How to Make Healthy Food Decisions at Work

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Your alarm clock goes off while it’s still dark. You leave warm blankets behind to exercise before work. You make a healthy breakfast and drink a cup of green tea. At the office, you head to the break room to fill up your water bottle.

Then you see it. Doughnuts. Fresh, warm, icing-dripping-down-the-sides doughnuts. They look so good, yet you resist. You walk down the hall to your office and spot the candy dish loaded with mini chocolate bars. You manage to walk past it.

At a lunch meeting a few hours later, you’re feeling tired and stressed. You see a platter of gooey cookies and cold sodas. You can’t resist any longer! Maybe just one, you think, as you crack open a soda and grab a cookie.

For so many of us, this scenario is a familiar one. We start the day with the best intentions to eat right and stay active. Then we go to work and face obstacles to maintaining our healthy habits. The workplace often is full of sugary, high-calorie foods.

Perhaps worse, the average person spends 13 hours a day sitting, which can drain you of energy, zap your willpower and make you crave the rush of a sugary snack. The sedentary nature of work and regular availability of unhealthy foods is perhaps why 41 percent of workers surveyed in 2013 reported that they had gained weight at their current job.

The good news is that with the right planning you can curb you sugar cravings and resist that doughnut all day long! Here are two strategies that you can start using today.

Have a Plan

At some point during your workday, you likely hit a low point for energy, focus and productivity. At these moments you’re vulnerable to those unhealthy, sugary (or salty) snacks. You may know that a chocolate bar will give you only a temporary boost, but you push logic aside for the short-term satisfaction.

To resist those urges, track your low-energy moments and have a plan.

  1. Look for a change of scenery. When you start feeling tired, move to a conference room to work or schedule a meeting with a co-worker in another part of the office. Getting out of your chair and changing your environment can help to boost your energy and reduce the need for an unhealthy snack.

  2. Have a healthy snack option visible. If you bring a healthy snack to work, don’t hide it in a drawer or bag. Place it right on your desk before you hit your low-energy moment. Research has shown that you are more likely to eat what you see — whether healthy or unhealthy — than what you can’t see.

Get Moving

While we might wish we could break up the day with a run or spin class, often we are stuck in our chairs nearly all day. Fortunately, a recent study suggests that even short bursts of walking may help to curb sugar cravings.

Researchers from the University of Austria examined the ability of overweight people to resist sugary snacks. One group walked at a moderate pace on a treadmill for 15 minutes while the other group sat still for 15 minutes. After sitting or walking, the participants unwrapped a piece of candy. The participants who had just walked reported significantly lower cravings both while walking and when holding the unwrapped candy.

This study is exciting because it suggests that even on a busy day, you can squeeze in activity that can boost your willpower.

  • Take the long route. We have so few reasons to move in the modern office. When you do need to get up, try taking the long route to wherever you have to go. You will feel more energized after the walk and increase your daily step count.

  • Consider adding a standing or treadmill desk to your workspace. With a treadmill desk, you can walk while you work and feel healthier, making it easier to resist break-room temptations. A standing desk makes it more likely that you will move around the office compared to sitting in a chair.

  • Plan walking meetings with interested co-workers. In addition to helping you make healthier food choices, walking meetings often are more efficient and enjoyable than sitting around a conference table. Share the benefits of walking meetings to develop a regular group of people who want to walk and talk.

Maintaining healthy habits at work is not always easy. But with the right strategies you can make sure that work does not stand in the way of your health goals. The next thing you know, you will be walking past those doughnuts without a second thought.