Healthy eating at work

Luke James
Medical Director Bupa Global and UK Insurance
26 March 2019

Are your eating habits at work sabotaging your healthy weight goals? Planning ahead and making different choices can tip the scales in your favour.

Our working environment can have a huge impact on both our mental and physical health and wellbeing. Two of the main problems, especially if you work in an office, are sitting and eating too much. This is a particularly bad combination for weight gain. But, the good news is that a few small changes can go a long way in helping to reverse this trend.

Consider why you’re eating at work

One of the first questions to ask is: why do we eat at work? It’s not always because we need to. The reasons might include boredom, being around friends, or celebrating someone’s birthday. Going to the pub after work might be an important ritual. Stress, which triggers the fight or flight hormone, can also increase your appetite. Simply becoming more alert to the reasons around why you are eating will be a helpful first step.

Still, we’re at work all day and we obviously need to eat something while we’re there. So how can we make it healthier?

Start your day with a healthy breakfast

Let’s start by looking at breakfast. Lots of us eat breakfast once we get to work. If you have a work canteen, it can be tempting to have a full fry-up or bacon sandwich. These are fine once in a while, but try not to let them become a regular habit. I find that choosing to eat healthily at the start of the day can help me keep that intention throughout the rest of the day. Research also suggests that having a healthy breakfast can help to tackle weight gain.

I’m also a believer that a healthy breakfast can help reduce the urge to snack during the morning, and thus reduce your intake of poor, non-nourishing calories. Have a healthy breakfast like bran flakes, oat flakes or porridge.

What to choose when eating out

If your role requires going out and entertaining clients, making healthy choices in this situation can be difficult. In a restaurant, dropping the carbs is an easy first step to cutting down the calories. Order chicken salad but skip the bread. Have steak and veg, but no chips.

Consider your snack choices

Snacking on high-calorie, high-sugar snacks are often a major contributor to eating poorly at work, and can really notch up your calorie intake. Instead of hitting the newsagent or vending machine, bring your own healthy snacks to work. Choose high-protein foods like nuts, seeds or protein bars.

Project-manage your eating

If you’re unhappy with your weight, take all these aspects into account and plan your diet just as thoroughly as you plan your work. Try putting your professional hat on, and manage your diet just like a project. Use a spreadsheet or whatever software app suits you. Plan your meals out in advance for the whole working week. Order your groceries online and only buy what you need. Include goals on your plan, and tick them off as you meet each one.

Your workplace environment

There’s considerable evidence looking at our behaviours around food, and sometimes it’s as simple as out of sight, out of mind. For example, did you know that slim people are more likely to sit facing away from a buffet, while heavier people are more likely to sit facing it?

As a fascinating illustration, let’s take a look at the New York offices of Google, which is famous for its employee perks. Free sweets were on offer – and employees were eating a lot of them. When the sweets were kept in opaque containers, and healthy snacks were put on display, sweet consumption went down steeply.

The workplace can be an ideal setting for changing health-related behaviours, so if you’d like to inspire changes in your own office, try some of these ideas.

  • Be proud of your intention to change and take a lead.
  • Discuss the issues you have with workplace eating and encourage others to share theirs too.
  • Make a decision as a team to address unhealthy behaviours.
  • Agree to keep snacks out of sight.
  • Encourage your employer to make fruit available and put it out on show.
  • Ask your employer about incentivising healthy choices in the canteen.
  • See if there are other ways to spend time together socialising, instead of going out for a meal or to the pub. Why not go running together at lunchtime or take up a team sport after work?

Call out behaviours that are affecting your ability to make healthy choices. If a well-meaning colleague puts doughnuts out near the desks every Friday, ask politely if they can put them in the kitchen cupboard instead. It’s the little changes that make the difference.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health and a view of any future health risks. You'll receive a personal lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a happier, healthier you.

Luke James
Dr Luke James
Medical Director Bupa Global and UK Insurance

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