Could your workplace encourage healthy eating?

09 March 2016

How and what we eat during the day can have an impact on us both personally and in terms of our productivity at work, says Bupa dietitian Lindsey Milligan.

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I spend my days talking to customers who are trying to make positive changes to their diet and lifestyle for health reasons. A lot of them are clever, busy people. They often say they struggle to find time to eat healthily.

Over the time I’ve been doing this job I’ve come to appreciate that having a busy life and a busy job can be a barrier to making positive changes, but it’s usually possible to find ways round them.

And in a workplace, employers are in a position to help make make such changes easier for their employees too. So here I want to talk about making diet and lifestyle changes on a personal level, but also ways to encourage healthy eating among a team.


Making changes for yourself

Assessing your motivation for making lifestyle changes is a key first step because it helps people to focus. For some it’s being around for their family, or because they have high cholesterol. Or perhaps they want to be more productive at work.

A lack of time to eat healthily is a common complaint so I encourage people to think about when they do have time in their day or week. Can you make food in advance? As a rule of thumb, eating food during the day that you’ve prepared at home is often healthier than food bought on the go, which is likely to be higher in salt and fat than something you’ve made yourself because you don’t know exactly what’s gone into it.

A lot of people I talk to have tried weight loss or other lifestyle changes before and failed. So I try to help them develop small, sustainable habits – like bringing lunch to work. And once you’ve managed to make one small, sustainable change, you might find that you have the confidence to make more changes, such as a new exercise regime. But it helps to start small.


Making diet and lifestyle changes for your business

From a business perspective, there’s evidence to show that employee wellbeing has a measurable effect on productivity and performance1, so the motivation for a business to have a healthy workforce is compelling.

One thing I really do notice in people is the difference that the people around them make. Some people have a supportive workplace when it comes to trying to make healthy eating choices. Others find it more difficult because their colleagues are coming in with junk food. So your surroundings can be a source of motivation or a barrier – but what’s clear is that it’s easier to eat healthily when everyone’s in it together.

The environment itself can make a difference too. Practical and not-too-expensive steps employers can take are things like ensuring there’s a fridge available for staff to store bring food from home and put in. Or a microwave or toaster for heating up food.

Or can you negotiate discounts with local cafes that serve fairly healthy food, so that if people don’t want to bring food in themselves there are other options that aren’t so bad?

Ultimately, making healthy diet choices is down to the individual, but a supportive work environment can really help.

Lindsey Milligan RD BSc is a Health Coach Dietitian on The COACH ProgramTM at Bupa, which supports people to improve their heart health.

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  1. Health, wellbeing and productivity: Key findings of the 2012/2013 survey, Towers Watson, 2013