Healthy eating at work

Medical Director, UK Insurance at Bupa UK
01 September 2016
An image showing some people having a meeting at work

Are your eating habits at work sabotaging your healthy weight goals? Planning ahead and making different choices can tip the scales in your favour. To be even more effective, go for a team effort with your colleagues.

The environment we work in can have a huge effect on our health and wellbeing, both mental and physical. Two of the main problems, especially if you work in an office, are sitting too much and eating too much. This is a particularly bad combination for weight gain.

Be mindful about why you’re eating

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?

Have 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. And these are fine once in a while, but try not to let them be the norm. 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. 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, or try some of these breakfast ideas

Eating out the healthy way

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.

Make better snack choices

Snacking on high-calorie, high-sugar snacks are often a major contributor to eating poorly at work. 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 health week just as thoroughly as you plan your work. Put 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.

Make your environment work

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? Or that people who have fruit on display at home are lighter, compared to those who have biscuits or crisps openly on offer?

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.

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 to the pub all the time. 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.

Even healthy people become unwell sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

Dr Luke James
Medical Director, UK Insurance at Bupa UK

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