Donut Discrimination?

Is there a new “donut discrimination” going on when it comes to promotions within organizations?  Could self-control over the proverbial donut positively influence not only our health but also our finances?

Our latest FLASH Webinar (just over 5 minutes in length and complimentary to our readers) digs into the research to find out the answers – and how those answers may impact the way in which we’re approaching our wellness programs, our wellness coaching and the messaging tied to our employee wellness programs.  If you prefer reading to viewing, our column on the topic is provided below.

Click here to access the Flash Webinar or use the following URL:

Could that donut be holding back your career?

Employee wellness programs are typically viewed as a benefit to employers since they result in reduced healthcare, disability, sick time, and turnover while enhancing productivity.  However, a closer look at the research now demonstrates wellness programs may actually be providing career advancement training for employees who fully engage.  In fact, more and more data points to the possibility that eating that proverbial donut may be holding back your career.

Now, before you reach for the telephone to contact a local attorney about sugar discrimination, let me explain exactly what the research is indicating.  It’s not saying that companies are now discriminating based on wellness program participation or carb intake.  The donut discussed herein has nothing to do with the actual donut. Rather, it’s a symbol for those actions that require willpower.  The research is clearly showing that the choices we make in regards to our own health and wellness have a definitive impact on both our career and finances.

Willpower acts very much like a muscle.  Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD has taken a closer look at the science of willpower[i] and has found it is not simply something you “have” or “don’t have.” Rather – it’s something that can be developed, or strengthened. Interestingly but not surprisingly, willpower is also impacted by sleep and nutrition. As a result, the choices that a stronger willpower makes possible in the first place (such as turning off the TV to go to bed 30 minutes early or choosing a salad over a burger for lunch) actually allows our willpower muscles to then function at a higher level in regards to future choices!

Author Charles Duhigg describes something called “keystone habits” that are closely tied to this process.[ii]  These are habits that, once established, don’t just have a positive impact on that one area but rather overlap into other critical areas of life.  Using exercise (one of the most significant Keystone Habits) as an example, he states “When people start exercising, even as infrequently as once/week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly.  Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work…show more patience with colleagues and family…use credit cards less frequently and feel less stressed.”

So we now have a muscle (willpower) that can be developed… science showing that a strong willpower produces choices that strengthens the functionality of that willpower further… and a clear benefit across a wide range of activities within our lives when that muscle actually is developed. Logic would dictate that the stronger willpower that an effective wellness program helps to develop would lead to greater career and financial success.  However, we aren’t forced to depend only on logic for this conclusion.  Rather, a two-decade long study shows it to be true.

An interesting study out of New Zealand[iii] assessed 1,037 children multiple times up through age 11 in regards to willpower or self-control.  Two decades later, as these children were now in their early 30’s, they followed-up to find that those with the best childhood impulse management made more money and were healthier than their peers.  Further statistical analysis found that the level of willpower was as strong a predictor of financial success and health as were social class, wealth of family of origin and IQ.[iv]  In other words, willpower potentially has a greater impact on your health and wealth than your parent’s background or your intelligence!

So if you’re not happy with your career or your financial situation in life, maybe your employer’s wellness program offers you the very best path to far more than just better health.  Maybe that proverbial donut really is what stands between you and that next promotion.


[i] Kellie McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct: How Self Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You can Do to Get More of It. Avery, 2011

[ii] Charles Douhigg, The Power of Habit. New York: Random House, 2012: 137-139.

[iii] Terrie E. Moffitt et al., “A Gradient of Childhood Self-Control Predicts Health, Wealth and Public Safety,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, no. 7 (February 15, 2011): 2693-98,

[iv] Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. New York: HarperCollins, 2013:80-81.

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