Does your company help people to be healthy, or does it help them to be unhealthy?

Chances are, it’s helping them to be unhealthy. Even if you sincerely believe in promoting wellness, the company is probably unknowingly sabotaging its people.

What is your company’s policy regarding food?

Do you even have a food policy? Is it written?

Do you have meetings with donuts and pastries? Is your breakroom stocked with “snacks”, the counters covered with things to eat? Do you celebrate employee birthdays with sheetcakes or pizza and then leave them out all day for nibbling? Do you have vending machines with all sorts of sugary drinks and junk food? Do you frequently have candy for the taking at your nurses’ stations or around the coffee machine?

I am a recovered overeater and those workplace conditions were a minefield for me, and one of the worst places was a healthcare facility! Those conditions may not trouble you, but they are a big problem for people like me, and that’s probably most of your workforce. 70% of Americans are clincally overweight today. Over a third are obese. If you have food at work the way I described, you have a company policy that promotes illness, not wellness.

What Is Good Corporate Food Policy?

  1. First, have a written policy in your company manual, as you have with other issues. It might start with something like this: “It is the policy of XYZ Inc. to encourage healthy food and eating behavior and to discourage unhealthy habits. We will be especially sensitive to conditions on company property and at company events that may precipitate discomfort and difficulty for those with food addictions and/or weight problems.”
  2. Eliminate serving goodies and other food at meetings (other than luncheon meetings) as if eating cookies, cakes, donuts and chips was a normal corporate-sponsored recreational activity.
  3. Eliminate the practice of foods being put out for the taking in break rooms as well as other areas.
  4. Require employees to keep candy dishes, etc., in desk drawers rather than on counters and desk tops.
  5. Require that any vending machine companies on premises stock their machines with healthy food rather than junk food, and diet drinks and water rather than sugary drinks.
  6. When a luncheon is scheduled or provided, such as a vendor-catered promotion that pharmaceutical companies favor, or a company dinner, require that the menu be created with healthy nutrition in mind. Pay attention to the caloric loads and portions served. Bear in mind that the American culture has become accustomed to overindulgence. Gluttony and ill health have become normal.
  7. Make provisions for your employees who want to prepare low-calorie meals at work. Having a kitchen with refrigerator, freezer, microwave and cupboard space in the breakroom is extremely helpful. Having high quality sugar substitutes available at the coffee machine is also important.
  8. If a birthday or special event celebration is scheduled, require that emphasis be put on the honors and not the food. If food is part of the ceremony, require that any foods left over be put away, out of sight, at the end of the ceremony, and be removed at the end of the work day.
  9. Communicate with all vendors, telling them that food is no longer welcome at the workplace as a gesture of good will. Gestures of good will must be calorie-free.
  10. Do not make exceptions for holidays. It is not unusual for offices and work stations, like nurses stations, to be filled with chocolates, nuts and cookies during the holidays, more than the staff could possibly consume. People have been known to eat themselves sick that time of year, causing emotional distress as well as weight gain. Make it easier on everybody and eliminate the food-everywhere habit.

Corporate wellness programs have become popular and commonplace, but it is ironic that while one hand of the company is pushing good health, the other hand is pushing food and overindulgence.

One of the things that surprises all of my clients who come to me for weight loss is finding out how insignificant exercise is, compared to their eating habits. They will often ride a stationary bike for a half hour, thinking they burned off the donut they had and now deserve another! They are shocked and discouraged when they discover that the exercise didn’t use up even half of the first donut! Many people, when they learn this, give up on exercise and return to their snack-laden office and keep getting unhealthy and gaining weight. Instead, they need to learn how to change their eating habits, and they need help to do that.

By all means, if you want to make your company wellness-oriented, go ahead and keep promoting exercise, gym memberships, stress management, and wellness classes, but the most important thing you can do is to establish a healthy food policy and help employees develop healthy eating habits. That alone will do more good than all the other things combined, and if you do both, you will truly have a health-promoting company.

William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in weight loss, eating disorders and addictions. He was an obese heavy smoker and workaholic until his early thirties, and burned out, but survived and changed direction. He changed in many ways, among them, losing 140 pounds permanently. Health, in a holistic way, is now his mission. He is the author of The Anderson Method of Permanent Weight Loss.

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