Work Struggles - Healthy Eating at Work

Healthy eating at work is hard because you're not in control of your environment. It's much easier eating healthy at home where you can decide what's available, but how do you navigate the work struggles of chocolates from grateful customers and birthday cake every other week to resist? Try these three practical tips.

Work Struggles - healthy eating at work

Work struggles in relation to food and drink are everywhere!

Picture the scene: 

It’s your colleague's big birthday at work and someone has brought in a cake. Or in my case, it was my 40th birthday (a good few years ago!) and someone had made me peanut butter and jelly cupcakes :)

And as many of you know, I LOVE peanut butter!

Or you’re at a day long conference away from the office and the day starts with coffee and pastries, followed by a lunch of sandwiches, wraps and crisps. There’s a bowl of sweets on the table and before you know it, you’ve munched your way through them. And then there’s another break so you have yet more caffeine and another pastry, just to be polite.

If you are doing well with your eating generally, situations where you feel there’s little choice but to go along with what’s available can be really difficult.

Saying no to the birthday cake makes you feel like a party pooper and taking your own food to the conference marks you out as some kind of weirdo. 

I took lunch to a conference recently but, because I snuck away to eat it, a colleague came and checked if I was OK! Awkward ...

Given how much of life is spent at work, you can often find yourself in some uncomfortable eating dilemmas, so it’s worth thinking about how to deal with them. The fact is that despite more awareness of allergies, the risks associated with obesity and the drive for a healthier workplace, a lot of work related food is not that great. And that even happened when I attended a nutrition course!

The most important thing to remember is that at the end of the day, it’s just food - and you have a choice to eat it or not. Try to move from the ‘I want it but can’t have it’ mindset to one of ‘I could have it if I wanted to but actually I don’t want to’. 

If that feels too extreme, then these ideas might just help you navigate your way through those trickier encounters.

Work struggle #1: Work Conferences

This is a real ‘doing your best’ kind of moment, picking your way through what’s available and trying to make the best choice. So, it’s a case of:

  • Trying to stay away from bread and processed food and go for anything fresh.

  • Try and stick to protein (chicken skewers are better than carb heavy sandwiches)

  • Grab any fruit or veggies you can find - I’ve even been known to take the garnish off the sandwich tray and eat that if I can’t find any salad!

Go with a game plan to conferences if you suspect it’s going to be difficult, and your choices are going to be more limited. I will always take my own water, just to be on the safe side.  Usually organisers are pretty good these days about providing water and I’ll often switch to fizzy water, just to try and keep it a bit more interesting. I’ll try having some herbal teas in the afternoon, otherwise it is very easy just to drink coffee and tea all day and then lie awake half the night regretting it. 

Worst case scenario, like I did at the work meeting, is taking your own food. But I felt I had to sneak off to have it, I didn’t feel I could have it there and then. And because someone noticed and asked if I was OK, it can cause more of a problem - you do feel like you’re kind of standing out. 

Work Struggle #2: Office Celebrations

It can be a tricky one, so it’s a good example of where pre-planning helps. Rather than feel forced into a situation, think ahead and have a strategy of ‘if this happens, I’ll do this’.

With the birthday cake scenario I’ll sometimes take the approach of saying ‘thank you, I’ll have a slice for later’. If I can, I then leave it on the plate or if not, I wrap it up and put it somewhere I can’t see it. 

The key point is to not make the other person feel bad. So it’s sometimes easier to say you can’t eat something rather than you have chosen not to. People don’t seem to give you so much hassle then!

Also think of the 80:20 rule. It’s one day - you could just have it and enjoy it, especially if someone's made it for you. I’ll often discuss this with clients whose children have made them cake; that child has made an effort and on an emotional/psychological level you’ll probably feel worse hurting the child by not eating it. 

If you’re in a space where you can say no, then do so, knowing that it allows for the time when you really want that piece of cake or you feel the situation is such that you just have it. 

But if you have it, don’t feel guilty or jump into the whole ‘now I’ve blown it, I might as well have x,y and z too’! Really enjoy it and then move’s only a piece of cake. 

Work Struggle #3: Grateful Customers 

The box of chocolates from a grateful customer is always lovely but what if you really don’t want them? I hear this a lot from clients, especially those working in education or healthcare. 

If there are people who you work with who aren’t worried about what they’re eating then share it out.

If not, can you at least put temptation further away from you, so you have to consciously go and get a chocolate? Research shows that the further away something is the less likely you are to eat as much of it. 

Don’t Put Others Under Pressure

It’s also worth saying that you need to be mindful that you don’t put other people under pressure to eat food they actually don’t want either! 

It’s difficult but I try to teach my clients that they have to disconnect from the emotional attachment to food. Don’t give it a special label - at the end of the day it’s just food that you can have or not have. The choice is yours.

What’s your hardest work struggle? Let me know in the comments below...

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