Like it or not, we spend a lot of time at work. The majority of us spend at least 40 hours a week – if not longer – doing whatever it is we do for a living. Break that down over a year, and that’s a lot of time to spend at one place. Interestingly enough, that amount of time also equals a lot of meals and snacks eaten on the job in a year’s time. In fact, some experts estimate that up to half of our diets are consumed at work. This can be treacherous if you’re on a diet or trying to lose weight, thanks in part to plentiful unhealthy lunch options and an abundance of snacks on hand. However, with a little discipline and strategizing, it is possible to eat healthy at the office.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says a book called “Slim By Design” by food psychologist and behavioral economist Brian Wansink holds some valuable information about the environments in which we eat. “Wansink did extensive research on food behaviors and how they affect weight,” Pierce said. “His basic concept is that becoming slimmer by design works better than trying to slim down through willpower alone. He observed five eating environments, including the workplace, where his focus was on what affects our lunch and snack choices. He found that the two major pitfalls were the candy bowl and choosing to eat lunch at our desks. Wansink found that people who keep candy in or around their desks reported weighing more than 15 pounds heavier than those who don’t. How that candy is presented also has an impact, with people who had a clear bowl containing chocolate on their desks yielding the highest intake of about nine pieces of candy per day. One possible solution here is, if you have a clear candy bowl on or near your desk, try to fill it with something you have a bit more control over, such as hard candy,” Pierce explained. “Of course, the best solution would be to hide it in a drawer or move it somewhere further from reach,” she added.
Pierce says when it comes to choosing to eat at our desks, we often make poor choices. “Eating at our desks typically is associated with unhealthy eating,” Pierce said. “You think you’re doing it because you have a lot of work to get done, but the reality is that sometimes there’s simply nothing better to do. Plus, if you power through lunch and just nibble on something, there’s a good chance you’ll compensate by eating worse later in the day, as well. The trick here is to pack your lunch the night before, preferably after dinner when you’re already feeling full. You’re more likely to choose a healthy balance when you’re putting more thought into your selections,” she said. “Plus, getting away from your desk for a few minutes actually has been shown to reduce stress,” she added.
There also are some strategies for eating at the workplace cafeteria. “When you visit the cafeteria, try to remember to put fruit on your plate first. Wansink’s research found that people who did this ended up making healthier choices in the line, as it seemed to trigger a chain reaction of making better food choices,” Pierce explained. “Also, whenever you can, pay with cash. Wansink found that people who paid with cash bought fewer soft drinks and desserts than those who used credit or debit cards.”
Employers also can play a part in helping employees eat better. “A lot of office health talk focuses on employees who are not healthy,” Pierce said. “However, there are some things employers can do to help workers eat better on the job. Look for opportunities to help your employees get up from their desks, such as a break room makeover or by simply providing a fruit bowl. Employers also can try providing discounts for employees who use cash in the cafeteria instead of credit or debit cards. These simple strategies promote and overall healthier office culture,” she explained. “The goal is really to help keep healthy employees healthy and help unhealthy employees make improvements along the way,” she added.