Monday morning arrives and you’re excited. Today is the first day of your new diet! Heading to work, you feel confident with high energy. But within just a few hours… your colleague walks by and offers you a plate of delicious sugary doughnuts!! What do you do?!
We all know how this familiar story will end. Social influence at work can sabotage our healthy eating efforts, making it seem almost impossible to avoid sugary treats and unhealthy luncheons! A few treats are fine on occasion, but after indulging in hundreds of calories of extra unhealthy snacks at work every day, you may experience unwanted weight gain, and all the sugar will have a negative impact on your energy.
If you struggle with “food peer pressure” in a work or social setting, this article will give you 3 practical tips to fight unhealthy food temptations at work and stick to your healthy eating goals!
Tip #1 Be proactive by saving yourself with emergency snacks
Many work environments are obesogenic and promote a culture of unhealthy eating and snacking. High-calorie, fattening snacks are often readily available and shared widely amongst coworkers. When you inevitably get hungry during your work day, you are likely to head straight to the junk food corner!
The first secret to save yourself from unhealthy snacking is to put yourself back in control of the snacks available to you throughout the day. The first principle of Stephen Covey’s famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to “Be Proactive”, which is a skill you need to practice in your office snacking environment. Stop trying to resist the junk food with discipline alone. Peer pressure weakens your discipline and will make every day feel like a never-ending struggle.
Remember, you WILL get hungry at some point during your workday. Once you are hungry, you WILL look at your environment for a snack, and you WILL eat whatever is most convenient and quick. (Consider this a rule of eating behaviors!)
Stop the cycle of resisting the tempting junk by bringing your own healthy snacks from home. Keep your snacks easily packaged (in a Tupperware, Ziploc bag, or clingwrap) and readily available on your desk or purse. As soon as you feel hunger, you can immediately reach for your own snacks, which are now MORE convenient than the office junk food!
Healthy snacks that will boost your energy should be:
- High in protein
- No added sugar (or as low in added sugar as possible)
- Wholegrain or whole wheat
- High in fiber
Excellent examples of healthy work-friendly snack options include:
- Single-serve sugar-free yogurt package with a spoon (go for a plain Greek-style yogurt and add your own fruits for less sugar and fresher flavor!)
- Fruits with peels (bananas, oranges, mandarins)
- Cut fruit in a Tupperware container (sliced apples, pears, kiwi fruit, peaches, watermelon, cantaloupe, melons)
- Small ready-washed fruits in a Ziploc bag (grapes, raisins, dates)
- Dips to pair with your fruit: cottage cheese, peanut butter
- Overnight Oats
- Wholegrain crackers with feta cheese
- No-sugar-added date balls
- A no-sugar-added protein bar or granola bar (Read: the Quick guide on how to buy the best granola bars)
- 1 small handful of dried fruit (apricots, figs) or nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios)
- 1 Ziploc bag of air-popped popcorn with no butter (season with salt, pepper and a spritz of olive oil!)
- Leftovers from last night’s dinner (stir-fry, chicken or beans make excellent snacks!)
Tip #2 – Make the hard choices early
Research shows that we are more likely to make poor food choices when we are presented with unhealthy food choices, and made to choose immediately. Human beings have a “present bias”, which means we underestimate long-term consequences of our choices when we are making an immediate decision. When we make a decision in advance, we are better able to weigh the pros and cons, our circumstances, desires and challenges, and make an informed decision.
Whenever possible, try and make your food choices in ADVANCE. From a psychology perspective, whenever you plan your meals and snacks early, you are more likely to eat healthily!
To make this very practical: During your commute to work (eg. in the car, or on the train) make a conscious habit of quickly deciding your 3 types of eating at work:
- Pick your lunch choice: Do you have a packed lunch? Or will you be eating out? If you are eating out, try and plan the restaurant and exact item you will order in ADVANCE so you don’t get drawn into the menu and pick an unhealthy item spontaneously later on. If your work caters lunch, plan what you will select for lunch and whether you will make any special requests (brown bread instead of white bread, etc.)
- Plan your snacks: Think about the foods you have brought with you from home. What healthy snacks are you equipped with? When will you eat them – before lunch? After a prayer break?
- Plan your indulgences: Remember, a few small treats are perfectly fine in moderation – maybe you decide you will have ONE Timbit at work or ONE small cupcake or HALF a doughnut or a SMALL slice of cake. Making this conscious decision EARLY will prevent you from eating 3 doughnuts at work and feeling guilty later!
Tip #3 – Stop the mindless munching!
The fundamental reason that munching snacks at the office is so harmful to your weight and health is that office snacking often promotes a culture of mindless eating, as you munch on snacks while doing other work.
Numerous studies have shown that you eat more food when you are distracted, especially on a screen. You will feel less satisfied and want to keep eating. On top of this, when you choose to eat sugary snacks like candy or fattening snacks like chips during mindless eating, this becomes even worse. You take in a huge amount of calories in a very short time, and you don’t even feel full!
If you are having trouble resisting treats at work, here’s a new suggestion: Instead of trying to STOP eating the office junk food, why not try making a new rule that you can eat anything you want in the office, as long as you eat in MINDFULLY, with FULL attention, NOT distracted, and you STOP eating when you feel full.
Mindful eating is a tremendous skill to practice, and once mastered, you will be able to eat more of what you enjoy with less guilt! (Watch: Quick video on how to practice mindful eating).
If you commit yourself to ONLY eat at work when you are NOT on the computer or doing other work, and you engage your 5 senses in a truly mindful eating experience, you will notice a dramatic difference in your workplace eating behaviours, and you will find yourself enjoying your foods a lot more too!
What are your favourite go-to healthy office snacks? Let us know in the comments below!