Bad food habits at work? Get back on track in 5 steps

Can changing your work environment and habits help set you on a path to better health? Research says yes.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Does it feel like your workplace is conspiring against your aims to eat healthier? You're right. It probably is. And you're not alone.

Somewhere between the early morning doughnuts and the late-afternoon stop at the candy bowl, American workers lost their way on the road to healthier eating.

Consider the big picture: Adults spend, on average, 8.8 hours a day at work and work-related activities. And one survey found that 65% of adult workers are overweight or obese.

The good news? Research has shown that making simple changes to your work environment and your daily routine can improve the quality of your diet and help you maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Ready to get started? Here are five steps you can take right now:

  1. Banish the candy bowl; bring on the fruit bowl. Out of sight, out of mind is very true here. Simply moving a candy bowl away from your desk, or stashing it in a drawer, has been shown to significantly reduce consumption of sugary treats. Conversely, a prominently placed fruit bowl encourages healthy snacking.
  2. Beware of the vending machine. Research has confirmed something that most of us know intuitively: Vending machines largely dispense snacks high in sugar, salt and calories, and low in nutritional value. When afternoon hunger pangs hit, bypass the break room machines.
  3. Plan ahead; bring healthy snacks from home. Take control of your snacking by bringing healthy food from home. For a desk-drawer stash, consider preportioned mixed nuts, dried fruit and granola bars. Refrigerated snacks can include yogurt, raw veggies, fresh fruit and string cheese — all healthier alternatives to your co-workers' cookies.
  4. Stop eating alone at your desk. Desktop dining has become the American worker's default. But research has shown that eating with co-workers can increase both cooperative behavior and overall work performance — a win-win. Another alternative? Get outside for a walk. It'll leave you less time to consume a big meal, improve your enthusiasm and make you more relaxed.
  5. Don't forget to hydrate. Even mild dehydration can adversely affect your memory and increase anxiety and fatigue, setting the stage for both decreased work performance and nervous snacking. Keep a water bottle handy so that you can drink throughout the workday. Drinking water instead of one 20-ounce sugar-sweetened soda saves you about 250 calories.

It's all too easy to go with the unhealthy flow in a workplace setting. But increased mindfulness about what you're eating and where you're eating it can really help turn the tide.

March 13, 2021 See more In-depth

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