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Is Your Job Making You Fat?

No matter how long you've tried to solve your weight problem and how many times you've failed, there is a way to solve it. You just have not yet found or done what you need to do. Keep learning and trying new things. Persist and you will succeed.
08/17/2015 02:44pm ET | Updated August 17, 2016
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Business People Having Meeting Around Table And Eating Pizza

When I told her I was going to write about people's jobs making them fat, my partner Deborah thought I was going to write about job stress and emotional eating. Stress and emotional eating are important issues we correct in order to be successful in weight loss, but that's not what I was referring to.

Behavioral therapy for weight loss is a simple concept that makes weight loss automatic, even though the application can be complex. The simplicity is this: our weight is a result of our behavior. Change the behavior and the body will change. We can eat the food we like and we don't have to exercise like crazy or give up things we like, but we need to do things a bit differently. It's not our body or metabolism that we need to focus on changing. It's the behavior. Change that and the body will change. Finding out what needs to change and how to change it is the key to success.

The problem people encounter at their jobs is that their work and workplace may encourage eating in ways that cause weight gain and obesity. Their work can even require it, though that is less common. For example, jobs connected to the the food marketing industry.

In most of the cases where their job makes weight control difficult or impossible, it's the work environment and culture that is the problem, even though the job itself has nothing to do with food. Probably the most common examples are businesses where donuts and pastries are a central part of every meeting, sometimes on a daily basis. It's also common for work spaces, nurses stations for instance, to continually have "goodies" out in the open, or a "snack table" near the water cooler or break room in the office.

Lunch is also a big problem. Staff meetings, luncheons and business lunches that are a big part of corporate culture can have more calories than a person needs for the entire day. We should call it the corpulent culture instead. I've seen people switch from a job where they skipped lunch most of the time to one where they entertained at lunch, and they put on 20 pounds in no time and could not stop gaining.

Clients have asked me how to live with that and not succumb to the temptation to eat. I know that some people can just decide not to partake, and for them, it's no problem. But, for most of us who have become chronically overweight, "just saying no" does not work, and success comes when we accept that and develop a new strategy.

Environmental management or "stimulus control" is the behavioral technique we use here. Typical overeaters cannot limit what they eat when their environment is loaded with suggestions to eat. Their "will power" is no match for the hypnotic power of things in front of you saying, "eat me". It's not an exaggeration to explain that ice cream in my freezer "calls my name" if I know it's there. That's how the mind works, and we need to respect that and use it instead of trying to fight it. If there are donuts and birthday cake at meetings every day, it's a losing battle to try to abstain. All that happens is torment, ending up with overeating and gaining weight. It's misery.

Environmental management means that we set up our environment to be free of those temptations. My house has nothing in it that is not part of planned meals. There are no chips, nuts or crackers and cheese: no cookies, cake or ice cream. I will not work in a place that tempts me to eat all the time or to have high calorie lunches.

My work needs to be free of "obesegenic" (obesity generating) factors for me to be successful. For the last 30 years, I've been successful making arrangements in my work to make it easy to abstain, but in one place where I could not change the environment, I left that job rather than suffer the struggle and weight gain. In that case, we had a morning meeting of 15 people everyday with donuts and pastries as an almost religious ritual for the group -and they refused to give it up. "Why should we change when you're the only one with the problem?" they said. The funny thing is, I was the only one that was not overweight.

If you are like me and have not been successful with "will power" in those situations, be successful like me by managing the environment to make it easier. Don't listen to those who tell you to "just don't eat", making you feel ashamed because you can't resist the teases. You're OK. You have the same problem I have. You can still be successful.

Talk with those at your company who are in charge of the way things are done. Persuade them to create a healthier work environment. Get the junk food mine fields removed. Make meetings food-free. Make sure your business lunches are at places that have things you can have for 200-300 calories. If you can't, start looking for a new place to hang your hat. Believe me, it's worth it. After losing 140 pounds in 1984, I've maintained my ideal weight perfectly for 30 years now, except for one year with the healthcare agency that had clinical meetings every morning with donuts, pastries and cake. It was a miserable struggle every day and I gained 20 pounds before I gave up trying to change the place and quit. It's been a breeze since.

No matter how long you've tried to solve your weight problem and how many times you've failed, there is a way to solve it. You just have not yet found or done what you need to do. Keep learning and trying new things. Persist and you will succeed.

William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in weight loss, eating disorders and addictions. He is the author of The Anderson Method.