Updated: Feb 6
Do you sometimes struggle with unhealthy food habits at work?
Do you find yourself reaching for foods as a response to stress or mindlessly munching, reaching for comfort foods that probably aren't helping you feel or perform at your best?
Do you skimp on meals only to wind up filling up on less healthy snacks throughout the day?
In today's busy go-go-go world, the healthy habit struggle is real.
Longer work days, increased demands, and looming deadlines can create the perfect storm for unhealthy food habits, causing even our best intentions to go by the wayside.
But have no fear! I have eight tips to help you break the unhealthy cycle and create healthier food habits at work.
How are you feeling?
Comfort eating, mindless snacking, and reaching for food when you aren't really hungry is often linked to how you are feeling. If you’re bored, feeling unappreciated, under a great deal of stress, or are unhappy with your current role or situation at work, you might find yourself turning to food as a way to cope with stress and other emotions those situations bring up.
And it can go even deeper than this, with hidden beliefs playing a part. Maybe you are lacking confidence in your abilities and the anxiety that it creates triggers you to reach for comfort foods. Maybe you struggle with the belief that you have to go above and beyond in your role, but as a result are on the fast track to burnout, mindlessly munching to soothe feelings of overwhelm. Or maybe it is that you are feeling unfulfilled, frustrated, or stuck in your current situation, so you find yourself reaching for foods to soothe those emotions rather versus satisfy a real hunger.
Whatever the situation, dealing with these underlying factors by raising awareness is an step to breaking the cycle and establishing healthier food habits - at work, and at home. Without a clear understanding, you’re more likely to continue repeating those unhealthy behaviors to soothe an immediate need.
One way to raise awareness is to note how you are feeling when reaching less healthy foods or find yourself suddenly triggered to reach for comfort food when you're not really hungry. Journaling can help you identify feelings that are coming up and notice patterns, such as time of day, chronically before a meeting or at the end of the week when deadlines loom. Once you have identified those patterns and their potential triggers, you can implement a few healthier coping strategies to do instead, such as taking a quick walk around the office, walking a few flights of stairs in the stairwell, stepping outside and breathing deeply for five breathes, journaling frustrations on a piece of paper and then tearing it up. By replacing an unhealthy habit with a healthier one, you will feel confident in your ability to make healthier choices in a way that aligns with your health and happiness goals.
Stop eating lunch at your desk
Do you tend to eat at your desk? Multitasking often means eating distracted, which also means you’re not paying much attention to your food, or how much you are consuming. Distracted eating leaves you feeling dissatisfied and unable to recognize fullness cues, which often leads to overeating and frustration later.
One small thing you can do to make a big impact is eat distraction free -away from your desk, no multitasking on your smartphone or device. Try getting up and going somewhere else for lunch break. Ideally, somewhere there are not other distractions, such as a television, so you can really focus on what you are eating, savoring each bite, and give your brain time to connect with your stomach too. You'll also reap the reward of a much needed mental break from work, so you can go back feeling renewed and reenergized as you face your next task.
What you eat can also be as important (if not more) than where and how you're eating. For example, filling up on protein, vegetables, and fruit will leave you feeling more satisfied while also supplying your body with the nutrients it needs to perform well and avoid the midday slump. Skipping lunch? Bad idea! Working through meal times lunch can cause your energy to drop, result in mental fog, feelings of anxiousness, and an overwhelming hunger later, which often leads to mindless snacking and overeating.
Bring healthy snacks to work
It’s a lot easier to eat from the vending machine or grab a donut or slice of pizza from the conference room table when you don't have a healthy alternative readily available. Whether it's bringing your lunch from home or keeping a few healthy snack options in your desk drawer, empowering yourself with some healthy food choices you will enjoy is one of the best ways to avoid mindless snacking.
Should you feel the urge to go hit the cafeteria or snack on some sweet treats between meals, look for the healthier options. Such as carrot or sweet pepper sticks with hummus, lean deli turkey with low fat cheese, or nuts paired with dried fruit, versus the typical cookies, muffins, potato chips and other high fat and sugar laden snacks. You'll keep your energy strong and steady and feel focused and ready to tackle whatever comes your way.
Sip, sip, hooray!
Staying hydrated is an important when it comes to curbing cravings. Often times thirst can be mistaken for hunger, causing us to reach for foods we might not otherwise have, when just a few sips might have satisfied. Not a fan of bland and boring water? Try adding some fresh sliced lemon, orange or cucumber to your water. Herbal teas are also a great way to soothe cravings with varieties ranging from sweet and spice to crisp and clean, so you can choose the flavor that most appeals to you. Craving something sweet? Try sipping something with cinnamon or berry. Want to soothe mental tension and fatigue? Try sipping on a refreshing mint or earl grey. Even just the physical act of holding a warm mug in your hand and breathing in its scents can work wonders for mind, body, and spirit.
Have a healthy partner
If you are on a mission to live healthier and happier enlisting support is key. Try asking a co-worker or colleague to partner up on your healthy habit mission, preferably one that wants to embrace those healthier habits too. When you know you don't have to go it alone, you are much more likely to feel inspired, motivated, and supported, which is important on especially challenging days.
Maybe you commit to meet for a healthy, distraction free lunch, take turns bringing healthy snacks to work, provide healthy snack alternatives at your next meeting, or schedule a walk and talk during the day to decompress. When you know someone has your back, it is much easier to stick to healthier choices.
Work from home? Try scheduling a mid-day walk to a local park or coffee shop to enjoy your lunch, meet up with a friend or neighbor for a healthy meal share, keep healthy snack options in plain view, such as a fruit bowl on the counter, and prepared veggies and hummus in the fridge, and use journaling to release stressors of the day.
See the win
Walk yourself through an ideal workday from start to finish. Imagine embracing healthier choices in a variety of scenarios - from a conference room meeting, to lunch with a colleague and even a stressful phone call or work task. “See” yourself moving through the day healthy, energetic, and happy, someone completely in control of their food choices. Using these types of visualization techniques is one way to set the tone for a healthy day, by empowering you with a plan to healthfully handle stressors or particularly challenging moments that could come up during your day.
Use positive affirmations
When you feel the urge to reach for convenience or comfort food, repeat a positive affirmation. Something short and simple that reminds you of your "why" will help empower you to make the healthier choice by shining a light clearly on your ultimate goal. It can be as simple as saying “I only eat when I’m hungry” or “I have the power to to make healthier choices.” Instead of feeling defeated, deprived, or punished, you will feel empowered and in control of what happens next. Write your affirmation down and place it somewhere you will see it regularly, such as a white board in your office, a sticky note on your desk or computer monitor.
Get real with your reasons
If you find yourself routinely struggling to stick to healthier eating choices at work, it might be time to ask yourself what living unhealthy is worth. Studies show when you are reminded of the potential negative consequences, it makes those choices far less appealing. While I prefer to lead with the positive, if positive thinking doesn't seem to do the trick, consider some of the major downsides that could happen as a result of repeated unhealthy behaviors.
For example, "if I make this choice I may not feel well, have energy, or lack the focus it takes to do what I need to do today, increasing the stress on my plate" or "if I continue making these unhealthy food choices, I am putting my health at risk." Imagine that reality and the challenge it would create in your life. How would it impact not only your health and happiness, but your relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. How might it impact your quality of life in the long term? Let that reality remind you of what is truly at stake by continuing to engage in less healthy food habits, and decide if the outcome is worth it.
Bottom line: raising awareness to what isn't working is not punishment, it's freedom! It allows you to begin making healthier choices that work for you, align with your goals, and problem solve areas of challenge. After years of working with busy men and women, I know it's the small steps lead to big results. Each small step leads to another and before you know it, you'll be stressing less, eating healthier, and moving more in ways that enhance your health and happiness each day!
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