Birthdays, bakers, and other office goodies that can turn your workplace into a calorie trap
"We didn't take the M&M's away. We just made them a little more difficult to get to."
Google's minor change in the kitchen, People & Innovation Lab Manager Jennifer Kurkoski told Wired, has resulted in 3.1 million fewer calories consumed by employees in the New York City office.
M&M's might not be the problem in your office. Maybe it's a free vending machine or a colleague's candy dish or an endless stream of gourmet food trucks outside the building. And while being at the office can provide opportunities to eat healthfully—think well-planned, brown-bag lunches or no access to the goodies waiting in your fridge at home—it's not always a bastion of nutrition.
In fact, a number of common office personalities can become real diet saboteurs if you don't take action. We spoke to Elisa Zied, R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian, and founder and president of Zied Health Communications, about some of the most common ones we've encountered, plus how to make sure you don't overdo it.
For many of the following scenarios, she says, a couple of general strategies can help. First, make your own health goals and rules the top priority. "It's important not to feel pressure to eat," says Zied. "You kind of have to be happy with who you are and not let other people influence what you eat just to be cool. We're grown ups!"
But what about when you are rattled by sudden food in the office or by a spontaneous happy hour invitation? It's tough to know when you'll feel vulnerable to indulge—or who will be the personality to rope you in. But there are some times to definitely be on your toes. Stress from a looming deadline can make you particularly vulnerable to craving attacks, says Zied, as can the mid-afternoon when you're dragging and sapped of energy. The sweeter and fattier the food is, the more likely you are to really want it, she adds, but these aren't the foods that will energize you and nourish you to finish out the day at your physical and mental best.
Click through the list below to find out which other office personalities contribute to your daily calorie consumption, and what you can do to avoid these diet traps. Then tell us in the comments: Do you recognize any of these scenarios at your office?
The problem: Your co-worker always wants you to go out to eat with her.
The solution: "It's great to sometimes be spontaneous," says Zied, "but it's also good if you know well in advance which days or how many times a week you want to go out." Maybe you'll vow to bring your lunch Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or only go out to eat on Mondays. If the colleague that's always craving takeout is a good friend, have a standing appointment, or if something comes up and a co-worker just wants to talk, you can be there for them without eating, she says.
You can also probably guess the three or four neighborhood haunts that a co-worker is likely to recommend for a midday meal. "Have a plan of action for what you're going to order so it takes the guesswork out of it," says Zied, whether that's a small soup and half a sandwich at the nearby deli, or a veggie-loaded pizza slice at the Italian joint. Aim for lots of vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean protein and "mindful portions," and you can turn the unexpected lunch into fun and healthy nourishment with good company.
The problem: Your officemate makes tempting treats at home and shares the leftovers in the office. Worst is the baker who takes a polite "No, thank you," as an insult to the chef.
The solution: "You can't let people pressure you to eat things that you might not even love just to make them feel better," says Zied, so don't waste your calories. If even the nicest no just won't do, go for a little white lie. "Say, 'I just had a cookie, but I'll take one and eat it tonight or tomorrow,' so you're not insulting the person, then give it away."
The problem: Your co-worker loves to celebrate, whether it be with birthday cake or Cinco de Mayo homemade guacamole...and you just can't say no.
The solution: It's hard to plan around every birthday, so when a celebration comes up, it's okay to count those treats as part of dinner, says Zied. "Count in your brain, ‘Okay, I had my healthy fats and whole grains, so I'll have some vegetables and lean protein for my dinner,'" she says. If they’re available, indulge in your office snacks from a small plate instead of the serving dishes and stick to one helping. Keeping a drink in one hand can also limit how much you snack, as can popping in a breath mint!
The problem: Your friend wants to go out for something chocolaty or topped with whipped cream rather than sipping the office coffee.
The solution: There's nothing wrong with going along and getting an unsweetened tea or a water, says Zied, especially if you don't drink coffee (or just say you don't). If your colleague knows you go for a cup of Joe, you can always fib and say you just had a cup.
The problem: Your boss or manager caters meetings with cookies or plans a pizza party for completing a big project or working late nights.
The solution: "Don't feel like you can't participate if you're hungry and if you want to participate," says Zied. It will make you all feel good to enjoy the company—and the food—and celebrate your work success. If you want to make sure you don't overdo it, try talking and socializing more. "You can eat less without being noticed," says Zied. "You don't have to feel guilty if you participate, but you can be mindful of how much you're eating and how often you’re letting yourself be lured by the office food."
It's important to keep in mind that every once in a while, you might overdo it in a situation like this. "Food is part of the fun of life, and it's okay to enjoy it—we're only human!" says Zied. You can cut back a little at dinner that night and get back on track the next day.