Save the (Food) Environment, Part 2: The Workplace Minefield

eating healthy workIf you work outside the home, you spend a huge chunk of your day  in the workplace, which makes that your second most important food environment (after your home). It’s also an environment that can be unpredictable in what temptations it sends your way. (Considering that today is Halloween, you may be currently contending with candy dishes a-plenty.) If your job is stressful, and stress makes you want to eat, that’s one more factor you need to consider.

Build a Healthy Routine

Step one to controlling the workplace food environment is to know how many meals and snacks you need during the hours you will be at work and plan for them. For me, this generally means breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. I am a committed brown bagger, so to simplify my morning routine I do most of my meal and snack assembly the night before.

If I am planning to buy my lunch, I know what I will get and where I will get it from (such as a favorite salad from a take-out place). I simply don’t leave myself open to grabbing something less-than-healthful from the vending machine or Starbucks.

Now, are you ready to enter the minefield?

Prepare for the Unexpected

Whether it’s Joe bringing in a few dozen donuts, Mary deciding to treat everyone to a big batch of her famous chocolate chip cookies, or Rick suggesting a greasy burger spot for lunch, you just never know what temptations may greet you in the break room or the hallway on a day to day basis.

I feel fortunate that not too many people in my office bring in food to share. I know from previous workplaces that whenever I went to the water cooler for a refill and saw some salty or sweet bit of come-hitherness sitting on the counter, it was hard not to grab some. It’s an old, bad, habit that is really hard to kick to the curb. And the irony is, the more I came to appreciate healthy food (both for its taste and for how good it makes me feel), the more disgusting junk food tasted to me. But it still holds some appeal, don’t ask me why. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this!

You’ll have to form your own strategy to deal with office temptations, based on your workplace situation. Blinders can help (just kidding).

Set and Respect Your Boundaries

Sometimes you have to be polite but quite firm. I once had a boss who kept a candy jar filled with Dove chocolate on a table a mere arm’s length from my desk/cubical (across the aisle from his own cubicle). Eventually, I got tired of the constant temptation, handed him the dish and said that if he wanted to have a candy dish, he had to keep it on his desk. Guess what? The candy dish stopped getting refilled. I also said “no” enough times (like, every time) when he was taking doughnut orders that he simply stopped asking me.

Planned events are easier. In my former job, I chose to not work in the office on days when an unhealthy “food event” was planned. (For example, one event featured hotdogs, ice cream and apple pie).  If you don’t have that option, you could take a strategically timed lunch break so you are off the premises during the foodfest. Or fake a conference call so that you are “stuck” at your desk. Or lie and say you have a food allergy. You do what you need to do to stick to your nutritional guns.

Timing is Everything

Sometimes a coworker says something like, “Well, everyone needs an occasional treat.” That’s true. I totally agree. I enjoy eating a healthful, nutritious diet. I also enjoy my chosen treats. I like to plan for them, and anticipate them. If I’m going to have fried chicken, it’s going to be the best fried chicken around. If I’m going to have a doughnut, I’m going to go to Top Pot Donuts, take my time selecting which donut I want, order a cup a coffee, and sit and savor them.

As fond as I was of some of my coworkers (truly) if I’m going to eat a treat, it’s not going to be mass produced hot dogs or vanilla ice cream out of big tub in the break room. It’s going to be a world-class doughnut. Or a divine piece of cake. Or an excellent pastry. Or a cookie made with real butter. Or a scoop of gelato that makes me swoon. And I’m going to eat in a house or a bakery or a restaurant or a park with my husband, family or good friends. I do feel fortunate that the occasional potlucks at my current job skew healthy (and the occasional building-wide event are easily avoided if need be). When we have our annual Menu for Change potluck for staff and patients, everyone brings food so delicious, nutritious and visually beautiful that you would just die.

And that’s all I have to say about that!

Next time: Eating healthy on the go