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How to Avoid Eating at Work

Astonishingly, people consume nearly 1,300 extra calories per week from eating food at work.

A new study finds that employees in the United States consume nearly 1,300 additional “empty” calories at work per week. These results are astonishing and have public health implications, particularly considering the nation’s current obesity epidemic.

The Study

The data collected came from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Acquisition and Purchasing Survey. The study included 5,222 adult employees (18 and older) who answered survey questions about beverages and foods they got at work during a seven-day time period. The analysis for the study was conducted by the researchers in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey analyzed beverages and foods that survey participants bought at the workplace cafeteria or in vending machines, as well as foods and beverages that participants got for free in company break rooms, gathering spaces, or other common areas, or during meetings or workplace social events. The research revealed that about 1/4th of the study participants admitted that they got food at work at least once per week (meaning food they didn’t bring in themselves). For those who did eat at work, they averaged an additional 1,277 calories on average per week.

The types of foods and drinks that people most often ate at work included the following: sugary sodas and soft drinks, cookies, brownies, French fries, pizza, sandwiches, coffee, tea, and diet soda. When the scientists who conducted this study delved deeper into the details, they discovered that when looking at the beverages and foods by the amount of calories they contributed, pizza led the pack, with sandwiches coming in second, and sugary sodas and soft drinks rounding out the top three leading origins of calories people took in at work.

One shocking finding from the study, aside from the sheer number of extra calories people consumed at the workplace, was the revelation that most of those extra calories — 70 percent — were calories from foods that people did not pay for. This study only gathered data on foods that employees did not bring into work from home, and food that was not purchased from an external source, such as an outside vendor (nearby restaurants, fast-food joints, food trucks, etc.). So that familiar — albeit silly — phrase, “free food just tastes better” actually tends to ring true for many people.

Most of those extra calories were free and not actually purchased, and they were primarily made up of foods high in sodium and refined sugars. Those empty calories added up while providing little to no nutritional benefits.

But don't feel like you're doomed to overeat simply because you have to work for a living. Listed below are a few tips to keep you on track and avoid overeating at work.

Don’t Arrive at Work Famished

Regardless of how much willpower you think you have, when you are starving, you are much more likely to make poor food choices. Try to eat a nutrient-dense breakfast before you get to work (think a mix of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and a little healthy fat) and aim to stick to regular eating times so you don’t end up going long periods of time without eating.

Brown Bag It

When you bring your own lunch from home, you have complete control over the choices you have available. Try to include plenty of vegetables and fruit, a whole-grain or healthy starch, a lean protein option, and a few healthy fats to keep you satiated. Brown-bagging it will not only ensure that you have healthy options at the ready, you’ll also save a ton of money in the process. Don't worry, you don't actually have to bring it in in a brown paper bag, but you get the idea. Don't forget the ice pack to keep it safe during transit.

Don’t Stash Cash

Having dollar bills or change on you will make you more likely to hit the vending machines or company cafeteria when hunger strikes and your willpower is low to nonexistent. Most vending machines and cafeterias are notorious for providing foods and drinks high in fat, added sugars, and total calories.

Do Your Research

Do yourself a favor and do some digging to find healthy options nearby. At a time when you are not hungry, such as one evening right after dinner when you are at home relaxing, investigate what types of eating establishments are within close proximity to your workplace and seek out healthy options. Most restaurants and fast-food places have up-to-date menus posted on their websites. This allows you to hone in on what healthy options you can fall back on when you forget to pack your own healthy lunch.

Say No and Go

People often like to show affection by feeding others, and food is almost always involved in celebratory occasions. The struggle probably seems incredibly familiar to you. Think of all of your coworkers’ birthdays, national holidays, baby and marriage announcements, and leftovers brought in from family gatherings. It is so commonplace now to see sweets and treats in the common areas at your work that it almost seems like there is something to celebrate (through food) every day of the week. Make a concerted decision that you will avoid those food freebies and stick to your healthy eating plan.

Keep a Supply of Healthy Options Nearby

Because you are human, hunger may strike at any time throughout the day, but rather than reaching for the most scrumptious looking option in that box of donuts Susan brought in, reach into your secret stash of good-for-you foods. Keep some non-perishable nutritious options, such as unsalted nuts, seeds, low-sugar granola bars, fresh fruit, reduced-sodium beef jerky, 100-calorie bags of popcorn, or dried fruit on hand for when temptation strikes. If you have access to a fridge, store some light string cheese, nonfat Greek yogurt, cut up vegetables, turkey slices or tuna pouches.

Start a Fruity Trend

To get the ball rolling on making sure healthy options are easily accessible, bring in a fruit bowl and stock it with some orange, apples, pears, and bananas, and place it in a common area. Let everyone know they are free to enjoy a piece of fruit and encourage them to bring in some replacements when the bowl gets low.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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