Many offices are a diet danger zone — convenient vending machines, a free flow of snacks and that one coworker who loves to bring in baked goods. Before you know it, you’re mindlessly snacking throughout the day and packing on the pounds.
A group of British dentists called this “workplace cake culture” and say that it may be fueling the obesity epidemic and poor oral health.
“We need a culture change in offices and other workplaces that encourages healthy eating and helps workers avoid caving in to sweet temptations such as cakes, sweets and biscuits,” professor Nigel Hunt, Dean of the faculty at the Royal College of Surgeons told the BBC.
But avoiding these temptations or changing office culture is easier said than done. Just having snacks available and in eye range could be enough to for you to give in to your afternoon munchies. Resisting those office snacks becomes increasingly difficult, considering you may also be stressed, bored or procrastinating at work.
“Oftentimes hunger is less about legitimate hunger and more about decisions based on psychological influences like stress, boredom, impulse, happiness and fatigue,” Keri Glassman, a nutritionist, told NBC. “When food is easily accessible, and also free, we are more likely to reach for it, and continue to overeat.”
But you’re not completely hopeless against those snacks — there is a physiological explanation for the urge to keep eating. By understanding this, you can learn to resist your workplace cravings.
Location Is Everything
One study from the Cornell Food & Brand Lab placed containers of Hershey’s Kisses on the desks of secretaries. The secretaries ate 48 percent more chocolate than they would have if they sat two meters away from the chocolates. When the containers were see-through, those secretaries ate about two extra Kisses a day.
That same study also found that people who kept a candy jar on their desk weighed on average 15.4 pounds more than those who didn’t.
So, next time you find yourself sitting a bit too close to the snacks, try to move or put the snacks in a drawer or an opaque container if possible. Out of sight, out of mind.
But It’s Free!
Few moments in the office are as exciting as a pizza lunch. But just because it’s free, does not mean you should indulge.
By not paying for the food, it removes one important barrier to eating it, said Traci Mann, author of Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again.
Another possible psychological motive is that the extra free snacks and food might make you feel better if you’re getting underpaid, Dr. Susan Albers, clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, explained to NBC.
Albers recommends that next time you encounter a free snack, ask yourself why are you actually taking it.
You May Just Be Bored, Not Hungry
Many studies have shown that being confined to a desk all day is not good for your health — both physically and mentally. This sedentary life can lead to feelings of boredom and stress.
Making your way to the office kitchen may be a way to cure boredom, socialize and procrastinate a bit more.
Next time you’re feeling bored and get up for a snack break, make yourself a cup of tea or get some water instead — much less calories, but you still get to be social with your coworkers.
More Remedies for That Snack Attack
- Put obstacles in the way of you and the food. This may not completely stop you from reaching for those snacks, but it will slow you down.
- Keep healthy snacks like fruit, veggies and nuts around. If you’re going to snack at all during the day, best to keep it healthy.
- Sometimes, chewing some sugar-free gum can help curb the need for a snack. Just don’t be that coworker who is always chewing loudly. Also, chewing too much gum can actually cause strain on your jaw, so try to limit it.
- Go for a walk with a coworker — you’ll get some exercise, be social and alleviate some stress. Best of all, you’ll avoid eating those pesky snacks.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.