Does This Suit Make Me Look Fat?

Make Me Look Fat You may think you're doing your co-worker a favor and avoiding conflict by saying, "Of course not! You rock that!" when he or she asks you, "Does this suit/shirt/skirt/pair of pants make me look fat?" But you're doing more harm than good. New research shows that a bloated 67 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, but only 52 percent actually believe they are.

Although it sounds harsh, you'd be helping, rather than hurting your colleagues by letting them know it's not the clothing that makes them look overweight, it's their health habits. A Russell Research survey of 1,000 Americans, commissioned by Pollock Communications (which specializes in food and nutrition communications), was conducted to understand and translate consumer health and nutrition trends. It found that American consumers have a definite diet disconnect and misconceptions about their own body weight, making it harder to make significant improvements in their eating and exercise behaviors.

Surprisingly enough, while females tend toward softer, kinder communication at work and at home, it's the men who have the biggest disconnect when it comes to weight image. The survey found that men are more likely to underestimate their weight woes than women.

And younger workers are more naive still. Those ages 18 to 34 are more prone to underestimating their extra-pound problems than older Americans, ages 35 to 54. Researchers suggest that as younger Americans grow up in a more overweight country, they become accustomed to the excess, and they're less likely to recognize that they are overweight.

Registered dietitian Julie Upton, of the Appetite for Health website, is not surprised by the findings: "A significant number of studies show that American consumers are becoming numb or immune to the reality that they are overweight or maybe even obese. With numerous environmental changes, from stretchy fabrics to larger car and movie theater seats, many Americans feel they are a normal weight despite actually being overweight. Overweight is the new normal weight in the United States."

Perhaps people are just worried about keeping their jobs and making ends meet, and don't think that they have time for healthy eating and luxuries. The survey found that 57 percent say that cost is the major roadblock to making better nutrition choices, followed by being too hard (35 percent) and too time-consuming (35 percent).

How Your Boss Can Help

It behooves your employer to help employees keep their weight down, because less obesity equals lower health care expenses. So what can an employer do?

  • Make sure healthy snack choices are available on the premises. See that vending machines are full of low-fat, fresh food and drink, rather than fried snacks and sugary soda pop.
  • If your workplace provides coffee, see that skim milk and non-fat, low-sugar creamers are available.
  • Post nutrition information by the break-room refrigerator or vending machine, citing calorie counts of certain popular food items, and healthier alternatives.
  • If at all possible, set up a gym on the premises, or at least make a deal with a nearby fitness center for employee discounts. Then give your employees time and incentives for using these facilities.
  • This may seem brutal, but placing full-length mirrors in restrooms can help employees get a realistic image of what they actually look like. They can be placed on or near a door, where a full view can't be avoided.

Making these kinds of changes is more important now than ever -- regardless of the unemployment situation and economic challenges that are dominating our attention. Another recent survey, conducted by the non-profit International Food Information Council, shows that fewer Americans are worried about their weight this year as compared with last year, and concern about weight loss and overall perception of personal healthfulness is at an all-time low. So next time your co-worker asks, "How do I look?," try to find an honest, helpful way to tell the truth.

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