Being overweight at work

Many bosses are biased against fat people - so what's the solution if you're overweight, asks Nick Jackson

A lot of people can be a little sensitive about their weight at this time of year. Just to make things worse, a new survey has come along that tells us that your boss is keeping an eye on your girth.

Nearly 80 per cent of 300 senior managers and directors of major companies polled by The Aziz Corporation, a communications consultancy, said there was a prejudice against fat people in business.

"This research reveals that appearance matters in business and that weight is one of the key factors," says Khalid Aziz, head of The Aziz Corporation and visiting professor of business communications at Southampton university.

"Those who are heavily overweight give a message that they lack self-control." He points to last year's TV show The Apprentice where, he says, the better contestant, Ruth Badger, lost out because of her weight.

More than two thirds of the bosses polled said that fat people were seen as lacking self-discipline and self-control, energy and drive. And there is nothing to stop them acting on these prejudices and not hiring you because of your weight.

Until discrimination legislation appears, it is up to you to bust the flab or bust the stereotype. "If people want to get on in business, they need to be lean and mean," says Professor Aziz.

Seventy per cent of the bosses polled said that the very fit are better able to cope with the demands of a senior role in business. Which is ironic, as senior roles in business, eating on the hoof and getting take-out when you work late, can be bad for your girth.

Almost half of the bosses polled made new year's resolutions to diet. But for most of us a diet is at best pointless and at worst dangerous, according to the British Nutrition Foundation, the nutrition research society. "The sensible way to lose weight is to make long-term changes to your lifestyle," says Lisa Miles, nutrition scientist at the BNF. "Fad diets can actually be quite dangerous."

Much better than potentially dangerous miracle cures, she says, is to just eat healthily. You should be looking to get a third of your energy from fruit and veg, a third from starchy foods like pasta and rice, and a third from everything else.

If you are looking to lose weight, the government recommends using 500 to 800 more calories a day than you consume and aiming to drop one or two pounds a week. "If you consume more than you use, you'll put on weight," says Miles. "It's not rocket science."

The problem, as Miles recognises, is knowing how much energy you need. The guidelines are 2,000 calories a day for women, 2,500 for men, but different people with different bodies, habits, and lifestyles will need very different amounts of energy.

A two-year research project published last year found that counting calories can be worse for you than learning to love your body and enjoy the energy that healthy eating gives.

The sure-fire way to address the calorie balance is exercise. "People who are bigger do get discriminated against," says Sammy Margo, physiotherapist and author of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy's Lazy Exercise for Busy People guide. "The issue is how to get out of that loop, it is very difficult to get out of."

A lot of people, says Margo, are too embarrassed to start exercising because they are out of shape, are too busy, or do not want to spend money on gym membership. However, "you don't need to spend loads of money on a gym membership," she says. "The solution is to try and integrate low-level exercises into your daily life."

You can download the Lazy Exercise for Busy People guide from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy'swebsite:

With guidelines on how to lose weight while brushing your teeth and the proper way to watch TV, it can feel a little tyrannical, but that is part of the point, says Margo. "It's about thinking about your routine and breaking your routine."

Once you have broken your routine, you can choose which exercises fit in to your life. The best basic exercise is free and easy: walking. Margo recommends getting off the bus a stop early, taking the stairs, and going for a "discovery walk" on your lunch break.

If you were just born big and beautiful, eating healthily and being active will bust the bosses' stereotypes.