Wander into the break-room on any given day in any given office, and you’ll probably find an open box of doughnuts, or possibly part of a cake that once said “Happy Birthday” but now says “Ap hday” and has a plastic butter knife crusted with dried frosting laying next to it. Perhaps if you’re very lucky, the office manager has filled a basket with ‘healthy’ snacks like pretzels, granola bars, rice cakes, and popcorn. Of course you’ve made the decision to eliminate all of that crap from your diet. You’ve done your research, set your goals, and now you’re just trying to maintain your commitment to making better choices and living a better life. How do you navigate the minefield of office food?
We all face these dilemmas, after all we spend the majority of our waking hours toiling alongside our workmates. Here in the US, 50 hour (or more!) work-weeks are not at all uncommon, and most offices try to foster a sense of community through the practices of acknowledging birthdays, having treats brought in, ordering in catered lunches, etc. While all of that is meant with the best of intentions, if you are excluding sugar, eliminating grains, or eating a nutrient dense diet these so called treats can present a significant stumbling block. You don’t want to be the Scrooge who refuses to participate in the party, but at the same time you may feel uncomfortable eating your (delicious) seasonal salad while everyone else noshes pizza and breadsticks. How do we work around these events and obstacles without seeming to be judging our co-workers, and still stay strong in our self-commitment?
Well, I’ve got a few suggestions! As you know, I used to work in a pretty famous grocery store, and if you think regular offices are food minefields, well just imagine what it’s like when the entire business is food-centered! Every meeting is an excuse to eat, every event is filled with food, and every time you turn around you’re being asked to taste something, or being bribed with food. If I was really lucky, the seafood department or produce department would be the ones bribing me—at least their offerings were usually healthy. Maintaining my personal commitment to walking my healthy-eating talk was a daily struggle! I offer up to you the following ideas and tactics, hopefully at least one or two will be useful for your particular situation.
First, if at ll possible bring your own food to work! Even if your building has a cafeteria, there’s a good chance they won’t be offering anything nearly as healthy or tasty as what you can make at home and bring in. Your homemade soup and salad is going to nourish you and keep you satisfied much better than that chemical ladened chicken noodle sodium bomb and limp iceberg lettuce drenched in canola oil, sugar, and food colorings. Ditching the processed, fried, breaded, and previously frozen standard fare on offer in most company cafés is step-one in your battle. Most offices have a fridge and microwave available, and while I’m not a huge fan of microwaving food sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils. If you don’t have access to a fridge, a mini cooler is a great way to keep things cold. Just fill it up with some cold packs, your delicious food, and you’re all set!
Next tip—avoid the Break-room! This is where you usually find those aforementioned cakes, cookies, doughnuts, etc. If you don’t see it, you won’t eat it. This can be tricky if you need to keep your healthy lunch in the Break-room fridge, but you can probably manage a quick lunch-retrieval mission without mishap if you stay focused. It’s the hanging out in there I’m recommending against. Don’t succumb to the lure of chit-chatting in a room full of off-limits junk. If you normally eat your lunch in that room, set up a new routine. You know how I always harp on getting sunlight and making Vitamin D? Well here is a perfect opportunity to do that—take your lunch outside and enjoy an al fresco experience. You’ll feel great, avoid temptation and any critical co-workers, and be a happier more refreshed person. Don’t let a little cool weather deter you either. It can be very satisfying sipping a hot cup of soup outside on a chilly day. Can you tell I love soup? Or if it’s just too nasty outside to sit and eat, maybe there is a quiet spot nearby you could take your lunch, perhaps even in your own office building you have an atrium or other quiet area you could sit and enjoy a bite.
They say meetings are where good ideas go to die, and I agree! It’s also where we’re often plied with sugary, processed crap. Why do managers do that? Anyway, I have two suggestions for the meeting conundrum: 1. If you have the authority to set up the meeting, make it a walking meeting. Walking is great for keeping focus, generating ideas, and eliminating a table littered with junk food. People will be more engaged, and they can still hold a coffee cup or water bottle. 2. If you can’t do a walking meeting, and you can’t skip the meeting altogether, sit as far away from the food as possible. I know seating position can be a very political thing, but the seat closest to the food is never where the big boss is sitting anyway. The food is for the rank-and-file, so by sitting far from it you may even improve your visibility to the bigwigs.
Now, let’s talk about the office bully. Hopefully this won’t come up for you. Hopefully everyone you work with is a lovely person who minds their own business, and is too polite to ever try to meddle in your life or food choices. But just in case that isn’t the the situation… If you are getting rude questions about why you aren’t joining in with everyone else for pizza, or cupcakes or whatever everyone else is eating, your first response should be to shrug it off. Just vaguely say something about not being hungry, or having a deadline to meet. After all, you are at work, so actual work is a perfect non-arguable excuse! If you previously had a regular ‘lunch bunch’ group and now you are taking your lunch outside, (and maybe taking a walk as well!) you might need to explain a little more about your new choices. But, by letting these folks know what you are doing and why, you could influence them to join you. Sometimes criticism comes from fear of change, and they may be reading your commitment to self-improvement as rejection of them. Reassuring your workmates can easily head-off any possible conflict.
Work is often stressful enough without the added stressor of food politics, and none of us are looking to increase our daily stress. Hopefully if you are encountering any uncomfortable food issues at work, these suggestions will be helpful for you.
I’ll be doing a Periscope broadcast on this subject on Wednesday, November 11 at 1:11 pm EST. I hope you’ll join in the conversation, and share any experiences you’ve had, or may be having now. I love how interactive Periscope is, with my viewers able to comment and ask questions in real time. I hope to see you there! Oh--my handle on there is @tenaciousacorn just like on Twitter and Instagram ** if you don’t already have it, the app for Periscope is free and available for iOS and Android users. Just check your App Store.
Your comments and questions are always appreciated, so please join the discussion in the comments section, it’s easy and you can remain anonymous if you’d like.