You’ve promised yourself that you will be good and stick to your healthy diet, go for a run at lunchtime and make a sensible dinner. Then by bedtime you realize that you’ve eaten a piece of cake, chips and cookies, sat down all day as you worked through lunch and grabbed a burger with fries on the way back from some accidental post-work drinks.
There are few things that are as bad for a healthy eating plan as a working day it seems. This is possibly why 50% of women say that they put on weight every year because of their jobs. When you consider how much time you spend at work it’s little wonder that the choices you make in your work environment can make or break your best of diet intentions.
Why is dieting at work so hard?
“Being surrounded by temptation can be torture,” confirms nutritionist and eating psychologist Claudia Le Feuvre. “The food can feel like it is calling your name.”
From the get-go we are likely to fall into calorie traps. That large latte you grabbed because you didn’t have time to have one at home? If it was from a coffee shop, it’s likely to contain almost 200 calories compared to the 20 calories from cup of coffee with a tiny splash of cream at home.
If you are on your way to an office job this is likely to be the tip of the naughty treat iceberg. Most people will find their willpower tested by 11am with calls for orders for a snack run or a box of donuts being passed around. How can you possibly resist?
“My first question is; are you eating enough at meal times?” asks Claudia. “So often we reach for the treats because we have skipped breakfast or don’t eat enough at lunchtime. Keep some oatcakes in your drawer for situations where you are hungry and need to nibble.”
Are you suffering from food amnesia?
The worst of it is you are likely to forget that slice of cake which was passed to you over the desk thanks to what Claudia describes as “food amnesia”.
She says: “If treats are being handed around – for example a packet of cookies - put a couple of biscuits on a plate. Then take a break from your screen and slowly savor and enjoy every mouthful. It's the mindless, unconscious eating that causes us to 'forget'. When we eat mindlessly we can lose our connection with our appetite. When this happens, we consume bigger portions and eat when we aren't hungry.”
Eating for interest not hunger
But being hungry isn’t the only reason many of us snack at work. Boredom is the enemy of the healthy eater at work as eating stimulates one of our senses when we are in an otherwise less simulating environment. And when we are bored we are more likely to choose badly as well as eat when we simply don’t need to. “To overcome boredom or stress sometimes people feel like some crunch or salt or sweetness,” confirms Claudia. “Often this is an emotional rather than physical hunger. The key is to recognize it for what it is - are you physically hungry? What is your trigger? If you decide to munch away anyway that's fine but do it slowly and enjoy every mouthful - you will eat less!”
Can stress cause comfort eating?
A main cause of work-related weight gain is stress and in a recent study, 77% of employees who say they’re heavier than they used to be describe stress in their jobs as “extremely high”. The report notes that “workers who say they have extremely high on-the-job stress are 53% more likely to say they’re overweight than workers who say they have extremely low stress”.
This is because stress can cause the body to crave foods high in fat, sugar, or both.
Are desk jobs bad for your waistline?
If you have a job which basically involves sitting down, whether that’s at a desk or a till, you won’t be exercising and burning up any extra calories. Too many hours spent sitting at a desk was the most-cited reason for work-related weight gain in a study last year, with 53% of respondents saying they blame their weight gain on spending most of their day on their bum. And 45% said they were “too tired from work to exercise” which further hampered their efforts to shape up.
Peer pressure to eat
If you can resist that sugar and fat laden birthday cake at 3pm then you are a stronger willed person than most. Not least because saying “no” goes against our human instinct in such social situations. “Sometimes it feels easier to accept treats being handed round,” says Claudia. “A lot of people don't want the attention that comes with declining them.” But if you already have some ways of saying “no thank you” in your head it can be easier to refuse the extra food you probably want and certainly don’t need. And the more you get used to saying no, the easier it will become. If certain people keep on at you about your decision to say no, have a think about their motives. Do they want you to indulge so they feel better about tucking in themselves? You don’t need to eat to please other people.