Out smart office snacks, vending machines, and convincing coworkers

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A lot of my one-on-one clients tell me that their days start on a healthy note and they eat a balanced lunch but by mid-afternoon, boredom, or having too much work leads to unplanned snack attacks. Now, a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms that women who suffer from work burnout are more likely to develop emotional eating habits.

About 230 women between the ages of 30 and 55 took part in the study. At the start, each completed surveys about job burnout and eating habits. 22 percent felt some degree of work burnout and as a group these women experienced more emotional and uncontrolled eating. In contrast, those who didn't feel job burnout tended to curb uncontrolled eating over a year's time.

In this economy changing jobs or quitting may not be possible, so how do you get through it without turning to food? Here, I share six suggestions.

Ban goodie gifts

Ask your close friends and co-workers to agree to a no food gift policy. Many of us show we care with candy or treats but when those goodies are right in front of you it's almost impossible to say no. Instead, agree to exchange things like flowers, magazines, or funny cards.

Create a designated ‘treats zone'

This strategy requires everyone in the office to agree to make one spot the predetermined location for things like donuts, cupcakes, and candy. In many offices, they're sprinkled throughout, which makes them extremely difficult to avoid. But if you have to go to a specific spot, preferably one that's not super easy to get to, you'll be less likely to go searching.

Celebrate birthdays once a month

Ask your boss and office mates to start a new tradition of celebrating a month's worth of birthdays on one day, maybe the first week of the month or in the middle, so you're not repeatedly faced with slices of cake, cupcakes, or other goodies.

Bring your own meals to work

Some of my clients eat three or four meals at the office each day. Bringing your own makes it less likely that you'll give in to fast food, takeout, vending machines or less than healthy cafeteria fare. Make tomorrow's lunch as part of your evening routine and the next day do whatever you can to avoid leaving home without it, like placing a note on your door handle.

Recruit a lunch buddy

Invite a co-worker to pledge to eating a nutritious lunch with you each day or start a healthy lunch club. Committing to other people gives you both accountability and support. You can simply eat together or have a healthy potluck Monday through Friday.

Walk at work

I'm a huge fan of walking because it doesn't require any special equipment other than a good pair of shoes. You can pick up an inexpensive pedometer, wear it for a day, and track your steps, then set measureable goals for yourself. If you're only taking 5,000 steps aim for 6,000 and gradually work your way up to 10,000, which is the recommended goal. Carve out some time before you start your computer, during your lunch break, and in the afternoon. Walking can be a major stress reliever and fitting exercise into your workday ups the chances that you'll actually get some every day. Even an extra 200 calories burned daily could result in shedding 20 pounds by this time next year!

What's your take on this topic? Do you struggle with emotional eating at work? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.


Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.