Q: Could my job be making me fat? What 'at work' strategies can help me lose weight?
A: Your job might be the most dangerous place for your health, thanks to nearly constant sitting, office gatherings with sugar-packed, high-calorie snacks, strategically-placed bowls of candy that prevent you from taking more than five steps without facing the temptation of a snack-sized candy bar (it’s just one bite right?), and the stress of deadlines and performance that acts as Miracle Grow to these seeds of chronic disease. But don't worry. Becoming aware that you spend 40+ hours a week in this minefield of health woes is the first step to counteracting its negative effects.
According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, there are six different barriers to good nutrition in the workplace. Here are the four most universal and how you can beat them.
1. Lack of time. Many people are too busy at work to take the time to eat, yet not too busy to update their Facebook status or get lost in their inbox for a few hours each day. Schedule your meals and treat them like you would any other appointment. Even the busiest professional can carve 5 minutes out of their mid-morning schedule to have a nutrition bar and 20 oz of water.
2. Limited access to healthy food and water and/or inconvenience. It's true: Eating healthy is inconvenient. Healthy food doesn’t last long in your desk drawer, and I have yet to see a vending machine stocked with lean proteins and fresh pre-cut vegetables. But with a little preparation, the inconvenience of health food goes away. Your strategy here is to be proactive about access. It isn’t up to your employer to have a vending machine full of healthy food. It is up to you to make sure you have what you need to reach your goals; any external support from your workplace should be considered a bonus. You just need two simple things: a metal water bottle for drinking water throughout the day, and a small cooler with ice packs.
I personally like the Sigg reusable bottles because they're free of volatile organic compounds, BPA, phthalates, and several other toxins. Plus, they contain a special liner that prevents your water from having any metallic taste. Any small, cloth, insulated cooler that is part lunch bag, part cooler works perfectly. Add a couple ice packs to keep your food fresh and you’re all set. With these two items, you'll always have access to healthy food.
3. Limited food choices. Unless you work in the restaurant industry, there's probably limited access to healthy food at your job--which is exactly why you need to make it convenient. Here’s how: Your first option, as mentioned above, is to always bring food with you. But you’ll need a back-up plan, which requires some detective work around your office. What restaurants are in the area? Look at their menus online and find a couple of options that you know fit with your healthy eating plan. What restaurants deliver to your work place? What can your order from those places? Create a nutrition cheat sheet so if you need to go to a business lunch or have to work late, you don’t have to scramble to find food that won't ruin your diet plan.
4. Work ethic. Many people surveyed in the 2011 study said that work was their top priority and that they had things that needed to get done. Your health needs to come first. If you need to lose 15 pounds, that needs to be a priority at home, at work, wherever you are. The good news is that putting these things first doesn’t take that much time. If you're properly prepared, the difference between eating well and eating poorly is about 20 minutes per day. That extra 20 minutes you dedicate to healthy eating is ultimately going to make you better at your job.
Plan to prepare and pack your meals for 10-20 minutes before you leave the house in the morning (or I like to do it while cleaning up from dinner the night before). Healthy eating while at work will no longer be an issue, as you’ll have your metal water bottle and mini cooler/lunch bag with two healthy snacks and one meal ready to eat when you need it.
Meet the Diet Doctor: Mike Roussell, PhD
Author, speaker, and nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD is known for transforming complex nutritional concepts into practical eating habits that his clients can use to ensure permanent weight loss and long lasting health. Dr. Roussell holds a bachelor degree in biochemistry from Hobart College and a doctorate in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University. Mike is the founder of Naked Nutrition, LLC, a multimedia nutrition company that provides health and nutrition solutions directly to consumers and industry professionals via DVDs, books, ebooks, audio programs, monthly newsletters, live events, and white papers. To learn more, check out Dr. Roussell's popular diet and nutrition blog, MikeRoussell.com.