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

See also

  1. 3 diet changes women over 50 should make right now
  2. Added sugar
  3. Alcohol use
  4. Alkaline water
  5. Are energy drinks bull?
  6. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
  7. Autism spectrum disorder and digestive symptoms
  8. Best oil for cooking?
  9. Dietary guidelines
  10. Breastfeeding nutrition: Tips for moms
  11. Caffeine: How much is too much?
  12. Is caffeine dehydrating?
  13. Calorie calculator
  14. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  15. Carbohydrates
  16. Chart of high-fiber foods
  17. Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers
  18. Coconut water: Is it super hydrating?
  19. Coffee and health
  20. Diet soda: How much is too much?
  21. Dietary fats
  22. Dietary fiber
  23. Prickly pear cactus
  24. Does soy really affect breast cancer risk?
  25. Don't get tricked by these 3 heart-health myths
  26. Don't go cuckoo for coconut water
  27. Eat more of these key nutrients
  28. Eggs: Bad for cholesterol?
  29. Fiber: Soluble or insoluble?
  30. Fish and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  31. Fit more fiber into your diet
  32. Get to know the new Nutrition Facts label
  33. Grape juice health benefits
  34. Healthy-eating tip: Don't forget fiber
  35. Hidden sources of sodium
  36. High-fructose corn syrup
  37. High-protein diets
  38. How to track saturated fat
  39. Takeout containers
  40. Is there more to hydration than water?
  41. Juicing is no substitute for whole foods
  42. Juicing
  43. Limit bad fats, one step at a time
  44. Make food labels required reading
  45. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  46. Need a snack? Go nuts!
  47. Need more fiber? Take 3 steps
  48. Nutrition rules that will fuel your workout
  49. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  50. Omega-3 in fish
  51. Omega-6 fatty acids
  52. Phenylalanine
  53. Play it safe when taking food to a loved one in the hospital
  54. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  55. Health foods
  56. Portion control
  57. Planning healthy meals
  58. High-fiber diet
  59. Sodium
  60. Step away from the saltshaker
  61. Stevia
  62. Taurine in energy drinks
  63. Time to cut back on caffeine?
  64. Trans fat
  65. Underweight: Add pounds healthfully
  66. Want a healthier dinnertime? Science says change your eating space
  67. Daily water requirement
  68. Functional foods
  69. What's considered moderate alcohol use?
  70. What's the difference between juicing and blending?
  71. Working out? Remember to drink up
  72. Yerba mate