By Stacy Covitz
It’s 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, and rather than working on a project, I’m staring hard at a tray of cupcakes. They’re practically jumping off our conference table, daring me to take one. Just today, I’ve turned down donuts and bagels at breakfast, plus an invitation to get tacos for lunch. How much willpower can any one person have?
In my quest to eat healthy 80 percent of the time, I feel like I’ve mastered grocery shopping, meal prepping, and snacking at home. I’m even good at making healthy choices in restaurants and being smart about how often I should splurge. But the work food obstacles get the better of me more than they should. Most of the time, I don’t want to eat “sometimes foods” at work because I want to splurge on evenings and weekends with my friends. Here are some common landmines and the ways I’m trying to avoid them:
1. The free food traps
The leftover birthday cake your co-worker brought in, the bowls of candy on colleagues’ desks, bagels left over from a meeting. Sometimes the bagels are old and don’t even look super appetizing — but you’re hungry and stressed, the food is free, and free food tastes better, right?
- First of all, remember the food isn’t free if you have to buy new clothes in a bigger size!
- I bring a big insulated lunch bag to work every day with food to combat these situations. Want something sweet? I have fruit, hard candy, and chocolate Premier Protein drinks that taste like chocolate milk. Want something salty? I have snack-sized bags of air-popped popcorn and baked Cheetos. Need a crunch? I have cut up veggies and salsa. Having a stocked food bag, or food drawer, also keeps me from getting so hungry that I make poor choices at other meals. “It’s much easier to say no to tempting foods if you aren’t overly hungry,” says Carey Shore, MS, RD, LD, wellness coach and program coordinator with Methodist Health System’s wellness team.
- I take a minute to ask myself why I want the food. If it’s because I’m stressed, I take a five-minute walk or do some stretches. If it’s because I’m hungry, I eat one of my healthy snacks and chug some water.
These are great for morale, employee engagement, and team building, but not so great for your waistline. My department likes to celebrate birthdays, big accomplishments, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, the Super Bowl — and nobody wants to miss the bonding because they prioritize eating nutritiously.
- When it’s a potluck situation, like Mardi Gras or the Super Bowl, I have no problem being the weirdo who contributes a big veggie tray with hummus or a non-fat buffalo chicken dip made with Greek yogurt and hot sauce. This way, I can put that healthy food on a plate with just a few bites of one of the other dishes.
- Water, water, everywhere! I keep sparkling water in my office, too. Sometimes holding a drink keeps my hands busy enough that I feel less awkward about not eating.
- Is the gumbo made by someone with real New Orleans roots? Is the cake from the best bakery in town? If so, have a small serving or see if a co-worker wants to share a piece. If it’s not, grab one of the bags of fruit you brought and don’t stay long at the party.
3. The working lunch
Lunch meetings, charity luncheons, and dinners with vendors all pop up in my line of work, which can add several thousand calories to the week.
- At meals during the week, I make myself choose among bread, alcohol, or dessert. For lunches, of course, the only options are bread and dessert, but by choosing just one, I can save a lot of empty calories at luncheons.
- I eat one of my bags of veggies before leaving for lunch so I don’t let hunger influence my choices.
- If we’re going to a restaurant, I look at the menu ahead of time so I can make a good choice, then I stick with it!
4. The sabotaging co-workers
Don’t we all have co-workers who encourage us to splurge when we don’t want to? The ones who say, “Just eat it; you deserve it,” or “Why are you on a diet?”
- I explain that I’m really not on a diet, but rather making a real effort to embrace a healthy lifestyle and make smarter choices 80 percent of the time.
- Having the previously mentioned healthy snacks on hand makes it easier for me to be firm when I say, “No, thank you!”
5. Sometimes it’s okay to say, “Yes, please!”
If healthy eating is your endgame, you can’t be super strict! If the work lunch is from one of your favorite restaurants, get what you want occasionally. If the birthday cake is from a bakery you love, eat half of a piece. Shore says: “Any eating plan that deprives you of the foods you enjoy is not a sustainable one. Allow yourself to include those foods; just practice moderation. That style is one that will stick with you for a lifetime.”
The cupcakes I’ve been eyeing for half an hour now are from a grocery store. Tempting as it is, I’m going to have them moved out of my sight line and eat some berries.
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