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Eat This Pizza or Else! How Co-workers Can Sabotage Your Healthy Habits

March 21, 2012

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Embarking on a new, healthy eating plan can be a great way to shed excess weight, feel better about yourself, and make some serious enemies. 

Enemies? That’s right. According to The Wall Street Journal, your friends and co-workers may not be so thrilled about your new dietary regimen, especially if you’re out and proud about your nutritional and lifestyle changes.

According to a survey of over 300 dieters, nearly 30% indicate that “colleagues pressure them to eat more, make fun of their diets or order them restaurant food they know isn't on their diets.” More than half report feeling like they need to stray from their diets because they are concerned about fitting in or want to avoid offending their host, client, boss or relative. 

Why is the healthy-eaters-as-outcasts phenomenon so common? At their core, many workplaces are social environments galvanized by food. (Just think of the pizza parties, the birthday cakes, the potluck lunches, and the thoughtful colleagues who bake cookies or sweets for various holidays.) 

When dieters openly try to go beyond that framework, it forces them to buck that status quo. As a result, colleagues can feel hurt by those refusing homemade food, or even threatened by a new and different eating approach, especially if it indirectly highlights their own health and weight issues. 

According to Dr. Tricia Leahey of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center, "social contacts can be extremely powerful.” Widespread positive or negative encouragement can cement the success or failure of a dieter. And while some may be lucky enough to work with associates who offer positive support, many others find that their nutritional restraint and self-control is rewarded with nasty comments and derisive jokes. 

This negativity is often staunch enough to sabotage dieters and cause them to go underground, hiding their healthy snacks and philosophies until they’re on their own. But this lonely approach to health doesn’t have to be the norm. 

Registered dietician Becky Hand recommends that healthy eaters practice a pat, neutral response such as “Your food is always delicious, but I’m controlling my portions” when naysayers attack. And, if that doesn’t work, Hand suggests pulling these critics aside to further explain and request their support. 

How do you respond when people comment on your eating habits?