'Biggest Loser' Couple Takes Weight-Loss Campaign to the Workplace
There's no getting around it: Your weight can and will be held against you in the workplace. If you're overweight, potential employers are more likely to pass you by, partially because they believe weight-related health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure will cost them a lot of money and keep you from doing your job to the best of your abilities. Your current boss might give that big promotion to someone else for the same reasons.
It's hard to argue that point. It's been estimated that more than two-thirds of the U.S. adult population is overweight or obese, and studies have shown that those people cost their employers billions annually -- statistically, they have more accidents, take more sick days, are more likely to be less productive and cost more to insure.
-- See the average salary of a fitness trainer.
'Biggest Loser' contestants Phil and Amy Parham, the married couple who lost 256 lbs. between them, want to help overweight Americans not just be more productive, but feel better about themselves and live longer, healthier lives. They've written a book with a corresponding video called 'The 90-Day Fitness Challenge,' and they're currently touring the nation, helping companies, church and social groups set up fitness programs for their employees and members.
When not on the road promoting good health, the South Carolina couple works in real estate and tax services. "The real estate industry isn't what it used to be, so we had to have a plan B," Phil said of his new tax business. They believe their fitness challenge can be accomplished by regular folks, just like them, in any walk of life. They realize that the super-tough celebrity fitness trainers like the ones they used on 'The Biggest Loser' can be a bit intimidating.
They also know the vast majority of people don't have trainers and chefs on hand 24/7 to help them, and they're aware of the challenges overweight people experience in the workplace. "There's even a perception out there that overweight people don't work as hard," Amy said. "I personally know that that is not necessarily true; but to an employer, perception is reality."
Both admit that they're healthier and more energetic since they lost the weight, and this is reflected in their professional lives. Phil was borderline diabetic and his liver was a mess; both problems disappeared once he dropped from 340 lbs. to 180. The day before his AOL interview Phil had the energy to put in a 16-hour work day and still be able to go out that night -- something he never would have been able to do when he was overweight.
The couple notes that some people believe that fitness is an after-hours concern -- something that should be attended to in their spare time -- but at work they give themselves permission to slack off, to eat whatever they feel like, and to be extremely sedentary.
"But there are all sorts of ways you can incorporate fitness into your work environment," Phil said.
Here are several of their six best suggestions:
1. Stop giving yourself excuses: Don't wait, "until we get new equipment in the gym..." or "until they take Mountain Dew out of the vending machines..." or "as soon as we complete this stressful project, then I'll start getting fit." You will always be able to find some reason to put off your fitness program at work. Do it now. No excuses.
2. Plan ahead: Phil and Amy visit Costco on the weekends and buy low sugar/high protein power bars, nuts, chicken and raw veggies, then spend some time preparing everything once they get home so that during the week they can just fill up small plastic bags with the food they'll eat that day, and run off to work.
3. Collaborate with colleagues: See if you can get some of your friends at work to join in a fitness challenge with you. Arrange to meet before work on certain days for a power walk. Take the stairs, rather than the elevator, up to that meeting. Check in with your colleagues when you need extra encouragement or will power. Arrange to exercise at lunch and eat together. Put the "Power of We" into effect.
4. Eat healthy, balanced snacks: Snacks with high sugar and caffeine content will give you a rush for awhile, but you'll also plunge quickly. The Parhams suggest apple slices and almonds, an orange and pistachios, carrot sticks dipped in hummus, tuna salad made with mustard rather than mayonnaise on a Wasa cracker, Greek yogurt with almonds or flaxseed, and a rice cake or a banana with peanut butter.
5. Don't give in to work-related stress: For many people, food is comfort. When things get difficult or out of control at work, we take solace in the one thing we can control -- the smell, taste and feel of our favorite food, not to mention the comfort we derive from it. Don't use food as a pacifier. Exercise is a good substitute.
6. Offer to help your boss reduce expenses: Say you'd like to help instigate company or department-wide healthy living initiatives, in order to improve the business's bottom line. This could involve anything from getting rid of junk food and sugary drinks from the vending machines, to sharing healthy food at company parties, to eliminating the candy bowl, to setting up physical activities or sports and/or fitness competitions. You'll score major brownie points.
"Your level of fitness effects how you feel about yourself, and also how other people perceive you," said Amy, quite nicely summarizing the whole issue of work and weight.
Watch Amy and Phil in action: