Workplace Wellness

This is Why Weight Loss Challenges at Work are NOT Good

Written by Kateri

Wellness challenges are a great way to encourage healthy lifestyle habits, but not all challenges ideas will work. More specifically, weight loss challenges should not be included in your wellness program.

Wellness is a very broad term and does not only relate to losing weight through diets and exercise. In fact, wellness has 8 different dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, environment, financial and occupational wellness. Focusing on all 8 dimensions in the workplace can create opportunities that motivate people to engage in healthy behaviors, which is the ultimate goal of any wellness program.

Keep reading to learn more about weight loss challenges and why they shouldn’t be included in your next wellness challenge. Click on the sections below to jump right to your specific question.

What is a Weight Loss Challenge at Work?

A weight loss challenge at work can look different for everyone. They usually have a set time frame, weekly check-ins on the scale and have an overall “winner.” The main goal of weight loss challenges is to encourage people to eat healthier and exercise more. In most cases, the winner is based on overall percentage of weight loss, not on the amount of pounds lost. Resources, like healthy meals, portion control tips, healthy snacks, different forms of exercise, etc. are normally provided during the challenge as well. Some employers assume that weight loss challenges allow people to set personal goals and change their daily habits to make a difference in their own lives. However, this type of competition can lead to workers doing anything they can to lose those extra pounds before they weigh in and develop bad behavioral habits.

As an employer, a weight loss challenge may seem harmless, however, there are plenty of other ways to motivate employees to make better lifestyle choices and improve their health.

Quick History of Dieting/Weight Loss

In the 1900s, the idea of dieting to lose weight emerged. It started with a businessman creating his own “chewing diet,” or chewing his food until it became liquid to stop himself from overeating. Since then, dieting fads to lose some extra pounds and extreme weight loss tactics have become a very prominent part of today’s world. Instead of focusing on behavioral changes, the idea of dieting has escalated to counting every calorie, restricting certain foods or food groups, and vigorous exercise.

The biggest problem with the word “diet” or “dieting” is the negative impact it can have on someone’s mental health. Bringing it to the workplace might add to employees stress levels. Instead of running monthly weight loss challenges, look into other programs that aid in healthy eating and exercise but also incorporate other areas of life. Keep reading to learn more about how you can prioritize employee health without running a weight loss competition!

Why are Weight Loss Challenges Bad?

Weight loss challenges focus on people losing weight, obviously, but this isn’t always a good approach for the office. Offering an incentive for employees to lose weight leads people to developing unsustainable habits to achieve a certain weight and compete with coworkers. Encouraging weight loss can lead to participants damaging the relationship with their bodies, food, exercise and their overall mental health. They foster an hostile environment that supports weight bias and stigma and, in the end, do more harm than good.

Weight loss challenges can also lower morale in the office and discourage people from participating in the company’s wellness program. In an article by Forbes, called 4 Reasons Weight-Loss Challenges Don’t Belong At Work, weight loss challenges negatively affect people, no matter where they are on the scale. According to this article, they normalize discrimination against weight and size, create more stress than team-building, can be triggering for people with disordered eating habits and lastly, have a negative effect on women in the workplace. They encourage participants to make a drastic change to their lives in a short period which leads to people developing unsustainable actions. For example, constantly tracking their food, only eating low calorie, low carb, low fat foods and exercising vigorously.

Now more than ever, the stigma surrounding someone’s weight or size has drastically affected people’s mental health and how they view their bodies. No employer should put their employees in a position that pressures them to lose weight or look a certain way. It’s possible that a weight loss competition will ultimately damage the emotional and physical health of a participant. Workplace wellness programs should be desirable for employees.

Alternatives to Weight Loss Challenges at Work

There are a number of different ways employers can encourage healthy behavioral changes without running a weight loss challenge. In fact, these alternatives will have more engagement, higher morale and overall increased happiness. Here is a list of 9 ideas that can be incorporated in any wellness program:

  • A complete health and fitness challenge that focuses on healthy eating and exercise
  • Challenge focused on hydration and nutrition
  • Simple step challenges that motivate employees to take more steps each day
  • Reward employees every time they complete a healthy activity like going to the gym, walking X amount of miles or steps a day (walking challenge), drinking 8 or more cups of water a day, etc.
  • Create a team-based fitness competition that brings coworkers together
  • Set up a company wide challenge with one common goal to build camaraderie
  • Provide a vending machine with healthy snacks
  • Encourage people to take walking meetings when they can
  • Hang up wellness flyers around the office that promote the importance of healthy eating, staying active, focusing on mental health, and more

The more opportunities offered to employees, the more excited they will be about engaging in a wellness program. It’s important to educate employees on the benefits of physical activity, healthy eating habits, sleep, hydration, sticking to a routine and taking care of their mental health. As an employer, keep in mind that wellness is not one-size fits all and it looks different for everyone. 

How a Focus on Wellness Will Be A Better Fit

So, what exactly is wellness? Wellness is the practice of elevating one’s personal health and well-being, through a series of daily choices and activities. However, this practice isn’t defined by one thing. As mentioned earlier, there are 8 dimensions of wellness! These dimensions are all interconnected, meaning what happens in one area may improve or impact another area. The dimensions are physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, environment, financial and occupational. For a better understanding of the 8 dimensions of wellness, you can read our blog post called What Does Wellness Mean?’.

Whether you are upper level management or a new employee, everyone benefits from a workplace that focuses on wellness. When a workplace fosters a culture that supports employees well-being, an individual is more productive and happier at work. A healthy environment helps motivate healthy employees. Healthy employees communicate better and increase morale in the office. Providing resources to employees that focus on all 8 dimensions of wellness creates a program that everyone can engage in and makes all employees feel supported.

More Reading

Check out this article to see how you can implement a Wellness Challenge at your workplace.

Interested in what wellness benefits look like? Check out the “Definitive Corporate Wellness Landscape” for a high-level view of all of the options on the market right now! (Pro tip: look for the comparison table to which products are most common with companies your size.)

Want to learn more about corporate wellness? Take our three-part Wellness Foundations Webinar Series for HR managers. It’s a kickstart for anyone who wants (or needs) to dive head first into the industry. 

Interested in speaking with a benefits expert for more one-on-one support? Schedule an introductory call with IncentFit. We’ll learn a bit more about your company’s unique needs and point you in the right direction.