Healthy Eating at Work: Tips and Strategies

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on May 14, 2024
Last updated on May 14, 2024

We spend a ton of time at work, and boy, does it matter for our well-being! Picture this: out of the 24 hours in a day, at least 8 are dedicated to our jobs. Plus, there’s the lunch break feasts and the trek to and back from work. The things we do and the bites we sneak in while on the clock make a big difference in crafting our daily habits and our overall happiness.

Healthy Eating at Work: Tips and Strategies

In some offices, there is barely a cafeteria and you may need to eat out at fast food chains. Others do offer a pantry or cafeteria but without healthy options. If you’re lucky, the food at work gives you some food choices that are healthy.

Because of the pandemic, some people have managed or have been forced to make some diet and lifestyle changes while working from home. A lot of us have started eating home-cooked meals and may want to retain those healthier eating options when we take our lunch at work instead of ordering in.

Or maybe you have acquired some skills in the kitchen which you want to bring to the office and want to keep up cooking for yourself.

Either way, a lot of people have started to look into how to eat more healthy food at work. Because of the sedentary nature of many jobs, as well as our lifestyles and diet, many people now tend to eat more than what they burn off through physical activity or exercise. This lack of exercise and increase in the caloric density of the food that is readily available has largely resulted in an increase in obesity among adults worldwide.

This Obesity Epidemic is now recognized as one of the most important public health problems in the world today. According to World Health Organization numbers, of the 2 billion overweight adults, 650 million are considered obese, which accounts for 39% of men and 40% of women. With the current trend, it is predicted that 2.7 billion adults will be overweight, with over 1 billion obese people by 2025. (1)

This obesity epidemic’s cost is measured not only in human lives lost or deterioration of quality of life but also in dollars. In 2019, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity was $173 billion. Adults with obesity had higher medical costs of $1,861 than those without. (2) Healthy eating choices at work are important to curb obesity and other metabolic diseases that actually impact the workplace in direct ways like absenteeism and sick leaves taken or decreased productivity even in present.

Aside from the personal cost and health cost, there’s also a financial consequence to having an obese workforce that is susceptible to different kinds of diseases.

There are a lot of benefits to pursuing a healthy diet while at work.

A study found that the more fruits and vegetables people consumed, the happier, more engaged, and more creative they tended to be. This is because fruits and vegetables have nutrients that encourage the production of dopamine, a hormone that plays a role in the experience of curiosity, motivation, and engagement. They also contain antioxidants that improve memory and enhance mood. (3) These are all things you want to be when you are at work.

Healthy diets and active living at work can lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer, elevated mood, energy, and self-esteem, reduced anxiety and stress, and opportunities to socialize outside of work topics. (4) On the other hand, poor nutrition doesn’t just impact our health, it can affect our performance at work by negatively impacting concentration and energy levels, and causing irritability, frustration, and impatience.

Some studies conducted by the British Journal of Nutrition have touted the effectiveness of healthy meals at work on reaction time, mood, and dietary intake in daytime and shift workers in a hospital. (5)

There are a lot of small changes we can make to improve our personal nutrition choices and support healthy eating in the workplace. That being said, whatever your reasons are for pursuing healthy eating at work, here are some tips and strategies that you can try to make your diet as healthy as possible.

1. Drink water

Water should be your default beverage as it doesn’t carry with it extra calories that will contribute to Calories In. It also helps your performance at work. Insufficient intake of fluids or nutrition can impair work performance, lead to tiredness and headaches, and may compromise both our own health and the care we provide to patients. (6)

Another reason for consistently drinking water every day is that sometimes the body is just not very good at distinguishing thirst from hunger. Sometimes the same prompt causes us to overeat food when in fact our body was only thirsty, drinking water can help satiate that thirst as well as fill your stomach so it doesn’t feel empty. If you’re feeling peckish, you might not actually be hungry, maybe you just need to drink some water. (7)

2. Avoid sugary drinks like soft drinks, energy drinks, and fruit juices

Even though they taste good and can give you a brief energy boost, most drinks are so packed with sugar that you would have been better off eating the whole fruit instead. Sugar is filled with empty calories, lacking nutrition, yet carrying calories. Juicing fruits may also not be as healthy as you may initially think as you are depriving yourself of the fiber that your body needs as well to aid digestion and some essential phytonutrients in the fruit pulp as well.

3. Be a sensible snacker

While many people try to cut out snacking, grazing on the right things can help maintain energy levels throughout the day. Hunger can be a distraction at work and many of us give up and go to the vending machine with all its salty, sugary, fatty snacks. But there are healthy ways to snack that will also boost your mood and productivity.

So, what’s a good snack for work? Eat nuts and seeds, carrots sticks, peppers, and celery make healthy snacks. Dip that into some hummus or tzatziki. If you have particular cravings for more dense food, try beef jerky, yogurt, or nuts instead of reaching out to the vending machine to find what sweet or salty snacks are available. To avoid this problem, Prepare a bag or box of snacks at home that you can bring to work. If you are working at an office ask them about providing healthy foods and water during working hours.

Studies have shown that it seems to be an effective way of improving employees’ dietary intake. Simply being given the options to choose healthier food and making that readily available is a step in the right direction. Moreover, increased intake of water may be associated with beneficial effects on fatigue, vigor, and total mood in shift-working healthcare staff. (8)

4. Pack your own lunch

Packing your own lunch can be a big old topic on its own. The best way to ensure you are eating healthy food after all is by making it yourself, setting a portion of food for yourself, and bringing that to work.

For others, it may be a daunting task, one that just adds to the list of chores that you have to do just to keep up, but it can be a freeing experience as well as you are not restricted to whatever fast food or your cafeteria has to offer.  But for some of us, preparing their packed lunch has become a weekly or daily ritual that they have incorporated which makes it easy, less troublesome, and even relaxing. Your outlook on consistently packing lunch really matters because it can be labor-intensive to pack lunch for yourself.

5. Invest in good lunch containers

Invest in good lunch containers. It doesn’t matter what brand it is, here are some good standards for you to keep in mind. Make sure your lunch ware is drip resistant, it should not leak, so you are looking for a good locking mechanism or a gasket of some kind.

It also shouldn’t stain, that is why people use glass lunch containers, it doesn’t stain and isn’t hard to clean, of course, you have to trade off the weight and the higher risk of breakage if you manage to drop it, so that is something you have to consider. Bowls are great for salads, stews, soups, or if you want to have some carbs at the bottom with meat or vegetables on top, Bowls are also relatively easy to clean. If you are going for square containers, choose one with well-rounded corners that are easy to reach, the easier they are to clean, the better life will be for you in the long run. The easier it is for you to pack lunch, the better it will be for you to maintain this habit in the long term for you to actually enjoy the benefits of all that effort. Make it as easy for you as possible by making an investment in good lunch ware early.

6. Bring colorful salads to work

Not only are more colorful foods attractive and nutritious, but they can also lead your co-workers to ask and be curious, it could attract others to try the same. Having more people eat healthy food at work is a great way to maintain healthy eating habits.

Salads are some of the healthiest food you can have, provided you exercise control over the amount of dressing you add but for some, salads can be the worst things to bring to work. By the time you eat your lunch, they can wilt, if you pack the sauce with the salad, everything just pools at the bottom and makes it a soggy mess.

Look for nice sauce and dressing containers as well, salad at work is infinitely better when the salad dressing or vinaigrette has not pooled at the bottom and made everything soggy. Some use glass mason jars which they keep cool by storing them in insulated containers and putting some freezer packs in with it. Mason jar salads are a fun, colorful, attractive way to increase your vegetable intake.

7. Try out meal prep

Meal prep is the practice of cooking and preparing food in bulk during a day in the week so that you can eat the food throughout the week. Some people really enjoy the ritual and practice of doing this, while for others, not so much. Cooking food in bulk for multiple meals is different from cooking for just one or two people for a meal.

As the name suggests, you really have to prepare. Kitchen space is important, and so is having cooking vessels that are large enough to accommodate the things you want to make. Having enough containers and utensils are things that can be overlooked for a first-time meal prepper. Of course, after you cook it, you have to store the food so your refrigeration space becomes a factor as well.

If you are making different foods and vegetables as side dishes, the prep work of cutting up vegetables can also be a challenge. It may not be for everyone as some people do not like having to eat the same thing over and over again for an entire week.

The reward of Meal Prep is not just in having healthy, delicious food that you eat and having them conveniently available throughout the week, but there is also a sense of achievement in making food in this manner.

There’s also an additional benefit of buying things in bulk and cooking it in bulk, which usually means more savings in terms of prices, in addition to the savings you are making by choosing not to buy food outside. With this in mind, it is not strange that more and more people are trying it out as it is healthy both for your body and for your wallet.

8. Take your time to eat your lunch

Don’t rush it, take time to chew your food and actually enjoy it. Having distractions by eating your lunch on your desk while simultaneously working takes away from that. That can result in overeating, eating too fast, or just not helping your digestion by gulping down food as fast as you can without properly breaking it down first. Your lunchtime meals are important to keep your energy levels up throughout the rest of your day, so eating enough is important but overeating isn’t that good either. (9)

9. Keep some food at work

It could be a healthy snack like some rice crackers or some peanut butter, nuts, or whatever it is you feel like snacking on. It can also be condiments or something that you like to eat. If your work allows you to keep some food in y our office refrigerator, it can make for a more convenient lunch.

10. Get some lunch buddies

As soon as you get more consistent, you ask other people to have lunch with you and bring their own food. This is a great way to eat healthy at work. Having a lunch group that shares healthy lunches is not just socially beneficial, but it is also help you maintain your healthy lunch habits.

If not, you can actually start one on your own, maybe ask a few work friends to bring food or have a pot luck lunch once a week. Not all of them would keep it up but encourage them If any of them even starts to ask about bringing food and having lunch with them. you’re not only benefiting from your healthy food, but from the well-being that social connections form.

11. Ask for more healthy food choices at work

If there are many like-minded individuals like you, you may want to ask decision-makers at work for more healthy food options. For example, at meetings, instead of offering donuts, junk food, and sugary or caffeinated drinks, you can ask for fresh fruit, yogurt, water, and crackers, and vending machines can be packed with fruit, crackers,  fruit juices, yogurt, and sandwiches. During long meetings, you don’t always have to get pizza, muffins, hotdogs, or coffee with cream, instead have salads, fruits,  or whole grain bread and crackers.

These options ultimately will benefit the company in the form of a healthier workforce, which saves them on medical costs, co-pays, insurance, absenteeism, and presenteeism. (10)

12. Limit your sugar consumption at work

When it’s time for a coffee break, don’t add too much sugar or flavorings to your cup of coffee. Try to limit added sugar to 1 teaspoon per cup. The American Heart Association recommends limiting total added sugar to 25 grams per day for women and suggesting a slightly higher 37.5 grams for men. (11) Remember creamers or syrups may add sugar, as well. Consider skipping the creamer as most of them have fats.

There are several benefits to eating healthy at work. There are many ways to go about it too. There are only some tips and strategies you may find work for you. Maintain a positive mental attitude and your health journey will not be a dreadful trudge but a walk in the park instead.

References

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