Your Pushy Coworkers Might Be Making You Fat

We've all had those coworkers who bring cookies and candy or their "famous" chili or cheesy dip or whatever into the office and try to force feed it to us, regardless of whether we are hungry or like chili or are lactose intolerant. And then there are those people who constantly feel it's their business to remark on whatever you're eating for lunch that day: "You eat raisins? Don't you know that gives you yeast infections?" "Are you really only eating a salad for lunch? You're going to starve to death!" Well, it turns out they're not just annoying, they can also make dieting more difficult for those of us who are trying to lose or maintain our weight.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a recent survey by Medi-Weightloss Clinics, "a franchiser of physician-supervised weight-loss clinics," found that, of the 325 dieters they surveyed, 29 percent of people felt their colleagues pressured them into eating more, made fun of their diets, or, this is truly pushy, ordered them food at restaurants that they knew wasn't part of their diet.

Anyone who's ever worked in an office is familiar with this dynamic: coworkers like to make themselves the boss of you, whether or not they're actually your boss. And their little snips and jabs do have an effect. A study that was published last month in Obesity found that peers' attitudes and behaviors are connected to success in losing weight. So when it comes to your coworkers, with whom you spend an awful lot of time, receiving encouragement from them really does help in dieting, and if they discourage you, it can cause you to fall down on the job of losing weight.

Shawna Biggars, a human resources director in Wichita, Kansas, talked to that WSJ about her very obnoxious-sounding coworkers. One of them, she says, would bring around "dense, creamy slices of homemade carrot cake" and push them on her like a dealer pushes drugs. She says he wanted "affirmation that he was a great cook," and even when she politely said no, he'd come back with things like, "You can't not have cake for the rest of your life." It is true that a life lived entirely without cake would be hellish, but that's no reason to insist that people eat it when they don't want it. Finally, after he wouldn't let up, Biggars sat him down and said, 'If I were an alcoholic, you wouldn't say, 'Just take one drink.'" Good point. Unfortunately for Ms. Biggars, she also helps organize the annual "chili and dessert cook-off" competition at her company. (Wait, what? I am beginning to think a lot of us are working for the wrong company…) She says people ask her over and over why she isn't eating, and she terms it "a dieter's nightmare." That kind of scenario makes turning down a single brownie from a well-meaning colleague seem like a total cinch.

Of course, it's not just pestering people to eat—eat! Sometimes people make fun of a colleague's dietary restrictions or even the whole goal of losing weight in the first place. So why are our supposedly friendly office pals making our lives so difficult? Well, explains Chelsey Millstone, corporate dietitian for Medi-Weightloss Clinics, it probably has more to do with them than it does with us. Of course, the same was true of playground bullies and mean girls, so why should it be any different now that we're "grown up"? Millstone says our co-workers might feel like we've abandoned them by dieting because we don't want in on big lunches or happy hours. Or they might be jealous because they're not working on losing weight, or they might be threatened by our newly svelte figures. Whatever it is, they're classic underminers, and the best way to deal with it is to address their nastiness directly.

Well, that's not going to be uncomfortable at all. Becky Hand, a registered dietitian with the weight-loss site SparkPeople, says you have to be especially careful about offending your colleagues who might be using food to show appreciation or bring people together. She says she tells weight-loss patients to script a reply to food pushers and practice it in the mirror. It goes a little something like this, "I've had your food in the past and it's always delicious. But I'm sorry, at this time in my life, eating those extra whatever isn't benefiting my health." Of course, if you say it like that, you're probably going to get made fun of for entirely different reasons, but the basic gist makes sense. Be kind, but still tell them to back the eff off.

Obviously it's fine to stick up for yourself and set your boundaries, but no matter how much you're enjoying your diet, it's probably not a good idea to try to convert your coworkers over to the lighter side. For instance, Sarah Onstott, of Arvada, Colorado, says she and three of her coworkers organized a diet-friendly "fruit-and-yogurt breakfast potluck" and published "a health newsletter, including recipes and a critique of fad diets," which they passed out to their colleagues. The potluck was a success, but you will not be surprised to learn that "people kind of grumbled" about the newsletter. Yes, it does seem highly unlikely that anyone would be too keen on taking unsolicited diet tips from Josh the vegan in the accounting department and Sharon the carb-hater from marketing.

Colleagues Who Can Make You Fat [Wall Street Journal]

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