People often tell me that they couldn’t work from home because they couldn’t trust themselves near the couch or the fridge. Neither of those temptations are a problem for me, here in my home office. I love my work, so of course I don’t need to force or discipline myself to do something I want to do.
Secondly, I know what’s in the fridge and in the cupboards. Though I love Shanghai Bok Choy, it never distracts or tempts me mid-day. But I do remember my first ‘real’ job. And I’m not proud of how many donuts I consumed.
The truth is many workplaces offer more food temptations than your home or mine. After a year’s leave, health care administrator Betty Thompson, had this to say.
"Not only is there more stress in the work environment, which induces eating, there’s a lot more food around to resist, adding more stress. Wherever I show up people are offering food. Sometimes it’s a cultural thing. You just have to try the cheese buns or you might offend someone. And today, because it’s Easter, everyone had chocolate!"
Betty feels she had much more control of what she ate during her year away from work, and even effortlessly shed a few pounds.
Food in the workplace often comes with good intention, like celebrating birthdays or recognizing accomplishments. Other times, it’s just an excuse to eat. So what to do about this pervasive, cultural problem?
There is evidence to show that, like rats, (sorry) the harder we humans have to work for food, the less we will eat. Dr. Brian Wansink, food psychologist and author of "Mindless Eating," did several studies (with humans) that prove that the convenience of a food has a significant impact on whether we will eat it or not. For example, in a cafeteria when a glass door to an ice-cream cooler was left open, 16% more ice cream was consumed. A candy dish placed six feet away resulted in secretaries eating four chocolates a day versus nine when the candy was on their desk. Therefore, there are things we can do to make food less accessible. Because food is now available everywhere, we need to manage our environment where and when we can.
Here are a few ideas to minimize food temptations in the workplace.
- Put food further away and out of sight – in the cupboard instead of outside of it.
- Create a "Junk-Free Zone."
- Remove vending machines.
- Offer: flowers, fruit, sparklers, songs and speeches for celebrations and rewards.
- If you can’t move the food, move away from it. Stay away from the staff room.
- Don’t bring leftover Easter or Halloween candies to the office. THROW THEM OUT!
- Pressure your office cafeteria to provide a health-conscious menu.
- If the meeting leftovers are calling your name, change your name. Don’t get into a discussion about "should I" or "shouldn’t I," setting yourself up for defeat. Walk away.
Of course I’m not suggesting you should never eat muffins or cake. But maybe you’re eating too much and you would eat a lot less if they weren’t so prevalent in your environment.
If you’re the one baking or buying the treats, ask yourself what you want to achieve by this. How can you achieve it in another way? If you’re the one eating the treats, before you dig in – pause. Ask yourself, "Is this worth it? Does this food fit in to my balanced diet, or does it tip the scale on the side of too many empty calories?"
Remember that the muffin top above your waist isn’t quite as nice and lasts a lot longer than the blueberry version. Maybe you want to save this caloric expenditure for a planned extravagance, not an unconscious one inhaled while standing by the coffee machine.
If all else fails, you might consider working from home. Kidding aside, when you keep busy doing work that you love you’re less likely to turn to food or other distractions. And if you continue to be an office dweller you can always bring a bok choy salad. Just make sure you keep it in the fridge or everyone will want some. Out of sight, out of mind.