming of fat bodies is bad for EVERYONE and you would be doing all the silent sufferers a favor by speaking up (if you feel comfortable and it wouldn’t be triggering for you.)

    1. UnCivilServant*

      Fat acceptance is by far more harmful than these misguided prgrams. The shame of being fat is what drove me to take action to correct my own weight. Eating disorders require their own kind of treatment, being psychological ailments, but overcorrecting for it propigates a different harm to a much larger population. I will never agree with anyone who wants to remove or reduce the stigma of being overweight.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I put this below, but I’m putting it up here too so that hopefully people see it before commenting further — this comment ended up really derailing the thread, so let’s move on, please, and not continue to argue this. Thank you.

        (I posted this at 11 a.m. despite the timestamp, which I’m noting so it’s clear that the comments below didn’t just flagrantly ignore this request; they were here before I posted this.)

      2. Myrin*

        This seems like a pretty unkind response, especially towards people who can’t lose weight (e. g. due to medical reasons) or who are overweight but content with their bodies.

        1. Rae*

          Maybe unkindly stated, but none the less true. As a college work study student the department was made up of decently overweight middle aged adjuncts who had become complacent about their weight.

          Then one had a minor heart attack in front of a bunch of students. Health came into focus big time. The guy who had the heart attack posted the problems associated with being over weight and they were shocking. Obesity is the #2 killer in the US. As a painfully skinny person this is not my fear for myself but for many I love.

          1. Anomanom*

            Well, gosh that one example must mean it’s true for everyone. Yes, some people need to lose weight to avoid health complications. Some people look completely healthy from the outside but have genetic predispositions to diseases and might drop dead of a heart attack running their 100th marathon. Some people are healthier at 20 lbs overweight than they would be at the weight that someone else has decided is “right” for their body.

            You don’t know which of those reasons someone might be over what you, as a random outsider, consider to be a healthy weight. Shaming people into making decisions that someone thinks is healthy is not the way to deal with any of those issues. And even if you think it is, it should have ZERO connection to how they make a living and keep a roof over their head. Are their health costs to lifestyle choices? Sure, but I also see a ton of sports related injuries in my office and I don’t see us advocating to shame runners for the inevitable knee surgery they seem to need by their mid 40s.

            1. Myrin*

              Yes, if we’re talking about real-life personal examples in our immediate environment, there is such a wide array of them that it’s almost impossible to glean anything objective from them. Let me provide my own to make it clear what I mean:

              1. I am of average weight and build and have been pretty much all my life, the exception being big thighs that have run in my family for as long as we have had pictures to show for it (so, 130 years at least). I eat a lot of greasy stuff with many carbs and calories. Apart from problems with my spine – which are hereditary as well; many women in my family have or had a hunchback -, I am completely healthy, as has been medically attested quite recently.

              2. My mum is one of those people who needs to lose weight to avoid health complications. She has been overweight since she was a child and this has been her well-documented personal experience. She’s always in extremely better shape – both mentally and physically – when she loses weight, and she has a certain goal she is trying very hard to reach. Losing weight has an undoubtedly positive effect on her.

              3. My little sister has gained weight in the last four months in a way she hasn’t ever before (I’m not talking inordinate amounts, more something like up to 10kg, but still noticeable). That started when she came home from a three-month stay at the hospital because of anxiety, PTSD, and depression. She is healthy in body, but not in mind. Her healing from the trauma that was inflicted on her paralleled her weight gain. The thinnest she has ever been was when her abusive boyfriend and rapist pressured her into losing weight and complained she was “too fat”; this is the person who caused her mental issues to begin with.

              4. My grandmother has maintained the most model-like figure of all the women in my family until this very day (she is 83). She has never much cared about weight and didn’t really eat “healthily” specifically, that’s just her body. We also found out that she was extremely close to a heart attack three weeks ago, likely caused by the high level of her cholesterol. Her health has declined rapidly in the past few weeks and although she is doing comparatively fine again right now, she is but a shadow of her former self at the moment.

              I’m not writing all this down because I’m an extreme oversharer who wants everyone to know everything about her family. Rather, I just want to show how you could take each of these experiences and generalise from them and then take the very next one and come to the exact opposite conclusion. Weight, and health in general, is not a subject where you can go “I heard this thing once, therefore it must be like this for everyone and I also know everything about this topic now”. The plural of anecdote is not data.

          2. BananaPants*

            There are few things more infuriating than to be overweight and have naturally-slender people pontificate on how weight loss is easy, if those Fatty McFattersons would just get off their butts and eat right and exercise!

            Do you have any idea how hard it is to lose 30, 50, 100+ pounds and maintain that loss?

            1. Rae*

              No, I don’t have any idea how hard it is to lose weight and maintain that loss. Nor do I know how hard it is to have cancer, nor do I know how hard it is to have Alzheimer or diabetes or a mental illness so sever my life is at risk. However, I do whatever I can to help people from suffering an untimely death. I am 100% against tanning because even the most generous studies show it has a correlation with skin cancer. I donate puzzle books and even have volunteered to read to the elderly as it has been show to prevent degenerative brain diseases.

              Many things contribute to being overweight, from poor health care (by choice or by lack of access), poor eating habits, alcohol, smoking, body types. You can be physically fit and weigh more than the mainstream. You can also weigh a normal amount and be very poor in health.

              What the person replied to was the fat acceptance movement. That movement isn’t about being healthy at any weight, it’s about accepting any weight as a matter of beauty and saying that if you feel good, it’s healthy. This movement is incredibly dangerous because it ignores the real health risks with carrying extra fat (note fat, not muscle) around. It is a very, very dangerous philosophy and encourages young people to embrace obesity as status quo, rather than work towards health. They glorify overeating, poor eating and lack of exercise as lifestyle choices that they can make because they “don’t affect you”. That, to me, is scary. As scary as magazines that glorify tanning or cultures that encourage elderly people to just give up and not be mentally or physically active or colleges that do not fund mental health because that’s “not their job”.

              So this is not about how hard it is. It’s freaking difficult. All this person commented on was that in their view, some of these misguided health programs are still less dangerous than the new fat acceptance movement. And given the number of Americans dying from obesity-related problems there’s some truth to that. Now, one can say that throwing it out there doesn’t do anyone any good psychologically, and that may be true, but its important to know that there’s a danger to too much ire directed at health programs.

              1. Oryx*

                “That movement isn’t about being healthy at any weight, it’s about accepting any weight as a matter of beauty and saying that if you feel good, it’s healthy . . . They glorify overeating, poor eating and lack of exercise as lifestyle choices that they can make because they “don’t affect you”.”

                While it may be true that some members of the FA movement advocate those things, it’s also misleading to make an umbrella statement that ALL followers support that. I support fat acceptance because I support anti-fat bias in society, the workplace, hospitals, etc. I also eat well and exercise and I know plenty of other FA followers who do as well. Saying all FA followers glorify obesity is like saying all feminists are anti-men. That’s not how this works.

                Also, please explain what is so bad about “accepting any weight as a matter of beauty.”

                1. Rae*

                  It’s the face of the movment. It’s what you first encounter. If they want it to be something else, they should have that be what they proclaim.

                  And the conversation about weight is multifaceted. Accepting weight as a matter of beauty works both ways. We glorify anorexic models and barbie body types. That’s extremely dangerous, maybe even more so. It is not healthy to perpetuate that being adversely underweight is beautiful, either. What is attractive is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s important not to mix up beauty in weight alone.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  Agreed. I think that anyone at any size has the right to feel beautiful or to be found beautiful by other people–that’s all subjective anyway.

                  Separate from beauty, here is the actual point of the Health at Every Size philosophy, which tends to get distorted. The idea is that anyone, no matter their size, can make healthy choices, and that those choices can be good for you whether you lose weight or not. If you weigh 400 pounds and eat well and exercise, you’re healthier than if you weighed the same 400 pounds and ate junk and were sedentary. The idea is to divorce the healthy choices from the number on the scale, because they don’t always go hand in hand (don’t we all know the guy who eats everything, drinks a case of beer, weighs 130?).

                  Along with that is the idea that one’s health, or lack thereof, isn’t really anybody else’s business, and people shouldn’t make rude comments to others about it.

                  It gets distorted, by its detractors, into the idea that everyone is healthy at every moment, which obviously isn’t the case. Many people in the movement will tell you right upfront that they have various medical conditions or disabilities–I don’t even mean the conditions traditionally correlated with weight, I mean things anyone can have–and aren’t perfectly healthy. But within the boundaries of whatever body we drew in the genetic lottery, one can still make good choices. “Health” isn’t a binary condition.

            2. Temperance*

              Yep. I had a serious illness back in February and ended up in the ICU for 5 days. As a result, I had to do a lot of PT and fight to get any kind of strength back, because apparently, being unable to move and fighting a serious illness takes a lot of strength.

              I gained weight, because I had to eat but couldn’t physically do a lot. I took daily naps, slept for 12 hours, etc. The “helpful” thin assholes who felt the need to tell me I could “start slow” with “just 30 minutes on a treadmill” are lucky that I didn’t push them into traffic with the little strength I did have.

      3. Cat*

        Well, you’re not king of the world and the rest of us can still advocate for our workplaces not to do things that degrade our mental health.

      4. Oryx*

        No, yo-yo dieting is far more harmful than fat acceptance. Most who diet are unable to keep the weight off long term so they continually are up and down and up and down. I am 34 years old. I am obese. I also quit dieting after two decades of it because it was doing so much damage to my mental, emotional, physical state of mind. I also run half-marathons and all of my medical tests (blood work, blood pressure, etc.) come back within range so I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. As it happens, once I stopped seeing food as the enemy I started to build a healthier relationship with it and am working on a more intuitive eating style. I am also much happier too, far more than I was when I was only “overweight” and not “obese.”

        I understand that for YOU shame of being fat is what was the spark but please don’t apply that as a remedy for everyone. In many instances, that shame only drives the person to eat more and thus gain more weight.

      5. Doe-eyed*

        While you seem to feel that shaming people is in fact helpful, statistically it is not, and in fact causes more weight gain because they stress eat and are anxietal about going to the gym. (Jackson, Obesity 2014). So you can stop hiding behind a veil of feigned helpfulness. You aren’t being helpful, you are contributing to the problem.

        1. Kelly L.*

          +1. For most people, shame does not work as a motivator. People tend to care better for their bodies when they don’t hate them.

      6. cohle*

        I’m glad you’re healthier and feeling better about yourself, but bullying people about their size is actually abhorrent regardless of what personally motivates you? Like, if shame was an effective weight loss technique, quite literally nobody would be fat. And while it’s impossible to look at a larger person and evaluate with 100% accuracy whether their size is affected by an underlying condition, or the side effects of necessary medication, or whatever “lifestyle habits” we’re judging this week, it kind of… doesn’t matter? I mean, where do you draw the line between “not my business” and “this person’s body and its health status are up for public debate and mockery (for their own good, apparently, because bigger people can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies, I guess)” and why do you think it’s anyone’s call to make? FWIW, I think that reducing/removing the stigma around weight IN GENERAL would lead to people feeling more confident in making choices that work FOR THEM, as opposed to feeling badgered into whatever diet/exercise/etc routine would get the judgmental folks off their back, but what do I know, I’m just a fatty myself.

      7. Mander*

        I’m not going to argue this too much except to say that if you think that fat acceptance is harmful then you don’t really understand fat acceptance.

        1. Myrin*

          I also think “I will never agree with anyone who wants to remove or reduce the stigma of being overweight.” is just an incredible mean thing to say. Because it not only says “I want overweight people to feel like shit and hate themselves” but also “I’m 100% fine with people being judgmental and horrible bullies to overweight people and I don’t care one bit that this might drive someone to, for example, self-harm or even suicide”.

          (Apart from that, I also feel like, while shame may indeed serve as a motivator for some people (for anything, not just weight-related), it absolutely does not for the vast majority of people. I have no data to back that up but personal experience makes me strongly believe it.)

          1. Kelly L.*

            Right! And there are still manners. It’s still rude to tell someone they’re fat, no matter how good you (general you) think it is for them. All you’re doing is making yourself feel better.

      8. Katniss*

        Prove it. Give me a study showing that fat acceptance is damaging and that shame has any real positive effects in general. You know what shame over weight has done to me? At the worst, made me consider relapsing into alcoholism because at least when I drank (and was killing myself by drinking) I was skinny. You want to spread more of that shame around? Shame on YOU.

        1. CCDietPlan*

          I have a joke with my personal trainer that the only time a diet really worked for me was when I tried the Cocaine Champagne Diet plan. Super effective if you replace food with those two substances, pretty sure being skinny wasn’t worth it.

          1. Katniss*

            Yup! I’m not going to list numbers here because they can be triggering for a lot of people, but I was SUPER skinny when I couldn’t eat because booze made me sick. It wasn’t worth it, obviously, but I laughed bitterly when people asked how I stayed so thin.

      9. JMegan*

        I am overweight. I also suffer from depression, have a full-time job, and am essentially a single parent to two young children. One of my children suffers from anxiety, and requires a huge amount of my emotional energy just to keep her emotions in check. The other child has ADHD, and requires a huge amount of my emotional energy to keep him active and entertained, and prevent him from bugging the shit out of his sister.

        For me, fat acceptance means that I can accept my body as it is, right now. Maybe it’s not the best it could be, but I literally do not have any extra time, money, or physical or emotional energy to devote to weight loss. I am tapped out – every day, all the time. So fat acceptance means accepting myself where I am, right now, and allowing myself to direct my energy to other areas of my life.

        There is absolutely no way that fat acceptance is more harmful – for me – than the alternative. The alternative would mean carving even more time out of my day, spending even more money on child care, spending even less time with my children, and spending even more brain power on feeling ashamed of myself. If shame is what motivates you, then go for it – but please don’t take that and make blanket statements about how the rest of us should feel or behave.

    2. I'm Not Phyllis*

      This. I’m SURE you’re not the only one who feels this way. There are literally hundreds of other ways to offer health-focused incentives if that’s what your employers are after. A race to the finish line is not a good way for anyone to lose weight and creates an unhealthy environment, in my opinion. Plus it seems like it’s a major distraction to what should be a work day! If they’re talking about it all the time as your letter suggests, they’re not very focused on what they’re supposed to be doing during working hours!

  14. Rae*

    OP 1. While I don’t have an eating disorder, I feel your pain. I have a hard time keeping weight on. During a time when several co-workers were doing a weight loss challenge, I was in the queue for the salad bar and I was told that I was in the wrong line as they needed the salad, not me. We never ran out of salad so it was just “mean girl” baloney. Hopefully, you can avoid that.

    OP3. It sounds like you’re exceptionally bitter about this lie, when you don’t have the whole story. There are several different things that could of happened to essentially have a master’s degree but still be taking classes. There’s also “master’s level graduate certificates” that are just over half the credits needed. I’ve had more than one perspective employer tell me that having a “Master Cert” was just as good as an entire Master’s degree and to just reference that in the final interview. I’ve also done consultation projects and the organizations have masters in my bio as highest level of education, rather than master’s student. I have always been extremely transparent that I did (at that point) not yet have my degree. Also, do you actually know there are offers made, moreover why they are rescinded? My friend has an advanced degree and lives in a place where that degree is desirable and it still took her 1.5 years to find work that 1) gave her the hours she needed for childcare and 2) paid her near what she needed to live. You can’t assume your perception of her lie has anything to do with her trouble finding work.

  15. Moonpie*

    OP1, this is certainly a terribly-designed program. If your workplace is bound and determined to do one, perhaps you could offer some ideas for modifying it without disclosing more than you want to. For example, pounds lost favors some over others, but percentage of body weight lost is a much better measure. Also, why not two concurrent “contests”: one for those who wish to lose, and one for those who wish to maintain their current weight (maybe they stay within +/- 2 pounds for the contest period). And in all cases, it should be optional. Allowing those who want to participate to form teams takes some of the spotlight off the individuals and makes it less apparent if some opt out completely. I don’t love the contest idea, and I’ve seen a lot of “winners” regain their weight as soon as it’s done, but some workplaces are fixated on the idea, so at least they could inject some sense!

  16. Roscoe*

    #1 I really don’t want to be insensitive, but this seems like something that you may just have to deal with. I mean you are one person in an entire company wanting to take away something that people are enjoying. I mean, it doesn’t even seem like it is like the company is providing incentives (unless I read wrong). More like an idea that people are throwing in money for. I mean, I could see if this was tied to benefits or even some kind of work related reward, such as winner getting vacation days, but this really just was them announcing it and people putting money in. I think this may be something that you try to just avoid as best you can. Or even just tell people that you don’t want to discuss it. But the problem is that you seem to want to limit what other people are sharing about themselves, not even that they are asking you. That seems problematic. If I want to discuss my new workout regime or new diet I’m trying with co-workers willing to listen, I wouldn’t really want someone who isn’t even part of the conversation telling me what I can and can’t discuss.

    #2 Unless you have ever seen his drinking affect his work, and I mean often, don’t bring it up. I’m a huge social drinker and I was a teacher. I have some good friends who are big social drinkers that are doctors, nurses, and EMTs. But we know when to do it and not do it. It sounds like you disapprove of what he is doing off the clock and feel the need to share that with a potential employer. Thats not cool. I know you think its doing the moral thing because lives are in his care. But nothing you say leads me to believe this is an actual problem for how he performs his job. Its not your place to say.

    #4 I know for certain people, others biting their nails drives them crazy. I have no issue with that. So my advice is to not do it. Unless the noise he is making is distracting, why not just stop looking at him. Find another place to focus. But its his body, so as long as its not truly distracting and its just you not being able to find literally any other place to look, let it go. Its not a good way to endear yourself to someone.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Re #1 I would agree with you but for the fact that the OP had a medical condition that makes the situation much harder for them to deal with. I wouldn’t be involved in and event and it would do me no harm to simple ignore the event and carry on as normal but that is not the case for the OP and I bet they wish they were OK with the event being in the office but they’re not, to me it similar to asking people not to spray deodorant around the office because some one has breathing problems or not bringing in nuts because someone is allergic.

      1. Roscoe*

        I kind of see your point. But where its hard for me is that OP wants to limit what people can do/discuss, but not disclose why. So in your examples, I’m sure most reasonable people don’t have a problem not bringing nuts to work because of a co-workers allergy. But if co-worker doesn’t want to say there is an allergy, and all of a sudden we just get told no nuts, well peopel may have a problem with it. Now, I understand this is a personal thing that OP doesn’t want to share. But if she wants to stop a thing that a lot of people enjoy, maybe she will have to re-think that stance. People again probably wouldn’t have a problem with this being gone if there was an actual reason.

        1. brightstar*

          There is a particular kind of shame and stigmatism in having an eating disorder that I think you aren’t understanding. To disclose an ED is also disclosing a mental illness and sometimes, that affects your job or how you are treated at your place of employment. People often do not understand eating disorders and think they aren’t as serious as they can be. “Just eat everything in moderation!” It’s like telling someone with back problems to just do yoga.

          1. Roscoe*

            I believe that. But my point is that I think OP has to decide if she is willing to disclose it, or just deal with the contest. Its really hard to expect people to stop doing something they enjoy without providing a reason for it.

          2. Anon for this*


            They are also, statistically, the deadliest mental illnesses. Don’t mess around.

            (I do agree, Roscoe, that OP will have to decide whether to say something about it and whether to disclose.)

        2. Apollo Warbucks*

          I see where you’re coming from and I do agree with your point about it being easier if the OP chose to share some more information about the reasoning.

          It’s a very difficult situation where there’s not really a clear answer.

        3. Mreasy*

          I can almost guarantee that there are many, many more people at the company silently struggling with the situation in the same way OP is struggling. Eating disorders are very common. And even more common, are people like those who have commented here, who try to keep this kind of diet & fitness one-upmanship out of their lives, but are unable to do so if it’s being thrust in front of them at the workplace. The issue here is that the workplace is a totally inappropriate setting for this type of challenge. It’s one thing when a group of work friends plan a diet together – it’s another when it’s company-sponsored (with the assumption being an insurance company will be lowering premiums as a result of said “initiative”).

          1. Roscoe*

            The thing is, from the letter its not really clear if its “company sponsored”. Was it a group of friends who decided to do it and just opened it to everyone? Or was it proposed by management and passed on to everyone else. As I mentioned, it seems that the company isn’t really providing any incentive here. I do think that makes a big difference.

    2. Aealias*

      #1 No, no, no, no, no. “You’re trying to take away something everyone else enjoys! Don’t be a killjoy! All the men in the factory LIKE the nudey pictures in the break room!” You can hear that that’s not okay, right? Because, while it may not be company SPONSORED, it’s company sanctioned, and it is making the complainant uncomfortable, and doing her (probably her) measurable if indirect harm. You can understand why the complainant in this situation wants the activity to stop. You can understand why they don’t want to publicly explain WHY they want it to stop. (It’d be awkward and everyone who lost their ‘fun’ activity, possibly including the boss to whom they complained, is likely to hold it against them.) And you recognize that there are probably other people in the factory who ALSO want it to stop; women, religiously conservative, shy or body-conscious workers. It doesn’t matter that some people enjoy it. It’s making an unsafe work environment for others, and needs to stop.

      OP #1 is being subject to measurable harm – their health is being directly impacted. They are uncomfortable explaining publicly why it’s a problem – they have good reason to fear resentment and stigma. They are unlikely to be the only person at the company to be suffering negative effects – there are likely to be other employees with eating disorders, thyroid conditions, medical restrictions, or just hatred of weight-loss talk suffering in silence. It doesn’t matter if some people enjoy it, it’s making an unsafe work environment for others, and needs to stop.

      I like Alison’s script for the boss or manager. Maybe there’s someone in HR with whom the OP could raise the subject in confidence? “I don’t want to be a target for resentment, but I’m really troubled by this program and the way it’s centred in office conversation right now because… Could you maybe bring this up to management without bringing my name into it?”

      1. Jeanne*

        I understand. But it is really hard to ask for an activity to stop without saying why. If OP doesn’t want to state her own illness, she could list all the types of people who would have a problem with the activity and explain how it’s an unfortunate work-sponsored activity. But if I was trying to keep my condition secret, I might suffer in silence.

  17. Camellia*

    My work has had three ‘food’ events in six weeks – a pizza lunch, a potluck lunch, and a dessert lunch, er, event.

    I really wanted to punch people for the flak I took for not attending, the sheer number of people who came up to me afterward to tell me I should have ‘been there’, I should have come even if I didn’t eat anything, etc..

    Voluntary? Just avoid it if you don’t want to participate? Yeah, right.

    1. JessaB*

      Yeh there’s a heckuva lot of peer and management pressure in a lot of these so called “voluntary” things. They never end up seeming voluntary to me.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, I had one great-grandboss who really emphasized it as a “This is what our whole mission in life is Really About” kind of thing. No, our actual job had nothing to do with diet, exercise, healthcare, appearances, or anything else related. It was a philosophical connection she had drawn in her own mind. I never did join in, but I did worry that not joining would make me look like Not Really Invested In This Place, despite it not being a related field.

  18. AnonNurse*

    #4 – ugh, this is a hard one. I completely understand that nail biting is distracting but there’s probably not much you’re going to say that’s going to do anything but embarrass your coworker. I have been a lifelong nail biter who is “on the wagon”, so to speak and actually have longer, more generally acceptable nails. The issue is that it tends to be an anxiety driven habit and I know in the past that when my stress has ramped up, my nail biting will kick in. Even when I don’t bite my nails, I tend to pick and bite at my cuticles. And please trust me, I absolutely know it’s a disgusting habit. When I catch myself putting my hands near my mouth at the hospital, I physically pull my hand away and go wash again.

    If you find it’s really distracting and that you see others reacting badly to your coworker’s nail biting, at that point you could mention the impression it’s giving. I would try to say it as non-judgmental as possible and as simple as possible. Maybe something along the lines of “I’m sure you’re probably already aware of this but I wanted you to know that I have seen clients cringe when you bite your nails in meetings. Do you think holding something in one hand and taking notes in your other hand might help while in meetings?” I think going in a direction of helping to distract and not judging for the nail biting or trying to “cure” the problem will be received much better.

    Again, trying to remember that this is probably not something your coworker wants to do and has probably tried to stop (maybe many, many time) will probably help the message come across better.

  19. Hannah*

    #1: I’m not a fan of workplace “Biggest Loser” competitions either, because I like there to be clear boundaries between the office, where I come to work, and home, where I actually live my life. But some people enjoy it and the company feels it benefits them, so, while I ignore it’s existence, I don’t think it’s fair to expect it would be cancelled. You would change the channel if the show came on, not call NBC and ask them to take it off the air, right?

    #3: A lot of people have masters degrees. And the difference between having a masters degree and being one class away from a masters degree is… one class. You’re going to be very dissatisfied in life if every time someone else has a masters degree or is working towards one, you feel like it devalues your own.

    I don’t know if I’m just in a mood today or what, but I feel like the solution to almost all of these problems is to MYOB.

    1. Misc*

      “You would change the channel if the show came on, not call NBC and ask them to take it off the air, right?”

      Except in this case, the contest is more like being stuck in a waiting room unable to change the channel without going and asking a staff member and giving a reason. In fact, it’s extremely similar – a potentially triggering, generally problematic ‘show’ being broadcast live and loudly to a large captive audience.

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        And also … this is WORK. It’s a place where you come to do business and act professional and all that jazz. Not that work can’t ever have some social/fun elements but it seems like it’s generally a good idea to keep the size of peoples’ waists out of it.

    2. Sue Wilson*

      What is the workplace equivalent of “changing the channel” in an office where everyone is talking about something, jw?

      Anyway, plenty of people do campaign to take things off the air and the FCC moderates what is allowed to be shown on certain channels at certain times, so maybe that wasn’t the analogy you were looking for.

  20. Argh!*

    Am I the only one seeing Otis Spunkmeyer ads?

    We have a walking program at work, which is no help at all to people with bad knees or backs, not to mention people in wheelchairs. It’s great that insurance companies give discounts to companies that do these things but it has unintended consequences. I shouldn’t have to feel that I’m not part of the team because of a bad knee, and I see these friendships develop from this stuff while I’m feeling more isolated.

    1. Downtime Police*

      You are right that friendships end up developing from this stuff. It’s approved work-time socialization. We don’t have a formal program here but my boss has no problem if he is looking for one of us and we were “out for a walk.” If he is looking for one of us and we are sitting outside reading the paper or sitting outside smoking (not me but others) he is pissed. I walk to play pokemongo and have bonded with a couple other coworkers playing and now we walk together. It’s hard to find another approved during the workday social type thing to do. Get coffee with someone maybe? That likely still involves some walking. But if your workplace is like mine, chatting over a cup of coffee w/ a coworker (in the office) is likely frowned upon too.

    2. Jeanne*

      Maybe we should be campaigning for insurance companies to act fairly and not do this garbage. I wouldn’t know where to start though.

  21. Jess*

    #5 – Yes, ask now rather than later! That way, if they don’t have something already in place, it gives them some time to figure something out before your first day. I’d send the email to *both* your new manager and the HR contact, as they will probably need to collaborate on that if there isn’t something already set up.

    1. BetsyTacy*

      Yes! Just ask! It’s likely much less of a deal than you think. Many if not most companies have dealt with this before and seriously- missing a day will be PAINFUL and may lead to blocked ducts/mastitis/general bad stuff.

      I’ve even gone to site visits and just found an admin and said, ‘I have a baby at home and will need a room with a lock for approximately 15 minutes’. I’ve used vacant offices, empty conference rooms, and ‘Health’/lactation rooms and all have worked out well. Don’t apologize, just state factually that you’ll need a brief break. Also, block the times you pump off on your calendar so people understand where you are. Congrats on the new gig!

  22. Allison*

    #1 My company does do wellness programs, but thankfully we’ve done wellness week activities and Fitbit challenges that don’t involve weight, or weight loss. The closest we’ve ever come is our current Fitbit challenge that measures how many calories people burn on average, but we’re also counting steps as usual so people who don’t want to focus on calorie burn don’t feel left out.

    And while all these challenges and activities are voluntary, people who opt out or opt in but don’t “contribute” enough to the team average are definitely the targets of “playful” ribbing. Just because something is voluntary doesn’t necessarily mean someone can opt out without any consequences.

    1. JessaB*

      Which (not to be Debbie Downer but I’m gonna be anyway) is great if you can walk. Steps challenges are not the be all and end all of replacements for weight loss things.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yep. I sat out all my company’s step goal challenges because at that point in time I could barely walk, and I certainly wasn’t about to report for everyone keeping track that I was sometimes barely breaking 1k steps in a day! I was still exercising regularly (yoga and weight training) but steps specifically… hahaha no.

  23. Xay*

    I understand and sympathize with OP #1 and I agree that workplace wellness/dieting programs should be conscious of people with eating disorders and other conditions who cannot participate. That said, from reading the comments I’m not sure where the line is.

    I work in public health, so workplace wellness programs take a different flavor in the organizations I have worked for. The only program that I have participated in that is similar to the one described by the OP was with an informal group of people who did not publicize or talk about the competition beyond giving each other encouragement or coordinating meetups to workout before/after work or on weekends. But there were definitely bigger get up and move campaigns and wellness activities. What kind of activity is considered to be helpful and not an attack? For the record, I am overweight and trying to lose weight for health reasons, but I didn’t participate in every activity and never felt pressured to do so, so perhaps that experience is why I’m not seeing this as negatively as others.

    1. Roscoe*

      I think you hit it on the head. People even have issue with step challenges and things like that. I mean I don’t know where the line is drawn where you can’t do anything. But hard as it is to believe, some people really do like these initiatives. So I don’t know that stopping it for everyone is a good alternative.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I mean, can’t you just do your own health thing at home? Why does this need to happen at work at all? My hobbies don’t happen at work. There’s no work science fiction convention, no work reading challenge, no work Hamilton sing-off…

        1. Allison*

          Man, if only I could dance at work! I mean I sometimes do some subtle footwork at my desk, but that’s about it.

          I do have some mixed feelings about workplaces encouraging wellness. For every challenge or initiative there are going to be people who can’t participate, and others who can but find it intrusive. But there are many, many people who can be more active and who can eat better, and know they should do so, and want to do so, but lack the motivation. Well-run company-wide initiatives often give people that motivation, and I do see my coworkers make better health choices as a result, and they feel better about themselves and feel healthier, so they can do some good as long as no one feels pressured and no one’s given a hard time for opting out.

        2. Roscoe*

          Sure you can do it at home. But some people like the camaraderie of doing things with co-workers. My job has an office sports team. We also have an informal board game club. Some companies have book clubs or yoga. Theoretically any of this can be done at home, but for the people who enjoy it, why get rid of it.

          1. Gandalf the Nude*

            Because it’s alienating and potentially actively harmful to folks with certain psychological disorders, disabilities, or pregnancies?

            Because these programs are often ineffective and counterproductive anyway?

            Because there are plenty of alternative ways to build camaraderie that wouldn’t cause these issues?

            Because the wants of the many should never outweigh the needs of the few?

            Because we’re supposed to show compassion to our fellow human beings and not add to their burden where possible?

            I mean, pick your poison.

            1. Roscoe*

              Well the thing is, that may be true for some people, but its not in every situation. I can show compassion, but at the same time, if its a perk a lot of people really like, then I don’t know. Every is alienating to someone. And I’d argue that they are not all counterproductive. I’m not a board game guy, but for those people who are, and it helps them build relationships, why should I have a problem with it.

              Here is an example. My company has beer Fridays where we have beer (or wine) during the meeting. Now if some new employee decided that it makes them uncomfortable because of their history with addiction or something, I can be sympathetic, but I also don’t know that I think we should eliminate this thing that people really look forward to.

              1. JMegan*

                But what if everyone in the company was attending the meeting, except for the new person? Would you really choose to alienate them, rather than modifying your own (optional) activities?

                1. Roscoe*

                  I’d be willing to modify my behavior to a point. If it was something like drinking out of a plastic cup as opposed to out of the bottle, sure. If you are asking if I’d be in favor of eliminating a company wide perk for one person, I don’t know. I’d look for alternatives accommodations, before just canceling

              2. Gandalf the Nude*

                I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time reading your second sentence as anything other than you can show compassion but still put your fun over someone else’s health, which makes zero sense. Forget the hypothetical everything is alienating to someone. Your actual practical example of beer Friday has you requiring a recovering alcoholic to risk his sobriety by being around alcohol just because everyone else wants to drink at work. That’s not showing compassion as it does nothing to relieve the other person’s suffering and, in fact, actively increases it.

                Our actual OP is being subjected to an atmosphere that compromises her mental and physical health. Your argument here sounds an awful lot like you think that’s less important than her colleagues having fun and that her or your hypothetical new coworker’s well-being is more of an acceptable loss than finding something everyone can appreciate.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think you’re overlooking the fact that this is work, which means that there are loads of priorities above “let people have fun” — like ensuring that some employees aren’t alienated or deeply uncomfortable or even potentially harmed (as with eating disorders), particularly if there’s a really easy fix to that.

                I think you’re looking at this solely from the perspective of “what would I want as an employee in this situation” rather than what makes sense from the perspective of an employer who has to think about the morale and general well-being of an entire group.

        3. Pam Adams*

          <I?There’s no work science fiction convention, no work reading challenge, no work Hamilton sing-off…

          But if there were, wouldn’t it be wonderful!

      2. I'm Not Phyllis*

        I don’t have any issue with step challenges or health challenges or even weight loss challenges as long as they’re done in a thoughtful and healthy way. But I do have a problem with them in a work setting. It’s just not appropriate, in my opinion.

    2. CM*

      Seems like the OP and others have identified some factors that make it worse:
      – Focused on weight, not general wellness
      – Lots of discussion about it in the office
      – Specifically incentivizing weight loss by the pound without regard to individual needs

      And from the above, it seems like things that make it better are:
      – Range of different acceptable wellness activities (meditating, going for a walk, etc.)
      – Letting people set their own goals
      – Focus on general wellbeing, not weight
      – Don’t stigmatize any particular body type, habit, etc.
      – Informal, no pressure to participate

  24. IT_Guy*

    OP #3 – Don’t worry about this, they will get caught on this. I know this for a fact, we had an employee that claimed he had a 2 yr certificate and didn’t. When he couldn’t prove this they walked him out immediately. More and more companies are doing background checks because they are getting easier and cheaper. Just let karma take care of it for you.

  25. Sibley*

    OP1 – This sucks for you. Regardless of what happens at work, make sure you have a support system in place for YOU. Friends, family, a therapist, whatever it is, do everything you can to take care of yourself.

  26. Purest Green*

    #5 – I think (but could be very wrong) that FLSA employers are required to provide both break times and an adequate space for nursing mothers. I would assume this is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask about, even if it weren’t a possible law.

    1. Judy*

      That is true. But many people are exempt from the FLSA. I believe many if not most states also do have regulations, so state law is a place to check too.

    2. BananaPants*

      If OP5 is exempt, then the FLSA amendment does not apply. There may be state laws that apply, though. It’s certainly a reasonable thing to ask for regardless of the law.

  27. LQ*

    #3 If you are in HR and you do screening of any kind you can actually do something about this as a bigger problem. Make sure your company does background checks. That’s the thing that employers should be doing to find out if someone is a good fit for them anyway.

    You should absolutely not take this in any way personally. Her saying she has a degree or not doesn’t change your actual degree. You gained information and skills (hopefully) that are what is actually important. It is those skills you should focus on. No one can take them from you, you can let them atrophy. But focus on the work.

  28. BeezLouise*

    #5 — Definitely ask! It’s not worth the hit to your comfort (or your supply!) to be miserable all day. And giving them a heads up gives them time to prepare a space if one doesn’t already exist, which can only benefit you.

  29. Rory Gilmore's Book*

    Oh OP#1, you have my sympathies. I have had an eating disorder for over 20 years and work for a “wellness” company that rewards people who are thin. I have thyroid issues that makes it hard for me to lose weight and also heavily impacts other metrics that my company considers barometers of one’s health. Its so unfair and aggrivating on so many levels.

  30. Jubilance*

    OP#4 – I’m a semi-reformed nail biter, and your letter seemed extremely aggressive to me about your coworker. You assume he’s annoying other people with his nail biting – are you sure or are you projecting to make your case? You also “assigned” him note taking to make him stop – do you have the authority to assign him tasks, and do you think it should be your job to get him to stop this behavior?

    I get that you may find it annoying or bothersome, but that doesn’t give you the authority to decide that someone else has to change their behavior for you. Every day I’m surrounded by people who do things that I don’t like, from talking loudly on the phone to humming to typing aggressively on their keyboard. I wouldn’t dream of approaching these people and demanding that they stop, because I know minor annoyances are the cost of doing business when you work in an office environment. When it gets really distracting, I put in headphones or work from a different location. In meetings, I doodle or something else to help me take my mind off whatever is annoying me. And honestly, reminding myself that we ALL have little quirks and we ALL get on someone else’s nerves, helps me be more compassionate towards others who do things that I find annoying. Maybe you should try that, instead of trying to force your coworker to change, or tell your boss that he has to change for you. He might be perfectly happy being a nail biter.

    1. AD*

      Agreed. I was floored to see this OP ask if going to her boss to complain about her co-worker’s nail biting was warranted. WHAT? Absolutely not.
      OP #4, mind your own business. You may well have habits yourself that others find annoying – it’s part of being a part of the adult, working world.

    2. Myrin*

      I agree on the kind of aggressive tone of the letter (or maybe “aggressive” is too strong a word, but certainly “extremely annoyed” fits) but as others above have pointed out, when it comes to things like nail biting, it’s not only about being annoyed or about not accepting a tick, it’s about being actively grossed out. For example, I certainly wouldn’t want to shake hands with someone whose “fingers stayed in or near his mouth for at least an hour” because ew. I understand that that’s a psychological thing since anyone person’s fingers I just touched could have been anywhere lately but still, this is such an obvious case. It might also come across as immature and unprofessional – as in “Man, this guy can’t even keep his fingers from his mouth for an hour!”.

      As for the authority thing, OP does mention that although she’s his peer, she is assigned to train him, so I’d guess she did have standing to have have him write stuff down (I could be wrong, of course).

      1. fposte*

        Though I think being grossed out isn’t automatically a measure of the wrongness of an action–witness the huge range of responses here when we discuss anything involving hygiene. Disgust is mostly a cultural habit, not a scientific measure.

        That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter in the workplace, of course, but I don’t think it automatically raises a concern higher than being annoyed.

    3. don't touch yourself in public*

      Except that this guy is touching things all over the office with his slobbery finger tips.

      1. Mr. Mike*

        Your phone screen likely has fecal matter on it. That dollar bill in your wallet has so much bacteria on it that you would shudder if you knew it all. And those coins. Every time you flush a toilet with the lid up, it sends a cloud of bacteria and particulate laden vapor up to four feet into the air… i.e. right into your face. When you wash your hands, unless you are turning off the faucets with your elbows, you are picking up the same crud that you put on it… along with the many other people ahead of you. All of us are being exposed regularly to gobs and gobs of cringe worthy bacteria, viruses, and particulates on a moment to moment basis every day of our lives. The only difference is that you don’t have the visual cue of someone chewing a nail which enacts some form of value laden admonishment you likely grew up with deep in your psyche.

        Being a germophobe suddenly doesn’t sound so ‘out-there’….

  31. OlympiasEpiriot*

    We had a ‘wellness program’ for a couple of years. You could get points for sitting and watching a half-hour video of some advice on how to get healthier! Weell, Hell YEAH! I wanna watch a motivational vid about getting off my butt and walking!!

    Made no sense.

    I think it would be very useful, however, if we had in-house massage. I’d stop complaining about several things here if someone stopped by my cubicle for 20 minutes to half an hour every day and expertly kneaded my shoulders.

  32. Lora*

    OP1: sadly, I think it will take a class action lawsuit to get these “wellness” things shut down, probably when someone dies of a company/insurance-sponsored “wellness” activity.

    For the record, I am at exactly the middle of the “healthy” weight range for my height, I do 90-120 minutes of exercise daily (ride my bike an hour daily, dance, yoga, weight lifting and swimming throughout the week), I actually LIKE vegetables and yogurt more than burgers and fries…and I have multiple genetic diseases that require daily medication and monitoring and will probably lead to an early death regardless of how great my cholesterol is. Plus, all that exercise means I get a lot of sports-related injuries that require frequent X-rays and visits to orthopedic specialists. My insurance rates will never be low, ever.

    I’ve also done a lot of drug discovery work on CVMED – and the typical weight loss diets really do not work long term. It turns out that human hormones and gut bacteria and immune system interactions are *super complicated*. As just about every actual metabolic disease physician knows nowadays, and would be happy to tell anyone who asked, if they bothered to ask these things before starting such programs. I know, I know…why would anyone consult an actual physician who specializes in adult metabolic disease risk reduction prior to printing the tee shirts…crazy, right?!?

    1. Lora*

      Thinking of things which would be better health incentives than weight loss:

      -Food trucks serving healthy food for lunch instead of the usual cafeteria starch/salt/grease/cheezfood product
      -Flexible scheduling so people can take exercise classes in the middle of the day
      -More paid sick days to ensure that people can stay home and take care of themselves when they are ill, instead of working until they are ready to drop dead and then going to the doctor
      -Not requiring doctor’s notes to have time off for illness, because those extra visits to be authorized to stay home with the flu cost money, when a grown adult is able to judge for themselves if they need to wrap up in a quilt on the couch and sip tea all day instead of sneezing on their colleagues
      -Letting people work from home when they are sick so they don’t bring their germs to work and infecting everyone else
      -Set up a weekly farmer’s market in the office park during lunchtime to provide more fruits and veggies
      -Healthy snacks available instead of vending machine candy/chips.
      -Free flu shot clinics at work. Every workplace I’ve had since 2003 has offered these, and it does make a difference.
      -If the company is considering a relocation or new location, look for a site that offers nearby biking/running trails, is close to public transit. People who take public transit typically have to walk a few blocks to get to the stations/stops and are statistically healthier. Offer subsidies for public transit passes. I’m in a city metro area where lots of great candidates live in the city and don’t have cars at all, yet it doesn’t seem to dawn on many employers that they are missing out on a large candidate pool if they are far from a public transit station, in addition to the health benefits.
      -On site AED with trained first responder employees. It’s required in some states if you are greater than some magical distance from a fire station, but I’ve seen it save lives.
      -On site occupational health nurse to treat workplace injuries promptly, including the back injuries and sprains and things that tend to happen on the job but not get reported or treated until they are very bad.

      1. Kelly L.*

        So much of #3-5, which I think are closely related. SO MUCH THIS.

        I also really appreciate flu shot clinics at work. Love.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        My company does some of these, but they do bring food trucks in (they have to contact us if they want to come and agree to donate some profits to that month’s charity). Only a couple of them are healthy-ish food. There just aren’t many around here that do make anything healthy. And our vending machines are full of junk.

        But we are close to a gym, they do encourage people to walk (and folks often take breaks to do that), have AEDs, have free flu shots, and if you have a fever, you keep your butt at home! I really really appreciate the free shots.

        But when we have our screenings, we have the option to do it at the work event or go to our doctor’s office. I do it at work because it’s so hard to get an appointment but refuse to let them weigh me.

  33. FD*

    #1. Oof. This is just….poorly thought out.

    It’s not controversial that many people have more weight than is healthy. I can understand why a business thinks “Okay, let’s do something about this problem…weight loss challenge!” It seems like a logical problem:solution pair.

    The problem is that weight loss is complicated, as others have commented, and even ignoring the problem of eating disorders, trying to loose weight as fast as possible isn’t healthy or productive either. To do it properly, you’d need to have everyone under the care of a physician, which isn’t the case here.

    But in addition to that, this kind of behavior is a major contributor to causing and worsening eating disorders, because it creates an expectation that everyone must loose weight, and if you don’t, something is wrong with you.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Yes, exactly! I had an eating disorder as a teenager and even though I consider myself recovered now this kind of thing could trigger some really crappy thoughts and insecurities.
      Not only that, but concern over whether someone need to lose weight (and how) is between that person and their doctor. As it should be.

  34. TL17*

    #1 I work in a small business that is hyper-competitive, but in a painfully passive-aggressive way. We’ve never done a sanctioned wellness challenge like this, but if we did it would rise to a whole new level of awful, but silently. Hoping nobody gets this idea.

  35. animaniactoo*

    Oof. #4, I would not under any circumstances say “I don’t know if you realize, but…” in this situation. I can pretty much guarantee you that they know they bite their nails and have tried and tried and tried to stop and not succeeded. Honestly, it is most likely to come across like telling an overweight person that they’re overweight with all the resultant responses of shame, frustration, and Captain Obvious internal sarcasm that tends to lead to.

    However, because it’s a habit vs a longstanding physical feature that can’t be changed for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, I think a better bet is to stop and ask about it. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been biting your nails a lot in meetings. Is that something that’s likely to die down as you get more settled in here with us?” and then depending on the answer, ask if there’s anything you (the company) can do to help it happen faster (if the answer is yes), or if the answer is no, ask if there’s anything the company can do to help them work on it.

    Do they want a discreet signal as a reminder to stop while in the meeting? Everybody to ignore it while they settle down? What?

    1. ArtsNerd*

      YES to asking the coworker if you can help them keep it in check in a nonjudgmental way. I don’t bite my nails anymore, but I do have a body-focused repetitive disorder that I’m sure my coworkers are squicked out by. (I pull my own hair out! Until I’ve got little bald spots! It’s awesome. ) Thank goodness none of them have confronted me about it. I react VERY negatively when people tell me to “just stop it” since it’s OCD-related as well as anxiety-linked.

      But if someone would ever ask me if I was interested in a (compassionate) code-word system to draw my attention to the behavior when I don’t realize what I’m doing, I would be embarrassed but not angry. And I would SO take them up on it.

  36. Mena*

    2: “He recently emailed to let me know I had been listed on his references … ”
    He didn’t ask you, he informed you? And he’s already gone and listed you so now you cannot decline?

    3: “I feel like I’m the only person I know who hasn’t embellished or outright lied on their resume to get better jobs.:
    No, you’re not (I haven’t!). But yes, I’ve seen it too.

  37. newlyhr*

    encouraging fitness seems to be a good option for businesses. Providing time for walking at work or doing other kinds of activity is something my employer does and I like it. I suspect that health population studies will show that people who exercise, regardless of their weight, are healthier than people who don’t.

    It’s a truth that many of our our modern health issues (and how we spend our health care dollars) are directly related to the sedentary lifestyle and obesity epidemic we have in this country. Those two factors (and smoking) have probably had the most impact on the quality of the health status of Americans in the past 75 years–more than medical advances or new drugs. It’s why employers are trying to provide incentives to lose weight and be more active. And let’s face it, most people get much more excited about losing weight than they do about walking a mile. that’s why the weight loss measure is so popular. But I don’t think it should be the official emphasis of a wellness program.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I’m pretty sure there’s another factor, a positive one, that’s had more of an effect on our health in the past 75 years, but it’s a whole other political battle.

    2. Always Anon*

      I think if employers are truly interested in the wellness of their employees, that there are so many other things that they can do to for their employees than having a dieting competition.

      Providing discounted gym memberships, on-site gyms, and/or shower facilities. Yes, most people can get exercise outside, but I know I don’t want to go running at lunch time to come back stinking and drowned in sweat when there is no ability to shower. And many organizations buy the cheapest food when they cater an event for their staff, so they are providing donuts, pizza, etc. There are things that organizations can do to support their employees having a healthier lifestyle, but diet competitions and signing up for a wellness program through your health insurer is cheap. The other things that provide real support for employees are less cheap.

    3. CheeryO*

      Yeah, this is my thinking too. I would love to work somewhere that promotes health and fitness, but you do that by putting your money where your mouth – by subsidizing gym memberships or giving employees enough flexibility that they can take an hour to go use the company gym or take a yoga class or whatever. How many people would really be motivated to lose weight by a contest? How likely would they be to lose weight safely? How many people would you be alienating or triggering (not just those with medical conditions or past issues with EDs, but also people who are at a “normal” weight but still need/want to exercise for their health)? It seems so poorly thought-out, yet it’s so common.

      1. newlyhr*

        we do have subsidized gym memberships and healthy eating options when we have catered lunch events. I agree, that does a lot to help. And we offer tobacco cessation programs too. And mediation and mindfulness. And we have showers and lockers. We have seen a lot of health status improvements. We do offer weight watchers on site, but it isn’t emphasized. We have a nutritionist too.

  38. vanBOOM*

    RE: OP#1, I was on our org’s official wellness committee last year and tried to shut down a wellness initiative HR was pushing for the very reasons OP #1 described (I mean, come on: The word “thin” was a salient part of the title of the program, and it was *constantly* repeated and emphasized throughout the program description instead of words like “health”!).

    Sadly, the vibe I got from our meetings was that HR had already decided to go ahead with the initiative, but needed to assemble a wellness committee to artificially make it seem like it was a *committee-driven* decision, not HR’s. Ugh.

  39. HRish Dude*

    #3 – It could literally have been that she had completed her class work and not finished her thesis. A thesis generally counts as a class. You haven’t seen this person in two years. How do you know she has not completed this one class/thesis?

  40. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Reading this thread, all these personal stories about health issues and how they affect the body, I just want to say I’m sending out Jedi Mind Hugs to everyone who is coming through their life, day by day, taking care of themselves in the best way they know how.

    Rock on.

  41. Mae*

    1 enrages me beyond belief. How highly inappropriate. Like, on all levels. I would consider leaving as there’s got to be little integrity and compassion in a place like this.

    1. alexalapitica*

      Uh, how? People are allowed to congregate on common interests and obesity is a common public health issue. No one has asked OP to participate or even spoken to her about the contest. She does not have the right to stop conversations that she is not a part of. Her mental health issues are not her coworkers’ problem in any way, shape, or form, and while I do feel badly for her, her time would be better spent in extra therapy and her money would be better spent on headphones to wear at work, than by complaining that people are doing things she doesn’t like without her.

      And lacking in integrity and compassion? Please. No one has asked OP to participate, commented on her body or what she eats, or in any way made her feel uncomfortable than by having conversations that she doesn’t like within earshot. She needs to deal with it.

  42. AnitaJ*

    OP #1, I feel you. I am you! I’ve been in recovery for many years and I’m still triggered when people talk about weight, calories, diets, being “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods, or frankly, even eating in front of people. It’s a challenge every day to work in an office where these topics are seen as part of normal conversation, and it’s not as simple as just saying “Hey, that makes me uncomfortable, can we cut it out?”. I wish it were, but it’s just not that simple for a number of reasons. While I’ve gotten confident enough to be able to just absent myself when those conversations take place, that’s not always possible, and that takes a toll. My employer did something similar, and I had a brief conversation with my supervisor and told her I would not be participating and she was very supportive. However, my employer also made it a very small portion of a comprehensive ‘wellness’ program: they did chair yoga in the conference rooms, guided seated meditation, held a lunchtime walking club, had ‘Fresh Fruit Fridays’: all things that I deeply appreciated that had nothing to do with weight.

    OK, that wasn’t very helpful, but all of this babbling is meant to say: I feel you and I support you and you are strong and you can definitely work through this while staying committed to your recovery. I believe in you! (Says the internet stranger)

  43. Elle*

    #1, I don’t think companies should have fitness competitions period, but if they insist on it they definitely shouldn’t be focused on weight loss. When I started competing in jiu jitsu I had to put on weight to compete in a real weight class. Since I started competing I’ve gained 10lbs and I’ve never been healthier. And this doesn’t just apply to athletes. Healthy does not always equal weight loss. You should definitely say something to your HR. If you can’t get them to end the program you could suggest some alternatives. They could offer fitness incentives in the form of gym memberships or personal trainers. Or have a program that focusing on lowering cholesterol or increasing the amount of push ups you can do. There are far FAR better ways to track health than simply by weight loss.

    1. Mel*

      gyms incentives don’t work real well with the folks who need it the most. The only people who use them for any sustained period are the ones who don’t need the incentive to do so. A lot of companies find that many people say they want to get healthier, but many wont put in the work to achieve their own personal goals without a lot of nudging.

  44. Venus Supreme*

    #4 – I’d say something. I think nail-biting is pretty gross. I used to share a workspace with a nail biter. We were situated where we would face each other with computers blocking our view. I would find bitten-off nails on my desk. I ended up having ill-thoughts/feelings about him because it grossed me out and I didn’t say anything. Say something before it snowballs into something bigger!

  45. Not Karen*

    #1: What if you’re already at a healthy weight to start…? The company still wants you to lose weight?

  46. Rachael*

    I’ve never had an employer who had a weight loss competition, but I have had several who do the “activity challenge”. At each company I have worked there have been marathon/competitive runners who are allowed to join with the “normies” and blow everyone out of the water.

    This caused most of us to lose our competitive side and stop tracking anything because it didn’t matter. There wasn’t even the whole “I challenge myself to try and catch up to the top people” because they were so far ahead that it wasn’t physically possible (people logging 20 miles a day several days a week).

    Companies should focus on improvement from a benchmark and give prizes accordingly so someone with a medical condition can compete fairly with someone without and the ones without can compete fairly against the super athletes.

  47. Ask a Manager* Post author

    So there’s been lots of comments on workplace weight loss competitions and wellness programs in general, but less advice for the OP about what she should do in her situation. Anyone want to tackle that, since that’s going to be more helpful to her?

    1. animaniactoo*

      #1 – Heavily invest in self-care for the duration of the “contest”. Extra sessions with therapist, purposely booked time to relax and read book/veg out on tv/hang out with friends who are not going to be focused on weight, etc.

      #2 – I thought you had covered this well with talking to HR about the mental aspect and that people with eating disorders are often not going to be public about them so this could be harmful from that standpoint. But OP can also do some Googling (if I have time later I’ll see if I can post some links of stuff I’ve seen before) about how The Biggest Loser contestants are having issues now years after the show that involve things like permanently slowed/damaged metabolisms, etc. How this type of focus on weight loss vs healthy actions mind/body can actually be more damaging than doing nothing at all just for someone who doesn’t have a a food issue but is 30 lbs or so overweight, etc. and take that info to HR/their co-workers and talk about wanting people to do things that are more likely to help them longterm, etc.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Okay, it turns out that this was *super* useful for me to go back and look at today. Because I had seen some of this, but hadn’t looked at it as in depth as it is here, and now I think I have a better understanding of the wall that I hit last year when I was successfully losing weight for awhile (doing the slow, long path, averaging about 2 lbs a week), almost all of which I’ve now put back on after I more or less got frustrated and gave up. Lately I’ve been even more frustrated by that, and this gives me a great way to relook at my own approach to all of this:

  48. cheeky*

    I’m glad to read the advice about the nail biter. I have a coworker (whom I outrank and oversee). She has ADHD and anxiety, and one of her tics is to pick at her skin until she bleeds and to eat her scabs (I know). She does it in meetings, at my desk, etc. I think it’s nearly unconscious for her. I did take to giving her a verbal or pantomime cue to get her to stop, because I just can’t have her picking and eating her scabs in my work area.

    1. Nina*

      I had a friend who did that with her scabs. It was unpleasant to see, but she had MAJOR anxiety issues and would practically get the shakes when she couldn’t pick at them. It really is a compulsion for many.

  49. De Minimis*

    #1 is tough for me, because I had major positive changes in my health after participating in one of those events a few years ago [and the habits I began there have stuck, and many other coworkers had similar results], so I am a big believer in them. Ours focused more on increasing overall exercise/activity, weight loss was just one category of the competition. But I can appreciate how they can be triggering for some people. At the same time, I don’t know if it’s fair to the other employees who are enjoying the activity.

    I agree with the advice of animaniactoo. Focus on self-care while it’s going on, and maybe speak to HR about how things can be improved, maybe the more difficult aspects of it can be changed [I don’t like the dollar/lbs thing, ours did not work that way.]

  50. Ponygirl*

    OP#4 – Maybe you could purchase a Tangle Toy for him. I fidget horribly and the Tangle Toy has been a lifesaver. I believe it was only around $8 on Amazon. I would check it out, as it is meant to keep your hands busy and maybe that would keep his hands out of his mouth.

  51. WorkingFromCafeInCA*

    OP#4 – Lifelong nail biter/cuticle-picker/war-zone fingers here.

    Two things that have sometimes helped me be aware of it in the moment (most times I am oblivious):
    1- Seeing a coworker look at my fingers in my mouth. I’d see their line of sight change from my eyes to my mouth, and that sometimes is enough to realize it and sit on my hand for a minute. (Note, doesn’t always last long). Pro: Silent nudge to stop, so it doesn’t interrupt the meeting but still addresses the issue in the moment. Con: Might go unnoticed. Tip: Only do this glance if you can do it in a neutral or positive face- *not* if it’s going to look like an evil or disgusted stare.

    2- Having a close coworker/friend tap my arm if I’m having a serious nail biting session and not picking up on the glance cues. This only worked with those coworkers that I worked really close with and where we were friends with each other and had mutual professional respect. That was key – her doing that to me was her way of helping me stop this thing that I know is bad but can’t stop- it in no way changed how she respected me professionally, and therefore I appreciated it. Also, super subtle and silent! She wouldn’t say anything- just keep the meeting rolling along, so no one else even has to notice. Think of how if a fly was flying around your coworkers arm and you’d wave your hand subtly nearby to get it to go away. That level of non-disruptive.

    (And 3. You mentioned upthread that you pick at your hangnails– if you decide to mention something – start with that so that you show your empathy. Say maybe that you noticed clients looking at *you* when doing it, so you found X, Y, Z helpful. Then maybe suggest the code/silent cue thing, if they think they’d like to try it. You might find they say, OMG yes please I want to know when I’m doing it so I can stop. Again, add reassurance that you totally understand and get the compulsion. Nothing much more than that needed- he definitely knows it looks bad already, so no need to expand on that).

    Best of luck- let us know how it goes.

  52. alexalapitica*

    Ugh. While I don’t like the idea of weight loss competitions, the comments on this thread are just ridiculous. No one forces people to do these competitions and OP has even explicitly stated that no one has even directly spoken to her about it – she just happens to hear people’s conversations. While I do feel sad that she has a mental illness that makes this type of talk difficult for her to hear, weight loss is a pretty common place topic among many people, so it’s on her to develop coping mechanisms to deal with it, not force people to stop. There are about a thousand things in the workplace that could trigger an eating disorder and she cannot stop them all.

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