Eating well in the workplace

by Lt. Col. Twyla Leigh
U.S. Army Public Health Command

It’s been a long day at the office. Visions of the vending machine flash through your mind. Caffeine and sugar are calling your name — STOP!

The additional 140 calories from a 12-ounce can of soda and 220 calories (or more) from a candy bar or bagged snack, if eaten on most work days, will create a weight gain of a jumbo 25 pounds per year.

Even if the soda is diet and only the candy or bagged snack is eaten, expect a weight gain of 15 pounds per year. Add to that the extra calories we eat when someone brings in donuts or “goodies” to the office, or what about that desktop candy jar?

These office hazards add to inevitable weight gain that most of us blame on aging, heredity and/or metabolism. We are not doomed to work in “obesifying” office conditions and can make positive changes to manage our health and weight.
Be prepared for office pitfalls (even if you work from home) and plan ahead.
Here is a list of strategies to consider for a healthier work environment:

Eat breakfast — Breakfast skippers start the day at a disadvantage and may start grazing early and feel they have no will power or resistance to sugary and fatty foods they might otherwise avoid.

Bring healthy (and portion-controlled) snacks — Prepare snacks the night before, portioned in snack bags. Some examples of healthy snacks include roasted almonds; low-fat cheese wedges (non-refrigerated, like Laughing Cow); fresh seasonal fruit like apples, grapes, cherries or berries; fresh cut vegetables like
celery, cucumbers, bell peppers, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, with or without low-fat dressing, or maybe a couple of olives or pickle slices; 100-calorie prepackaged snacks; low-fat popcorn if a microwave is available; hard-boiled egg; or low-fat, low-sugar yogurt.

Eat mindfully — No matter what you are eating, focus on the
smell, taste and crunch. Don’t eat and work or watch the screen at the same time. This type of “multi-tasking” doesn’t allow you to realize that you are satisfied with your snack and you may be tempted to keep “grazing.”

Think thirsty, not hungry — Have lots of cool water on hand to drink throughout the day. Many times we think we are hungry and overeat when we have not had enough fluids.

Read labels — Look at the content of the vending machine. Ask the person who works with the vending company to add lower calorie, lower fat and higher protein snacks to the mix.

Move more — Take a walk. Stand up and stretch.

Identify supportive co-workers — Share recipe ideas for healthy snacks. Encourage one another to eat healthy and exercise more.

Change the office culture — Model good eating. If you bring in a snack to share, make it healthy — fresh fruit, whole grains and lower fat recipes. Suggest non-food rewards and celebrations.

Positive recognition and certificates of appreciation add to a supportive, productive and healthier work culture.