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This week, the Winston Benefits team is at The Benefits Forum & Expo in New Orleans, La. We'll be sharing content from our favorite sessions at #BFE13. Follow us on Twitter @WinstonBenefits for more insights from the event.

employee wellness tipsNBC's popular weight-loss reality TV show "The Biggest Loser" has served as the inspiration for countless workplace weight loss contests in recent years and it's not hard to see why. It's thrilling to see people rapidly shed pounds and become svelte athletes in a matter of months. People love the idea of experiencing that thrill themselves and the idea of a friendly competition seems fun.

But what people miss out when they get caught up in the thrill of the show is that "The Biggest Loser" isn't real, said Mary Pitman, manager of health promotions at Norfolk Southern Corporation, yesterday at the EBN Benefits Forum and Expo in New Orleans.

A recent study showed that the rapid weight loss contestants experience on the show slows down their metabolism and puts them in a worse position than people who lose weight slow and steady, Pitman explained in her session called "Not Another 'Biggest Loser' Contest: Creating a Culture of Wellness." In short, "they are set up to lose and that's not right."

The Problem With "The Biggest Loser" for Employees

While "The Biggest Loser" makes for great reality television, it doesn't make for a great reality in workplaces that are seriously working to encourage employee wellness, says Pitman. The reasons are that the show:

  • Focuses on the wrong goal. Everyone is focused on the scale and on dropping pounds when they should be focused on getting healthy.
  • Is short sighted. It's all about losing the most weight in a set period of time.
  • Involves unsustainable changes. People work out a lot and seriously cut calories. These lifestyle changes are extreme and don't lend themselves to becoming permanent.
  • Takes place in an artificial environment. People on the show don't have to go to work or deal with the responsibilities or stressors of real life. All they have to do is focus on dropping pounds.
  • Allows for only one winner. In the end there's only one "Biggest Loser" and everyone else walks away with nothing.
  • Sends contestants back to “business as usual” once the season is over. The contestants lose the support they have, go back to their real lives and often go back to unhealthy habits and weight gain.

Better Ways to Encourage Employee Wellness

While workplace "Biggest Loser"-style contests aren't as extreme as the show, they are all about losing weight and losing weight is not the key to better health, says Pitman. The real key to better health and overall wellness is eating healthier and becoming more active.

Sometimes it can be hard to believe, but employees want wellness. "Nobody wants chronic diseases and illness," says Pitman, but it's not easy to achieve wellness for the long haul. Being healthy and making good decisions becomes really hard when the bad foods are so easy to get and people are busy and stressed out by work and life.

Organizations that want to encourage wellness need to focus on keeping it simple and encouraging employees to know their numbers -- not just weight, but cholesterol, blood pressure and other measures of health, quit using tobacco in all its forms, eat healthier and get active. When people do all of that, weight loss will be the byproduct and doesn't have to be the primary goal, says Pitman.

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