The workplace is the perfect breeding ground for poor food choices. On any given day you're expected to dodge mindless snacking, office celebrations and stress-induced vending machine runs. Sometimes it can feel like the only way to stay on plan is to hide under your desk and avoid your co-workers. (And that's no way to climb the corporate ladder.)
You can create a healthier office environment for yourself, says Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, a Connecticut-based registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. If you know what you're up against, you can arm yourself with the tools (mental and otherwise) to stay on track. Here's a list of the worst food pitfalls, and how to avoid them:
The food landmine.
These nutritional tripwires appear in the form of a dish of chocolate kisses, a reappearing plate of doughnuts or bagels, or an ever-present box of leftover pizza. They seem harmless, but indulging in the office candy bowl can pack on the calories and ultimately cause a weight gain, according to research published by Brian Wansink, Cornell University food psychologist and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
What to do: Stock your own stash. "Make sure you have healthy snacks on hand so you can avoid the temptation," says Stokes. Stokes suggests homemade trail mix tossed with a few nuts and dried fruits, or cookies such as gingersnaps, graham crackers or animal crackers.
The working lunch
If your calendar is filled with lunch meetings, you might be faced with an endless stream of take-out or catered lunches. Such meals often leave you with few healthy choices. A typical fast food lunch is often enough of a nutritional bomb to blow a person's food budget for an entire day.
What to do: Plan ahead to avoid the most fattening fare. You can eat with the pack, but keep your portion sizes small and order condiments on the side, using them sparingly. Stokes recommends snacking on something filling and nutritious beforehand to cut your hunger. Try a handful of almonds or a low-fat yogurt. Never show up to work without fueling first: People who skip breakfast are more likely to overdo it at lunch.
The pause that refreshes
Soft drinks and energy drinks can soak up your food budget quickly. "Those are just empty, wasted calories being racked up," says Stokes.
What to do: Need a pick-me-up? Buy a sporty water bottle and keep it filled with H2O on your desk. "A glass of water and a quick munch on a high-fibre, whole-grain cereal bar with a fruit filling is much better than a sports or energy drink," says Stokes.
The vending machine
You can stand there and stare through the glass panel for an hour, but you'll be lucky to find one item in a vending machine that is worth it.
What to do: Make sure you're never caught in an emergency "I need a snack" situation by keeping your desk stocked with healthy snacks (which are also better for your budget). If you must visit the vending machine, Stokes suggests looking for whole-wheat pretzels, whole-grain low-fat crackers or low-fat microwave popcorn.