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Home » Harms of wellness » Victims of Wellness Programs Tell Their Stories of Shame and Harm — Part 3

Victims of Wellness Programs Tell Their Stories of Shame and Harm — Part 3

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

This is the third in the series of major wellness harms perpetrated on employees by wellness vendors and indifferent employers. These narratives have been painstakingly compiled, edited only lightly, and with no detail omitted other than the victim’s name and employer. I won’t tell you who the perps are yet, other than to say that the vendors I have consistently noted to be the best — American Institute of Preventive Medicine, Health Advocate, HealthCheck360, It Starts with Me, Limeade, Redbrick, SelfHelpWorks, Sterling, Sonic Boom, Sustainable Health Index, US Health Centers, US Preventive Medicine — are not among them. 



I used to work for a county health program that established a workplace wellness program. One cold January morning, I returned to work for the first time in nearly eight weeks. I had taken a leave of absence after a suicide attempt and inpatient treatment for chronic depression and anorexia. I had gained a few pounds and my depression had stabilized, and I was looking forward to returning to work I found meaningful.

But when I walked in the door, I was inundated with signs about our workplace weight loss contest—a “Biggest Loser”-style competition. For someone who was struggling desperately to gain weight, this was nothing less than an affront. Signs told me that “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Besides being the same slogans plastered all over the anorexia-enabling websites I used to visit, I had spent the past decade feeling exactly how skinny could make you feel—miserable enough to complete a near-lethal overdose.

I pulled my chin up, set my things down at my desk and walked into the break room for a hot cup of coffee. There, on a big sheet of blue posterboard, was a tally of how much weight everyone had lost. Veronica in accounts receivable had already lost 3.4 pounds. Then, flooding in my inbox were the emails encouraging us to only eat half our lunch, and to try to sneak in an extra workout during our lunch break. Never mind that these behaviors were exactly what had landed me in the hospital. Now, I had a prescribed diet developed in consultation with my dietitian.

For several months, I tried to grin and bear it, but eventually, the madness was just too much. I couldn’t bear the meetings about how good steamed broccoli was. I couldn’t stand working in an external environment that was, quite possibly, more toxic than the internal chatter I endured all day. The poster listing everyone’s weight loss statistics was removed upon my request, but the fact remained that the workplace wellness program had created an environment that was anything but healthy.  I had to quit my job.

Perhaps my experience is an unavoidable side effect of a war against obesity that some have determined should be won at all costs (and regardless of strong evidence that existing wellness programs don’t work).

But when you consider that around one in 20 Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in his or her lifetime, that’s a lot of collateral damage.


  1. Mitch says:

    Powerful and sad.


  2. James Gragg says:

    Sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond, the abomination that it is, is finally seeing the light of day in the national media and consequently initiated conversations on how best to rid our society of this scourge. I applaud these efforts to address an issue that for many has resulted in a toxic work environment. Unfortunately, the misguided and ill-informed efforts of those who desire for people to reach a better state of health, i.e., wellness, by promoting unproven, unrealistic and many times harmful activities has resulted in the creation of a similar toxic work environment for many individuals. A “biggest loser” type weight loss challenge was initiated just yesterday at my place of employment, a healthcare organization. We employ dietitians and behavior therapists who responsibly treat individuals with a variety of eating disorders and body image issues, yet we facilitate and promote such an activity as the “biggest loser”-type weight loss challenge in our workplace. I fear we all are the “biggest loser” if we don’t stand up and face down this ignorance that has adopted and corrupted the name of “wellness”. Thank you for your efforts to shine a light of truth on the misguided efforts of many.


  3. Melissa says:

    Every employer who thinks about a Biggest Loser competition, needs to read this before making a final decision. It may not change their decision (sadly) but it will tell them why employees don’t like wellness programs.


  4. b walker says:

    I’m glad I work from home, 2000 miles away from the office.. and that I can afford to suck up the extra $ I may pay due to not participating in the program..

    The deal our company has requires they get 80% of the company in the program before any ‘carrots’ are given out. This year Oct 28th they were 14 people short of the number required and started badgering people because they had to have them done by Nov 1. I have no idea if they hit the mark, considering I didn’t hear anything further I doubt it.

    So all the people who endured the un-necessary poking/prodding and badgering did so for nothing I think.

    It’s sad that people can’t be left alone in this regard, your health should not be subject to the whims of these idiots.


  5. […] I had taken a leave of absence after a suicide attempt and inpatient treatment for chronic depression and anorexia nervosa. I had gained a few pounds and my depression had stabilized, and I was looking forward to returning to work I found meaningful. […]


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