Fiona McCade: Skinny receptionists deserve respect

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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Ever wondered what sort of person qualifies as the most determined, strong-minded, firm-willed, steadfast individual known to mankind? Someone who every day meets and beats challenges that would floor most of us? Might it be someone in the services? Or a medical professional perhaps?

No. It wouldn’t. Without doubt, the person with the greatest willpower in the world is a skinny receptionist.

A recent survey of 3,700 workers found that 60 per cent of us gain weight when we start a new job (30 per cent of us pile on more than 20lb) and – surprise, surprise – those of us in sedentary office jobs are worst affected. But topping the list of workplace wobble-bottoms are receptionists.

Researchers at Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health are currently recruiting volunteers for a project to study snacking. Since they’ll be studying the psychology of why we can’t stop stuffing ourselves between meals, I suggest that they cut to the chase, gather about 100 receptionists and just track those snackers. This will give them all the information they need regarding excessive and pointless calorie intake.

I speak from experience, because I’ve snacked my way through many different employment situations. I’ve done unemployed snacking, which is bad news, because there’s nothing much else to do and nobody to stop you. I’ve done self-employed snacking, and that’s hell too, because all the biscuits belong to you. But by far the worst type of snacking is office snacking, and who has the most opportunities to snack in the office? Why, the receptionist, of course.

I used to do an awful lot of temping – I was supposed to be an actress, so go figure – and I always got reception jobs because I was totally unskilled apart from the ability to smile. I couldn’t type but, boy, could I smile. So I would always be there, sitting at the front desk, waiting to flash my pearlies at the next person through the door. It’s not rocket science but it’s important.

However, I soon realised there’s one problem with smiling: you can’t do it when your mouth is full of biscuits. I also realised something else: one very good reason why receptionists sit behind desks is because after you’ve been in the job a few weeks and eaten more biscuits than you ever thought possible, your hips have got so big, the desk is really useful to hide behind.

Of course, anybody working in an office is in danger of falling into the snack trap. Stress, long working hours, a lack of proper meals and enough time to eat them – these are all reasons why we reach in desperation for empty carbs. Then, the moment you start a diet, some sadist starts offering around the Hobnobs and in a matter of minutes you’re done for. We pile on the unwanted pounds and wonder where our waists and our willpower went.

But nobody is so constantly exposed to tantalising treats as the poor receptionist. Whenever you have an office meeting with coffee, tea and biscuits, have you ever wondered where all the biscuits go? That’s right. Into the receptionist. And those sandwiches that are left over from the working lunch? Ditto.

I once worked in a place that had its own dining room, and I used to sneak in and snaffle the after-dinner chocolates. Sometimes, after a hard day’s smiling, a girl needs some cocoa solids to make life seem worthwhile.

At one office, a bloke took a shine to me and kept bringing me Danish pastries. At another very large company, I was put in charge of organising the almost-daily birthday celebrations, which meant dealing with big cakes all the time. I mean, how could I resist?

My days consisted of smiling, eating biscuits, smiling, eating pastries, smiling, taking people’s coats (otherwise known as “exercise”), signing for packages, eating lunch, smiling, and finishing off huge plates of cakes and sandwiches. The only thing that saved me from obesity was that I was constantly being sacked.

So you see, I have huge admiration for anybody who can do that job and stay thin. Skinny receptionists – your deskbound colleagues salute you and your tremendous resolve in the face of temptation. In fact, what are paragons such as you doing working in offices? You should become life coaches.