Is Your Workplace Derailing Your Diet Efforts?

23 12 2015

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Is your workplace a haven for healthy eating, or torturing you with temptation? Many of my clients come to me with stories of break rooms stocked with donuts, chips, and homemade brownies. And, if it’s not the break room, it’s candy dishes filled with chocolate, or corporate reps bringing in catered food and desserts. This can make the office a very difficult place to navigate when you are trying to lose weight, or simply lead a healthy lifestyle.
Given the fact that most of you spend more than 40 hours a week on the job, your work environment can be a great support system for you, or could also have damaging effects on your weight loss efforts and healthy eating goals.
Many people have very stressful jobs and often admit to turning to food for comfort. When the foods they are faced with at work are cake and cookies, these are the foods they choose. So, even though you may think it’s nice to bring in donuts every day for your coworkers, it is likely not helping their stress levels or their health. Choosing “junk food” to help increase energy and cope with stress can often backfire as these foods don’t contain the essential nutrients your body needs to help sustain energy and keep you healthy. Quite the opposite, these high sugar, high fat, high sodium foods can leave you feeling chronically tired, sluggish, and unable to concentrate. These are not good qualities you will find in a productive workplace!

So, what can you AND your coworkers do to help everyone stay on track and bring their “A” game?

Here are some great ideas from the PEIA Weight Management Program and Jennipher Walters at Sparkpeople:

1. Pack your own meals and snacks. I discuss this with my clients every day. Planning ahead is key when it comes to eating well at work. Pack a cooler bag with healthy foods for breakfast (if you don’t eat at home), lunch, and snacks. If you often get stuck at work late, bring extra things to keep in the office fridge or your desk drawer. This will also curb the temptation to go to out, or go to the “loaded” break room or vending machine for food. For tips on packing a healthy lunch and snacks, click here and here.

2. Find a “healthy eating buddy” (actually, find as many as you can- there is strength in numbers!). Finding social support for healthy lifestyle practices makes working toward your goals so much easier! Enlist someone you know supports your efforts or shares the same goals. Talk about your commitments and how to support each other (or call each other out!) along your journey to good health. I have groups of people in work places participating in our program together, and they make great teams!

3. Control your environment. Make the break room and vending machine areas off limits. If you know that tempting food is there, make a commitment not to go near them. Find other things to do on your break. Eat a healthy snack that you have packed, or grab your “buddy” and go outside for a walk. If the vending machine is a big problem, take small change and dollar bills out of your wallet and keep them at home. If office candy dishes are an issue, keep them out of sight. You are much less likely to eat that chocolate if you can’t see it.

4. Start a healthy eating group to plan healthy meals or snacks for the office. I actually have clients who take turns bringing in lunch fixings for themselves and their healthy eating buddies so that no one gets out of eating a healthy lunch! It also takes the burden off having to prep lunch for themselves every day. Try setting up one day a week to bring in healthy snacks for the office like fruit, veggies, nuts and cheese. When others see what delicious foods you bring in, the idea may catch on. You just might have more people joining your group!

5. Practice saying “No thank you”. Yes, really practice this…in a mirror if you have to. There will always be people insisting that you try their special recipe for ooey, gooey chocolate chip cookies. If these are not in your cards for the day, politely say “No thanks”, thank them for their generosity, and move on. If they seem disappointed, explain your goals and your commitment to these goals. They should understand that what they are offering is not helping you get where you want to be. If they are real tough cases, get some great tips here from Sparkpeople.

6. As a coworker, be sensitive to the needs of your fellow employees. They may have serious medical conditions (like Diabetes), behavioral struggles (like an eating disorder), or allergies (like peanut or egg allergies) that you know nothing about. Bringing in treats to be nice and show affection may seem harmless, but may be an insurmountable obstacle that could actually cause harm. Try setting aside one day a month to bring in office treats so that people know ahead of time what to expect and can plan accordingly. This shows respect for them and saves you from stopping to buy donuts every day.

7. If you decide to indulge, choose your favorite and savor every bite. Be mindful and present in the moment. Make the conscious decision to eat and enjoy your choice. Keep your portion in check and eat slowly. Remember, the first three bites are always the best! After you enjoy your treat, go right back to your healthy eating plan.

Remember that engaging in healthy eating and physical activity can be contagious! People will admire your commitment and often decide to join in the fun! You can be the catalyst for change in your environment, so take the first step today to create a healthier, more productive workplace.

Cathy Shaw, RD, LD is a registered and licensed dietitian for the PEIA Weight Management Program

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