Are office snacks making you fat?

When exactly was it that workplaces became knee-deep in doughnuts, pain au chocolat, cookies, Celebrations, birthday cakes and half the snack stuff from the local supermarket? These snacks and temptations can be really hard to bypass when you are learning how to lose weight naturally. 

When I was 19 I worked in a drawing office above a factory, it was 1983, everyone simply brought a packed lunch of a sandwich and a Penguin, maybe an apple. There were no in-between snacks. By the time I stopped working in an office 28 years later office eating had drastically changed. Almost every day was a celebration of something, or a leftover buffet day. We now had trollies of food being wheeled all over the place at all times of the day from meeting to meeting, bearing deep-fried filo mystery parcels, egg mayo sandwiches and tortilla chips, jugs of orange juice, plates of biscuits and token bananas. There was rarely a food-free moment.

Luckily fitnaturally is now here with its eatnaturally for businesses wand. Inspired by my first-hand experience of there being more doughnuts than workers in the average office. It’s great to see the rise in corporate health and wellness programmes but they’re often just lip service and not backed up by any real investment, encouragement or monitoring. It doesn’t need too many meetings with flip charts to work out that employee health and wellness could take a leap in the right direction by overhauling the office snacks situation.

Overeating in the workplace

Overeating in the office is now very much encouraged, even worse, expected. Near-riots break out if a health-conscious manager suggests stopping free chocolate digestives. If you refuse a slice of cake/muffin/cream bun/Snickers/doughnut because it’s someone’s birthday you’re likely to lose friends and be labelled as a weirdo. And getting through a day without snacking suddenly feels barren and unfriendly, the day feels joyless. After all how can you bond with your team mates or break the boredom without sharing crisps and Dime Bar cake?

Added to the gut-busting opportunities, a growing number of businesses deliver snacks to your office. They have jolly or healthy-seeming names like Office Pantry and Naturebox but they offer “bottomless office snacking” and are marketed as fuel for your team so they’re “super-productive”. How do people get work done in-between all the eating. Do these offices even have a workplace health policy and value employee health and wellness?

 

I asked some of our clients about their own experiences with office food and snacks.

Their responses, while not unexpected, are concerning because they represent the norm:

Always donuts, and for those without sweet tooth: pork pies/sausage rolls.

If stress gets high the biscuits come out here. Refusing sometimes very difficult…

We have an office feeder! She just constantly restocks the snack table.

I work in silence for 7 hours a day – boredom + chocolate digestives are a dangerous mix.

We have a snack shelf that’s next to the kettle and teabags so it’s very easy to absent-mindedly pick while you’re making a cuppa. There’s also a convenience store, a tuck shop, Starbucks, Costa, three restaurants and a market selling fresh brownies, crepes, cupcakes etc just downstairs.

There is a treat table maintained by one team in particular in our office and someone has put a sign up saying something like ‘go on, treat yourself, you deserve it!’

So even from this tiny sample we can see that office politics, peer pressure, stress and boredom can all sabotage your health. Almost no one is offering any healthy variation – everything is a sugar/calorie bomb. And actually no one ever died of hunger between lunch and dinner, so even ‘healthy’ snacks aren’t necessary if you eat three good meals. Do I sound like your grandma? You bet. Grandmas know best.

What are the health impacts of office snacking?

It’s easy to forget, or willingly ignore, the snacks you had while at your desk (loads of calories, devoid of nutrients), then go home and have a a few biscuits because you had a stressful day at work, then a meal, then another biscuit. But on average people are eating 500 calories more each day than a couple of decades ago, and they’re moving less. So you can see why we have surging rates of overweight and obesity.

It’s not just the excess energy either. A lot of snacks are sugar-laden; sugar hits the bloodstream and the body panics. That amount of sugar circulating is damaging to cells. So it immediately releases insulin to ‘burn the sugar off’ (store it as fat) but it releases insulin like mad and burns off more than it should. Then your brain goes “Hang on, I’m short of sugar here mate. Give me some sugar!” Hey presto, the cycle starts all over again. Some of the symptoms of that include uncontrolled highs and lows in mood and energy. You just have to hope sugary snacks are banned at air traffic control HQ.

Let’s not overlook the symptom of getting fatter. As you get fatter you get less healthy – and no I’m not going to prove it with a research paper, it’s common sense (troll away to your heart’s content here, I ain’t listenin’). You tend to get sicker. You tend to get slower. You tend to get more tired. Fat is not an aesthetic issue, it’s a health issue. If you’re a business owner or manager why do you want this to be the case with your valuable, and valued, workforce?

Eat bananas
If actually hangry, eat a banana.

 

How do you stop yourself from overeating at the office when learning how to lose weight naturally?

The only time you should snack at the office is when you’re truly hungry.  And then choose something small and filling, enough to get you through to your next meal without overdosing on calories or sugar. Something like plain Greek yoghurt and a few nuts, or a small piece of cheese and an apple, or a banana and glass of milk.

“No one ever died of hunger between lunch and dinner.”

It’s so easy not to clock how many extras you’re having while at your desk. Absent-mindedly reaching for the nearest treat when having a cuppa, or nabbing a couple of biscuits while waiting for a meeting to start. And do you really need that mini flapjack bite with your coffee or tea? I drink A LOT of tea – if had a biscuit or mini flapjack with every cup I’d be the size of an actual office and very unwilling to move far.

You value your health, so crack the snacking habit in general, not just at the office, though the office is where people will try to undermine your efforts. Take great pride in not allowing them to. My mum would have mentioned gas ovens and heads here. The thing about snacking is people think they’re operating a fashionable ‘grazing style’ of eating, “Oh look at me with my healthy Graze Box!” whereas they’re simply piling extra food on top of their three good meals a day. A true grazing style, which we don’t recommend as every gut needs a break to do its job properly, involves several *small* eating episodes rather than three massive ones and 3-4 smaller ones.

“It’s not about looks it’s about health.”

 

The office celebration

“Morning guys! Is it anyone’s birthday? Is anyone getting married next year? Has anyone just got a promotion? Oh you’e pregnant! You got a new house? Yay! IS ANYONE HUNGRY?? Let’s buy ALL THE CAKES!”

I wish I was making that up.

So what about the “office celebration” then? You have two or three good options here: politely refuse, fraught though this is with office politics. Accept the cake but set it aside and don’t eat it, wasteful yes but just cut out the middle man (that’s you). Or take a small piece of cake and eat it but factor it in to your day’s eating. You don’t have to do this every single time there’s a celebration because cake is delicious and it might be your best friend’s birthday but save cake for when it’s a properly special time.

If Mary Berry had a big slab of every cake she encounters she would be as nimble as the Bake-Off tent.

 

The meeting

“Oh no, not another boring meeting. But wait! Free snacks, yay!”

We all know the trick of getting people to sit through yet another yawnfest by making Jammie Dodgers abundantly available. Sometimes it seems they’re the only thing that’ll keep your eyes open as you sit through an hour of mind-numbing PowerPoint slides or inactioned action points, even if that meeting is about corporate health and wellness, yes, sadly this is true.

Even if you’re trying to avoid biscuits as the biscuit plate gets passed around you might feel obliged to take one otherwise everyone will think you’re judging *them* for having one. Aargggh, you HAVE to take one because you want to fit in, you don’t want questions or quizzical looks and whispers, and you don’t want to seem sanctimonious. Right? Wronnngggg! Take pride in being healthy, sit up tall and proud and let that plate pass.you.by. Change the subject by suddenly striking up a conversation about the likelihood of David Beckham becoming a politician or something. Be a change agent rather than a biscuit-sheep. Yeh I know you fancy one, but do you fancy bigger trousers? What would Beckham think?

 

The boredom

“How lonnnnng is this stupid day going to last??!”

We’ve probably all been there, trapped in an office or workplace and the only respite and joy seems to be a doughnut. A sugary, jammy interlude in a day of ‘cabbage soup’. What can you do, you will surely die before hometime if you don’t eat something? OK, you get up offa that chair and go for a walk, have a cuppa, visit a colleague and find out what they’re working on, open the window and look outside for five minutes and breathe the fresh air, sit and close your eyes for 2 minutes, breathing slowly and relaxing. Anything but that stupid doughnut! C’mon you are better than a doughnut.

 

The stress

“Breathe breathe breathe! EMERGENCY! HELP! I CANNOT TAKE THIS! HOW CAN I EVEN GET THROUGH THIS?!!” *Reaches for giant cookie* *Ahhhh that’s better.” *Five mins later* “Breathe breathe breathe! EMERGENCY! HELP! I CANNOT TAKE THIS! HOW CAN I EVEN GET THROUGH THIS AND NOW I AM FATTER AS WELL. WAAAAAA!!!”

Food does not relieve tension.

What relieves tension is talking to someone about what you can change so that your job isn’t as stressed. Or going for a walk. Or working only your paid hours. Or delegating. Or controlling your blood sugar by not eating all the cookies. Or by switching off from work every night when you’re not there. Or by trying to instigate an employee health and wellness programme. Or by changing jobs.

As far as I know giant cookies are not on prescription for stress relief.

 

The sheep factor

“I must eat this flapjack or I will not be part of the team and will not get promoted, additionally I will be disliked and be seen as a freak.”

Just read that nonsense back to yourself. I remember a fitness peer saying to me once “You will never get on if you don’t come upstairs and have a drink with us after class.” And I thought “Thank you for that piece of motivational advice, I will now get on like billio and never EVER come upstairs for a drink, just you watch me.” And I did.

Is degrading your health worth being a sheep for? Be a leader not a follower.

“It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.”

 

The un-preparedness

“I didn’t have time for breakfast because I had some facebook posts to attend to/had to drop the children at school/had to take the dog for a walk/got no sleep because of the baby/etc. therefore I had to eat what was available, a chocolate muffin.”

Then keep some plain yoghurt in the fridge at work, a bag of muesli, some honey. It takes 90 secs to put it together and about 3 mins to eat it. Or stick a couple of bits of toast in the toaster at home, lob some butter and peanut butter on it and eat it. 6 mins, done. I’m really not buying the ‘no time’ scenario. Nope. I’m not even sorry.

 

The fear of hunger

“I had my breakfast at 8am and I can’t eat lunch til 12:30. What on earth will I do in the mean time?? Just look at my ribs!!”

Come on man. Honestly.

People nowadays are scared to feel a stomach rumble. Did you know that your small intestine enjoys a break? It’s when you give it a break that it does its best work. Otherwise it thinks “Oh bloody hell, I was just about to get on with sorting breakfast when a massive Krispy Kreme landed from above. I’ll just sit here and wait in case a can of Coke comes down.” Be kind to it. Those rumbles are it getting its hoover out. They’re necessary. You very CAN last several hours without food.

 

The feeder

“Help yourselves guys! I just love to see you eat everything I brought in or baked for you, because I care and I want to be loved! xxx”

There’s always one. They nip to Tescos for the milk and come back with three carriers of crisps, bread sticks and dips, Bombay Mix, choc chunk cookies, mini carrot cakes, Cadbury’s chocolate rolls and some shortbread. They arrive at work in a catering van with a giant coffee and walnut cake on a trailer.

You do not have to massage someone else’s insecurities by expanding your own waistline. It’s abuse I tell ya!

They’ll soon get the message as the food piles up over the week. Alternatively give the feeder one dedicated feeding day a week/month, make a thing of it, applaud them and their giant homebaked carrot cake. Give them love in other ways, praise their work, go for a walk with them, work with them, engage with them. None of this has to involve food.

 

Don’t just read this, take action

It’s so easy to sit and read this stuff, have a giggle, have an angry moment, feel guilty, feel resolute, then close the article and go and eat a couple of biscuits and think “None of this is my fault.”

Change doesn’t happen just by reading about it, you have to ‘do’. Make a plan. But what CAN you do to fight the seemingly insurmountable wall of snackage?

  • If you want to excite the corporate-lovers have a set of health KPIs.
  • Get together, sans biscuits, and start an office healthy eating policy. Don’t drag it out, I could write you one in 15 mins, you only have to ask.
  • Designate one day a week as cake day, the other days must be snack-free so you can really enjoy and appreciate this.
  • If you’re the business owner or manager positively encourage healthy eating and activity. Or get us in to help with corporate health and wellness. See the Winston Churchill words at the end of this piece.
  • While fruit is still a snack it’s at least nutritious. Buy some bananas and apples. These are not an alternative if they’re the only available food.
  • Pitch in to a breakfast/lunch kitty, one person a week is responsible for buying ingredients to make healthy breakfasts, salads or sandwiches. You could even just do this on one day.
  • Have a sponsored no snacks month. You’ll find it simply breaks the habit.
  • Sign your employees up to a month or three of our eatnaturally plans, where they will be gently encouraged away from snacking.
  • Get fitnat in to do an anonymous “leave your lunch at the front and we’ll talk about it” sesh. Good fun and interactive.
  • Get us in to look in your office environment, cupboards and fridges and help you make change, to talk to you about positive health and action and to generally make you the highest performing, healthiest workplace ever.

By implementing some of the above strategies you can take some more control over removing the temptations surrounding you every day when you are trying to lose weight naturally.  You never know, you may even inspire some colleagues to join you in following fitnaturally’s simple healthy eating plans.  If you need some inspiration for simple and healthy snack ideas – check out our recipe page here.

Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.
Winston Churchill

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