Hear our podcast on eating well at work

Juliet Hodges
Senior Advisor in the Behavioural Insights Team at Bupa UK
10 October 2019
Next review due October 2022

Have you heard about our new Healthy Me podcast series? You can download episodes to your phone using your favourite podcast app and listen on the go. Alternatively, just hit the play button below to start streaming.

In this first episode, Tina Gwynne-Evans (Head of the Bupa UK Foundation) and I talk to researcher Sarah Breathnach about changing eating habits for the better in the workplace.

Three tips about eating well at work

Here are three key tips from the podcast conversation above. Take a listen to the episode to find out more.

1. Beware of the 'What-the-hell effect'

Being tempted by the office cake tray now and then probably won't make a huge amount of difference in itself. But there could be knock-on effects when you get home. There's something called the 'what-the-hell effect’ that has been documented by behavioural economist Dan Ariely.

To give an example of this effect: you may have been trying to eat healthily but then give in to one small temptation, like a slice of cake in the office. You might then think 'what the hell' and order a takeaway when you get home. Logically, that doesn't make much sense. If you've had a few extra calories than you were aiming for, why go even further off track? But humans tend to think about things in quite black and white terms, so it's either a good day or a bad day. If one slip makes you decide today is a bad day for your diet, you may slip up even more.

So it's worth considering – is this just one small piece of cake, or could it have any further effects later in the day?

2. Be mindful of choice fatigue

We make a lot of decisions at work every day. It can take so much self-control and willpower to concentrate that, by the time you get to lunchtime, you've got decision fatigue. You might go to the canteen or the shops to pick something up and, faced with a huge range of options, experience a kind of choice paralysis. The combination of hunger, fatigue and choice overload could result in you opting for something less healthy than you might have done otherwise.

This is something that’s been shown by studies. One experiment tested different jam displays in a supermarket. In one group, shoppers were offered six types of jam to try, while another group had a whopping 24 jams to choose between. They found that more people stopped and tasted the jams when there was more variety, but far fewer people bought one. In fact, people were ten times more likely to buy a jar of jam from a selection of six than 24.

We tend to think that more choice is good, but that isn’t always the case. If you can limit your selection, for example by settling on a particular shop, or giving yourself five different options to choose between at home, it can help you to feel more in control and to make a healthy choice. The same goes for buying your lunch in advance or bringing it from home – you can make a considered, healthy decision before any choice fatigue has set in.

3. Make taking lunch your default

It’s easy to skip lunch or dine at your desk when you’re busy at work, but it’s not ideal. In a book by Frank Partnoy called ‘Wait: The useful art of procrastination’, he met successful business leaders and was amazed by how much emphasis they put on taking their lunch breaks. They would take their full hour and go outside for a walk. They found this really helped their productivity in the afternoon.

People tend to go with the flow and do what those around them are doing, so if the norm is working through lunch, that’s what people will do. It’s been suggested that we could create a kind of default rule that requires people to take some action if they don’t want to take their lunch break. That might mean putting it in their calendar, or something that creates a social expectation around people taking their lunch break as a default. Think about what happens at lunchtime in your workplace, particularly if you’re a manager. Your behaviour can have a big impact on that of your team. Try creating a new norm of taking a break and see what effect it has.

Take a listen to the podcast for more tips and insights into healthy eating at work.

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Juliet Hodges
Juliet Hodges
Senior Advisor in the Behavioural Insights Team at Bupa UK

    • Dan Ariely. The “what-the-hell” effect., published 19 March 2013
    • Iyengar SS, Lepper MR. When choice is demotivating: can one desire too much of a good thing? J. Pers. Soc. Psychol 2000; 79 (6): 995-1006. DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.79.6.995
    • Wait: the useful art of procrastination. Frank Partnoy. Profile Books, 2012
    • Should lunch breaks be mandatory? BBC Magazine., September 2012

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