Hedging my bets...

Those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning know firsthand of what happened when I returned to work after a six week leave for severe depression and anorexia and stumbled upon a workplace weight loss contest. For several months (until I quit in protest), I lived with calories, fat grams and sugar grams labeled on the coffee creamers, having the bowl of chocolates I kept on my desk forcibly removed (by vote no less! And might I add that I did not get to vote in this Survivor-esque "election"), and as much food/weight chatter going on outside my head as there was inside. Charts of pounds lost hung in the break room, but I did succeed in having those removed. I also removed the label on the coffee creamer, but the damn thing kept reappearing. And I kept removing it.

Keep in mind, I worked at a health department, who really should know that rapid weight loss is the least likely to be maintained. And these contests are only becoming more popular, not the least thanks to the popular show "The Biggest Loser."

But nowhere in the NY Times coverage was any dangers of losing too much weight, even when one of the men interviewed said that he went a little overboard. The article said this:

“I wanted to win, and I blew everyone away,” said Christopher Fallon, 36, a medical sales representative from West Orange, N.J. Mr. Fallon participated in a three-month diet bet with nine other colleagues, everyone contributing $100 to a winner-take-all pool. At a sales meeting a few weeks before the end of the bet, Mr. Fallon’s fellow bettors realized that he was way ahead.

“When I saw Chris at the gym at 6 a.m. looking skeletal, I knew it was over for me,” said one colleague, Carolyn Kramaritsch.

Mr. Fallon admitted that he enjoyed vanquishing his peers even more than losing the pounds. “I didn’t even need to lose much weight,” he said, “but when I saw everyone else, I thought, ‘I just won $900!’ ”

And that won't even pay for one day of inpatient or residential treatment for an eating disorder, so Mr. Fallon was lucky, indeed.

Why won't anyone say how dangerous this is? No one appeared remotely concerned that this man lost too much weight, just that they might lose their bet. Raise your hand if this makes you proud of humanity... I can't tell you how many stories I've heard from men and women with eating disorders whose illness was triggered by a pact to lose weight or eat healthier. Yet dieting and exercise are treated as if they are fail safe and no ill can possibly come from a group of people trying to see who can lose the most weight. People on pro-anorexia sites do this, and people judge these "silly girls" who are no different from anyone else. It's not healthy, period.

“It makes life easier if everyone around you is cutting calories, and the amicable competition keeps people driven. You are less likely to eat bad things from the candy jar,” says nutritionist Joy Bauer.

Yeah, except if you're the person who realizes that dieting is a) futile, b) stupid, and c) not likely to increase your health in the long run and then you realize you are completely shut out of this. To me, that was the worst part of the workplace diet bonanza: I had nothing to discuss with my co-workers. All they would talk about was food, weight, and exercise, and I couldn't or wouldn't participate. I was totally isolated and desperately lonely in a time when I really needed the support.

Nor does this "diet betting" address the really sticky issue of weight loss: how to keep it off. Figuring out how to lose weight has proven much easier than figuring out how to keep it off. A lot of it is, I'm guessing, the body defending its set point weight. But even if it weren't the case, a crash diet is unlikely to involve real and lasting weight loss and even less likely to make you healthier.

You just never read about that.


Kim said...

This is one of my biggest annoyances -- seeing all the TV shows and hearing all the workplace chatter about losing weight. NOBODY talks about how deprivation to the body is unhealthy. Nobody talks about how cutting calories is bad for you. It's all about getting skinny. I hate it. The only positive for it for me is that it makes me feel like kind of a rebel. I think getting too skinny with my anorexia was a rebellion too (like, "Hey, you think thin is in? Check this out!"; but this feels like a more fulfilling rebellion. While all these other people cling to this idea that dieting works, I know better and I get to put that knowledge to work. Still, it's hard to just shut out the messages. I think this is why I watch DVDs on Netflix (no TV for me) and why I listen to my iPod every day at work.

mary said...

It's great you got yourself out of that kooky place! And not a moment too soon. I know that having had or coping with an ED will make any food talk louder...but this group took it to a new level. Perhaps it was a cosmic intervention on your behalf to get you out of working at a place that was all wrong for you. I hope you are liking your new job....despite the poor heating system and early mornings.

MelissaS said...

you described my worst nightmare. i would have to quit. that sounds illegal, what with all the removing YOUR food. and dangerous.

i watched the biggest loser once, and it really disturbed me. the female trainer, jillian, had a rope around a contestants waist. jillian kept pulling the rope and screaming at the woman to run, run, run. i thought she was treating the woman like an animal. and she kept picking on this particular woman and making her cry.

i thought about it for a long time and haven't watched the show since.

marcella said...

This lot are an MHS TRUST and they are also encouraging such unhealthy behaviour despite what they say about caveats and health checks - despicable. e http://www.easternandcoastalkent.nhs.uk/EasySiteWeb/GatewayLink.aspx?alId=48577.

Libby said...

My problem is that the section of my brain that is still ED inhabited gets awfully jealous. Yes, jealous. I bring my big ol' tote bag with cereal, soy milk, soup, sandwich, nuts, fruit, chocolate, etc, etc in to work, and I see a coworker bringing in her teeny little lunch tote with a single Nutri-system micro-meal. Ed says, "That should be YOU! Look at how happy she is with her cute little lunch. Tiny is virtuous! Tiny is good! That could be YOU!"

Thankfully, the rational part of my thinking typically wins, and I'm able to stay strong. I eat my chocolate right alongside my orange and my and sandwich. But Ed sure would like to ditch my carefully packed food for a teensy little lunch bag.

The lack of things to talk about sure is an issue, too. You'd think that an office full of intelligent people would be able to come up with something other than their waist size... Perhaps we should all make little table tents for the break room with "safe" conversation starters. "So, Gertrude... Tell me about the last movie you watched! So, Franklin... How do you feel about the Grammy nominees? Hey, Burt... If you could be any kind of animal, what would you be and why?" It might be cheesy, but it'd sure beat reading weight loss stats.

Libby (punchy today!!)

Gaining Back My Life said...

My bp just shot up about 50 points.

I'm trying to be nice, but I really, really want to say, "Stupid, STUPID people".

And we wonder why ed's proliferate even elementary schools.

Carrie Arnold said...


Damn skippy I was jealous! But I remember that it's the eating disorder, not me. I like food! (I think. Most of the time. Maybe.) What helped me stay on track--well, besides close monitoring and lunches packed by Mom--was knowing that my uber-yummy food drove them NUTS and in my evil ways, I kind of liked it. My therapist got me to agree to challenge myself with fries because I had the devious idea not of eating at the restaurant but of bringing the food back and eating at my desk.


No need to be nice. Though I tried to be not outwardly mean, I realized that just being nice was going to get me nowhere.

Laur said...

Thank you!

Charlynn said...

Awesome post, Carrie. These "Biggest Loser" contests drive me insane for all the reasons you listed and it saddens me to think that the general public thinks they are a good idea. It's bad enough to hear the "body hate" talk that circulates in the typical office, but to get the same group of people into a competition to see who is the most "disciplined"? Disaster for all involved. Loser(s), indeed.

Kim, I often think of myself as the "office rebel," too. I sometimes feel like I am the only person in the whole building who is not on a diet at any given time. Those I work closest with know I have an eating disorder and understand the gravity of "diet talk" in my presence, so they keep it on the hush. That said, I know many others who would have envied my body as it was five years ago. That was when I was at my lowest weight and was quite pale and sick-looking. If that's what the picture of "good health" looks like to my dieting counterparts, then I'm glad it's no longer me.

Harriet said...


sarah-j said...

Oh my gosh. I can hardly imagine working in that environment.

I totally agree with Kim, being too skinny can kind of seem like rebellion but when the status quo is a ridiculous thinness that you've experienced and have a strong insight into how painful and self defeating it is, then eating is the more powerful, more fulfilling version of rebellion.

In a context like the one Carrie is describing, eating is an act of political resistance. Go us, I say!

Crimson Wife said...

Ugh, how awful! At one company I worked for a bunch of my female colleagues all went on the "Body for
Life" diet together. They put a stop to the office potlucks we used to have to celebrate holidays, which I found highly annoying. But they fortunately never tried to remove anyone's candy dish.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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