That candy bowl doesn't seem like much, but it adds up.
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You know the feeling: You're in the middle of a task you just can't focus on, and your eyes keep glancing toward the office pantry. Chips and dip could provide just the boost your brain needs. Or maybe your coworker baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies for her son's bake sale and has a few extra.
It's not just your office. A recent study of 5,222 employees across the U.S. found that we consume an average of 1,300 additional calories a week made up of food at the office.
"I'm shocked at the total number that this study found," says Maggie Michalczyk, R.D.N., a dietitian based in Chicago. "That's definitely higher than I would have thought."
While eating in the office isn't necessarily a bad thing, the food in the study wasn't exactly healthy. Most of it was high-sugar, high-fat, and processed food and drinks, like soda, chips, and baked goods.
More than 70 percent of the calories were from free food. "It's hard to pass up free food," Michalczyk says. "No matter if you actually need it or not, when that cupcake from your favorite downtown bakery is there, it's going to be harder to say no."
But not every indulgence will be worth it. Here's how to make healthier choices at the office.
Don't pass the candy bowl.
Proximity matters. A 2016 study showed that people were more likely to snack mindlessly at work when they were closer to the snack and beverage station. The likelihood of snacking increased from 12 percent to 23 percent in men and from 13 percent to 17 percent in women if the goodies were in sight. "Change your route so you don't pass the snacks," Michalczyk says.
Keep a food diary.
Track your meals and snacks for a week to pinpoint patterns and remind you that free snacks still add up when it comes to calories.
Are you drinking enough water throughout the day at work? "Keep a refillable water bottle at your desk and make it a point to get up and refill it three to four times a day," Michalczyk says.
Recruit an accountability buddy.
"Chances are there is someone else in the office who wants to be more conscious of their food choices throughout the day," she says. "Cheer each other on, go for midmorning walks, and swap healthy snacks."
Take a leadership role.
If you have time for it, join the office planning committee. "Help plan the lunch and celebration menu, so you can add some veggies, greens, and protein to the mix," Michalczyk says. "You could start a chain reaction in your office."