Blogs & Comment

Give Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a break

Mocking Toronto's overweight mayor does nothing for the critical battle against obesity.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (Photo: Shaun Merritt/Wikimedia)

For everyone who immediately poked fun at Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for recently abandoning his publicly announced weight loss commitment, “Cut the Waist,” I have to ask: Have you ever tried to lose weight? If you have, you know it’s not an easy thing. Now imagine if, like the mayor, you are morbidly obese. Give the big guy a break.

Instead of belittling him, we should be celebrating him for at least making an effort. His admission of defeat should be seen by everyone as a teachable moment—if you have great metabolism and are naturally slim, you might recognize how little empathy you have for those who battle the bulge. (If you’ve worked hard at losing weight, you know how tough it is, so you already feel empathy.) Or maybe some of you have contributed to another person’s weight gain without realizing you were doing so.

I can already hear some of you saying, ‘I can’t be blamed for those around me who are overweight!’ But let’s examine that. Are you the boss that places stressful deadlines on your employees? (After all, that’s the job, right?) People under stress secrete the hormone cortisol, which stimulates another hormone, insulin, which in turn makes you crave carbohydrates stored as fat. And as I said in a July 2011 blog post, stress makes you “dumb and fat.”

So the next time you host a breakfast meeting with muffins, bagels and juice, you’re not doing your team a favour. The same goes if you have the trips you hand out as employee rewards focus on food and alcohol without a healthy dose of physical activity. (Numerous medical studies have shown that an overweight or obese employee costs organizations time and money. They take more sick days, use more medication and are more frequently hospitalized due to complications from obesity like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.)

As a leader interested in fitness and maintaining a healthy work environment for your organization, you should walk the talk. Embrace the importance of eating three balanced meals per day, getting regular exercise and having enough sleep (at least seven hours). Sounds basic, and yet some fail to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Some explanations are that we have few role models these days and we want to manage difficult medical issues on our own.

Weight loss is complicated. It’s not just about calories in and calories out, or weigh-ins. Genetics, hormones, nutrients—they all interact to affect your metabolism. You need to know how many calories you burn and the quantity and quality of the calories you consume. Remember that your sleep pattern also affects your metabolism. We also know that lifelong habits and emotional issues may contribute to a person being overweight so new behaviours may need to be incorporated into one’s lifestyle.

My advice? Soft Employee Assistance and Wellness Programs (which are usually ‘one-size-fits-all’ lunch-and-learn sessions and blog education) won’t cut it. The better answer for your organizaton is to enlist personalized professional care, such as a team consisting of a physician, dietician, trainer and psychologist. These people understand the factors contributing to weight gain, so they can more effectively help ensure the weight stays off for good. And that may have been all the help Mayor Ford needed.

Dr. Elaine Chin is founder of the Executive Health Centre.