The Office: A Food Minefield

Happy Halloween! In last Sunday’s “On Nutrition” column on dealing with food pushers, one area I didn’t have a chance to really discuss was how perilous the workplace can be, especially as we move into the fall-winter “food holidays.”

It starts with Halloween, when everyone likes to bring their extra candy to work to “get it out of the house.” That rolls right on to the pre-Christmas free-for-all (which doesn’t even wait for Thanksgiving to be over, anymore). In some offices that means cookies and fudge and cupcakes and candies are showing up every day on reception desks and in break rooms.

This is an especially unwelcome turn of events for those of us who start eating with our eyes. In other words, if we see food and it looks good, we want to eat some of it…even if we’re not particularly hungry. It’s something I’ve struggled with forever, and I’m not the only one.

The office I worked at until recently had two kitchens. One was an enclosed break room with tables and chairs, vending machines, microwaves, a sink and a fridge. The other kitchen, which ran alongside one of the main corridors, housed a sink, a fridge, a coffee and tea station, and the water cooler. A few years ago, I was sitting at my desk, and I noticed I was thirsty. I grabbed my water glass and walked down the hall to the water cooler. A big pan of brownies was on the counter right next to the water cooler? Let’s see, when I got up from my desk, water was the only thing on my mind. As I walked back to my my desk, brownies were the only thing on my mind. Darn it.

I had a brilliant idea! All goodies could go straight to the main break room, preventing (potentially) unwanted temptation every time they tried to hydrate. My idea went over like a lead balloon. Why? Because, “People need to have a treat once in a while.”

Now,  let me ask you: When was the last time you felt like you really wanted/needed/deserved a treat and you couldn’t get your hands on one within, say, a half-hour? Few of us suffer from a dearth of available treats!

Me, I like to choose my treats in advance. I find that anticipating a treat is half the pleasure. (I feel the same way about vacation trips.) If I eat a surprise brownie, I am robbed of the joy of anticipation, and I might also end up eating calories that I don’t need and didn’t plan for.

OK, now I’ll get to my main points:

  • If you work someplace where highly palatable goodies are trotted in by the truckload, and you think that’s a problem, say something. Suggest that people leave the treats at their own desks (few people want to do that because THEY don’t want the temptation) or have a designated office location that’s not en route to the bathroom or the water cooler.
  • If you’re the boss, restrict treats to a few specific days (like the office holiday party) or say “no treats” altogether. An acquaintance who owns his own business in the healthcare field had to do just that, because the amount of goodies brought in by employees and patients was just insane.
  • If you like to bake or buy treats and bring them to the office, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Do your coworkers really need to eat more sugar and fat? Are they deficient in these two food components? Is work the only place they will have access to sweet treats during the holiday season? No, I didn’t think so. Think twice before adding to the calorie excess. Think twice before being an inadvertent food pusher!

Just to show that I walk my talk, I went to pastry school several years ago, which deepened my pre-existing love of baking. However, I live in a two-person household, and knew that if we ate everything I baked, our waistlines and our health would be at risk. So, you guessed it, I decided to take the extras into the office!

Then, a year later, I got serious about portion sizes and exercise and lost a lot of weight. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be tempted by the goodies my coworkers brought in. In the interest of not being a big hypocrite, I stopped contributing to the office sweets supply. Which put a real crimp in my baking, but then, so has grad school!