Wellness Plans and Pedometers

I’m just like every other woman on the planet. I struggle with my body size.

Fat. Thin. Meaty. Lean. I’ve been every size on the scale, every shape on the planet, and I never felt good about the way I looked. There were times in my life where I struggled with my shape, and I did stupid things to manage my appearance. By stupid, I mean stupid. From Weight Watchers to extreme dieting (and I mean extreme), I always told myself that I had cracked the code and found an innovative way to be thinner and more successful.

I was just naive.


At one point, I was heavy and despondent. I received a voucher for a $50 Visa gift card in the mail. The catch? I had to sign up for my company’s wellness program.

What the heck, I thought.

– My cholesterol was high,
– my triglycerides were borderline high,
– and I was eating fast food on a daily basis. Sometimes multiple times/day.

In an attempt to overhaul my life, I might as well get something out of it. I could spend $50 at the Coach store on a new purse.

A nurse from the wellness program called. We talked about my goals. The conversation wasn’t about wellness, though. It was all about numbers. Plan my meals, lose weight, eat x amount of calories, exercise several times/week, blah blah blah.

I said, “I don’t know how to do any of this.”

The nurse said, “We can break this down into smaller steps.”

Fine. Smaller steps.

Two weeks later, I hadn’t done a single thing. When I checked in with the nurse, we had a conversation about my failure. She never told me that my lifelong problem with food was bigger than a wellness program. She never suggested that the BMI scale is an outdated and outmoded method of measuring health. She never recommended the EAP to help me deal with the extreme anxiety and depression in my life.

Instead, we talked about wearing a pedometer. I could take the stairs at work and park my car in the back of the parking lot to burn extra calories.


We have to start somewhere with wellness, but health is bigger than a number.

Most of us work more than 40 hours week. We live life on a consumer-driven treadmill. High-fructose corn syrup and sugar are the quick and dirty ways we consume calories and fuel our bodies with energy. Some of us have biological and genetic reasons why we struggle with food, which are exacerbated by a national food policy that subsidizes sugar, fatty meats, and encourages us to eat refined carbs and corn.

I know something now that I didn’t know then: there is no wellness program under the sun that can do battle with the cultural, political, and biological reasons as to why most of us are fat.


I dropped out of my company’s wellness program soon after I started.

In retrospect, I should have told the nurse where to shove that pedometer.

And for the record, I spent my $50 gift certificate at Applebees. It wasn’t pretty, but it was delicious.

Photo credit iStock Photo

About the Author

Laurie Ruettimann


laurie ruettimann

I get it, Fran. We spend our lives working. Health is a way of life. Companies should be healthy. Yup. I can support that.

I just don’t know how to square the whole ‘don’t depend on your company for a job/retirement benefits/career pathing’ but rely on your company and your local HR department for leadership on wellness?

Sigh. I’m eating bacon pizza as I type this and enjoying it, which is its own form of wellness. 🙂

fran melmed

laurie, the idea of right vs obligation is a thorny one. with our health care system set up the way it is, i think they have a right. with the idea that being healthy — and i’m not just talking about weight here — is a tough road to go and companies have lots of influence given the # of bodies they cover, i’d like to see them have an obligation. the rough part is when it’s not done thoughtfully, sensitively or smartly. i’m still behind companies getting involved in helping employees lead healthier lives. they’re typically part of what creates unhealthy behaviors (e.g., working shifts, working too many hours, stressing out over absurd deadlines). why can’t they also become party of what drives healthier ones?

i know. i’m pollyannna. i’m ok with that.


Trish McFarlane

This post is a good one because it demonstrates that often what we do in HR, or companies in general, to help our employees can be crap. It can make the employee’s problem worse because we’re just putting lipstick on the pig. It isn’t getting to the core problem.

Women struggle with weight in many forms. I have always been on the other side- being teased for being thin. Yes, I have stick legs, I get it. But you’d be surprised to know how many colleagues over the years find it perfectly acceptable to tease me saying I must be a size zero, or that I can eat anything I want. Untrue and untrue. And, being thin doesn’t mean a woman has an eating disorder, although that’s a common belief too.

I guess my point is that as women, we need to all be supporting each other, whatever our weight issue. Like you, I just want to be a weight where I personally feel healthy. That’s not a certain number on the scale or a BMI number. Honestly, it’s being able to fit into my favorite dress pants without almost popping the button off or without having too much room to spare. Now, pass me a donut….


Debbie Brown

Thanks for shaking things up over here- great topic- great post- the conversation is just getting warmed up- something very interesting also happens when you leave your teenage years- it’s a bit harder to work things off and you have a plethora of sizes to work with in your closet- The reality is women do seem to talk about this more- weight- and wellness (get regular physicals too)- Why?

laurie ruettimann

Hey errbody. Thanks.

@Diane I’m with you 100%. I was being loose with my language and generalizing, but I could do a whole freakin blog on body acceptance. I follow ‘healthy at any size’ methodologies in my life, right now. Some days are better than others. My good friend, Kate Harding, writes an excellent blog called Shapely Prose on this exact subject. http://kateharding.net My whole point is that wellness programs fucking suck. And believe me, I’m all about finding peace with my body and moving on. I got other fish to fry in life. Why am I gonna hate on myself so much? Waste. of. time.

@Amy Amen. You are not a mommy and neither is your company.

@Fran I’m still struggling with privacy issues, employers, and whether or not a company has a right (not even an obligation — a right) to be involved in my health and personal choices. Also, the science behind health and wellness isn’t all that awesome. Eat great. Exercise. Fine. But the BMI as the gold standard of appropriate health/weight? Whatevs.

@Sarah Schwoo, brave and honest comment. Thank you. And so right. I’m just a Human Resources chick, not someone who can manage an employee’s dietary choices.

Diane Prince Johnston

Dear Laurie:

I don’t know anything about wellness programs but I do know that NOT all women on the planet struggle with body size and if there is one thing that I could convey during my lifetime via social media it would be that it is OK to love your body.

We live in a world where it is socially unacceptable to be happy with yourself, girls learn early on that they SHOULD hate their own skin and have you ever attended a dinner party where women don’t discuss calories?

Laurie, I apologize if I come off as contrary while I pick apart one sentence from your post about your own experience with a specific program and please know that I am typing this with respect and appreciation of who you are and what you write. I simply think it is essential that we break the pattern of the language of fat and I implore bloggers, employers and any other representatives of the female sex to give it a try, allow yourself the freedom to not struggle and start to support other women by modeling kindness and self acceptance.

And now I will step off of the soap box and go to sleep.


I’ve never advocated for a wellness program at my company. The first reason is that we could all enroll and get super healthy, and it still wouldn’t have any impact on our health insurance premiums given the fact that we are market & age-rated. If the market is unhealthy, it doesn’t matter what the company does. It’d be great if all our employees could be super healthy, but I’m not their mommy. I can’t even mommy myself. And I know it wouldn’t improve absence rates since employees are hardly ever absent anyway since most are doing the job of 2, if not 3, people.

The second reason is exactly as you described. The wellness program will never fix the fact that I went home last night and had a salad for dinner…and then an ice cream Drumstick and several handfuls of pretzel M & M’s.

fran melmed

hey laurie. you point out a major shortcoming of wellness programs and the health care system, in general. namely, neither are patient (employee)-centered. i recently visited CIGNA’s integrated personal health team, where they have a team of nurses, social workers, psychologists, nutritionists and other health advocates working together to help the employee, starting from where the employee is. it was impressive. and exciting. and would potentially address some of the gap. ultimately, we’re going to have to go systemic if we want to address some of our health issues. affixing all hope and blame to a wellness program is like affixing all hope and blame on teachers.



Glad to see you here, but this topic hits home right now. Back when I was in treatment for anorexia, I felt like i had pulled a fast one on my doctor since we never once talked about food or eating. Fast forward a few years and add a pinch of maturity and I realized something: we didn’t talk about food and eating because it wasn’t about food and eating. It was about finding peace with myself and the space I took up in the world.

I work at least 50 hours a week. I try to exercise every day. I try to eat healthy. I try to do laundry. I try to cook once or twice a week. I try to be a good and fun partner. I try to have fun with friends. I take car eof my dog. I try to figure out if I could add a baby to this already unbalanced equation. And then I think, “how soon would I look like myself again?” I think so many women try so hard to do so much that everything feels like it is falling short, — and the quickest shortcuts are typically the ones that don’t affect work, family or friends. So you skip the gym for an extra meeting or you eat fast food so you can get home in time to spend the evening with friends. The one person we don’t hold ourselves accountable to is ourselves. If something is going to suffer, it won’t be work and I try to not let it be anyone I care about. And that’s the rub, right? When will I view it as okay to care for myself?


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