Overcoming weight bias in the workplace

We all know that being overweight can have serious health consequences. But new research suggests the size of your waistline can also damage your career.

Mary Rust is a registered nurse, and as she walks the floor at work she is a picture of health. But it hasn't always been that way.

"I weighed 230 pounds at my maximum," she said. "And I will tell you it probably occupied my thought process every waking moment of every day."

She said that was especially true at work. "You try to be a wallflower. You try to blend in. You don't want people to notice you."

A recent study from Wayne State University found overweight people in the workplace are often stereotyped as lazy, sloppy, having little self control and more health problems.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Gary Malone, it can be a major hurdle in the hiring process. "Even someone who is equally trained, equally experienced, on interview, the thinner person is dramatically more likely to get the job than the heavier person," he said.

There is is some encouraging news in the study. Researchers found that the longer an overweight person is part of an organization, the more the bias against them decreases.

According to Doctor Malone, awareness and understanding are part of the solution.

"Every overweight person I've ever seen is a human being with feelings," he said. "And by the way very sensitive feelings." But he also said anyone struggling with their weight should face the issue, not avoid it.

When Mary looked at her options, she chose gastric bypass surgery. And her co-workers provided critical emotional support. "If it was the first time in many years that I had tucked in a shirt, they would stand up and clap. Look at Mary today. Mary's got her shirt tucked in," Mary said.

At age 56, Mary now runs triathlons and wins. As for the workplace, she's says she's more involved and outgoing than ever.

Mary Rust/registered nurse: "They go, 'do you feel like a new person?' I tell them it's better than that," she said. "It's the old Mary got to come back out of the shell. And that's better than a new person."

Researchers say addressing the issue of weight bias is more important than ever as Americans continue to pack on the pounds.