Michelle was a slim size ten when she first started working as an executive assistant at a large law firm. Michelle had just finished university, was used to going to the gym for at least an hour a day and was always too busy to eat. The new job was fabulous; her boss took her to all the big work lunches, the other assistants were always inviting her to morning tea and the Friday night drinks put on by the firm were fantastic. After 3 months at the new job, Michelle noticed her skirts were tight and was shocked to discover she had gained 5kgs. How had it happened?
As we spend more than 8 hours a day there, the work environment, whether it is an office, truck, depot, classroom or plane has a strong influence on the way we eat. The office lolly jar and biscuit tin, coffee breaks, celebratory morning teas, the vending machine and an ever increasing number of food outlets selling delicious lunch treats just some of the temptations we are exposed to during the working day. When this extra eating is coupled with sedentary office jobs and long commutes, it is not surprising that slow, inconspicuous weight gain is often the result.
Food behaviourist Dr Brian Wansink has shown on numerous occasions in his food environment research that basically if food is there you will eat it. In fact one study found that individuals who could see M&M’s on their desk through a glass jar ate double the number of M&M’s than colleagues who had the chocolates under the desk. So, if you honestly think you can have a lolly jar staring you in the face each day and you will not be tempted, think again.
Now, no one is expecting you to be a purist and avoid every office morning tea but it is helpful to understand the most common food traps at work and ways to manage them.
Keeping sweet treats that are on offer out of sight is a good starting point; pack biscuits in cupboards and fundraising chocolates under the desk so they are not staring you in the face constantly. Allocate set times for morning and afternoon tea and try not to eat in between those times. Always keep a supply of filling snacks such as nut and grain based snack bars, cheese and cracker snack packs and hot chocolate drink mixes in your drawer or in the work fridge, so when you are really hungry you have something decent to grab. If you find that there seems to be a cake every second day for someone’s birthday, wedding, new baby; try and allocate one day a month for all celebrations to take place on. Or, when sweet but high kilo joule treats are offered enjoy a mouthful or two and throw the rest away – remember that the most pleasure comes from the first couple of mouthfuls.
Now while the global recession may have slashed the entertaining funds of many large firms, the work lunch remains a risky situation. Lunches eaten out tend to double the number of kilojoules than that of your standard tuna and salad sandwich as the foods are heavier and often accompanied with extra sides and drinks. If you find yourself eating out more than once each week, be strict and stick to light salads, soups and grills. Always order extra vegetables or salad and have a light meal that evening in an attempt to compensate for the extra kilojoules. While the food may be delicious, at the end of the day it is work and it is likely you are already enjoying delicious meals out on the weekend already.
While being strict with your food intake at work may seem pedantic, the harsh reality is that we spend up to a third of our lives there and bad health and fitness habits at work tend to translate into serious weight gain if we are not careful.