Beyond this, these weight-loss challenges erroneously assume that dropping a few pounds automatically leads to better health and thus better wellness overall. But the research just isn’t there. In fact, long-term weight loss is not clearly associated with improvements in lab values such as blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, or triglycerides, nor is it reliably linked to reductions in premature death. What it is linked to? Increases in yo-yo dieting and weight cycling, which research has found does play a role in premature mortality.
There are many folks with larger bodies who check the boxes for things that are associated with being “healthy,” like eating nutrient-dense foods, getting in regular movement, managing stress, quitting smoking, and maintaining lab values within the normal range. We just can’t assume that larger bodies are automatically unhealthy. Correlation does not equal causation, and illnesses and diseases—yes, even those typically associated with weight, like sleep apnea, diabetes, and heart disease—occur in people of all sizes.
We live in a society where it’s the norm to congratulate someone who has shed pounds without knowing what prompted the weight loss or what potentially unhealthy behaviors—say, restricting eating times for certain hours, cutting out foods or food groups, counting calories, or overexercising—may have been in play there. Or if there were serious conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, depression, or cancer, that precipitated the weight loss instead. We tend to look to weight loss, or how a body looks, to give us information on what’s going on inside, which just isn’t accurate.
Weight-loss challenges miss the mark for improving “wellness” and health because they don’t take into account all of the combination of factors that affect someone’s health. If we truly wanted to discuss health, we would be talking about equal and equitable health care, access to food, mental health, social connections, access to green spaces, and much more. We would focus less on what a body looks like and more on behaviors that can help promote actual health.
So what would boost workplace wellness instead?
The best workplace wellness programs tend to offer opportunities for collaboration, socialization, and team-building, which can be helpful for employee morale and mental wellbeing. But for these programs to become a positive thing, employers need to focus them on actual things employees could do throughout their day, rather than simply sending them to the scale and hoping for a certain number to appear.
“Healthy behaviors actually have a much greater impact on someone’s overall health and wellness,” Brenna O’Malley, RD, a dietitian based in San Francisco, tells SELF. With that in mind, here are some behaviors companies might focus on to promote wellness in their employees.
1. Encourage breaks to ease stress.
Stress can seriously mess not only with our mental health, but our overall health too—it can affect our digestive systems, suppress our immune systems, and interfere with sleep.