Free donuts at the coffee station, the siren call of the vending machine, a pick-me-up nibble in the late afternoon, calorie-laden cafeteria food… the average workplace can be a minefield of food temptations. A new study offers proof positive, finding that eating healthy at work can be a challenge.
The national study found that the work environment is chock-a-block with poor food choices that can add an average of 1,300 calories a week to an employee’s diet. To make matters worse, those are empty calories, not nutrient-rich ones. Much of the food in the workplace is high in sodium, sugar, bad fats, and refined grains. Often, healthy options like fresh fruit and unprocessed food are in short supply.
The study of 5,222 people in workplaces across the U.S. uses research from the federal Department of Agriculture Food Acquisition and Purchasing Survey. About 25% of the respondents reported getting food at work at least once a week, and about 70% of those calories were from free food. The study noted other sources of unhealthy food in the workplace, including vending machines, cafeterias, office meetings, and work-related social events.
Free Food as a Workplace Perk
The bad-food-at-work phenomenon may be fueled in part by the increasingly sought-after perk of free food at the office. To stay competitive, employers often tout free goodies to entice top job candidates looking for a “cool” office vibe and enviable workplace perks.
While some companies are pushing to offer nutritious choice, others may stock freebie food stations with prepackaged grab-and-go goods that may end up doing more harm than good. In fact, endless free snacks may be an overrated office perk. If the freebies are junk food, or they tempt employees to eat (or overeat) when they’re not really hungry, they’re far from being a good-for-you perk.
In the workplace, the study suggests ways companies can help employees eat healthy at work by offering more fruits, veggies, whole grain foods, and fewer processed snack options.
Maintain a Healthier Diet Working from Home
If your office is at home, you’re already ahead of the game if your goal is eating healthy at work. You likely have more control over your environment, and can limit (or eliminate) unhealthy food by simply not having it on hand. Here are some other tips that may help remote workers eat healthy:
- “Clean up” your fridge and pantry. To stay on track in both your personal life and in your career, ditch unhealthy food in your refrigerator and your pantry to purge items that may derail healthy eating habits. If you really want to snack, have healthy foods on hand.
- Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated can keep cravings at bay, promote weight management, and keep you from eating when you’re not really hungry.
- Exercise instead of snacking. Take advantage of any flexibility in your schedule and try to move instead of eat. Besides simply going outside for a walk in the fresh air, FlexJobs members can take advantage of member savings at companies including YogaVibes for web-based yoga classes, and Costco for healthy eating and meal planning.
- Avoid the kitchen—if possible. It’s easy to meander to the kitchen when there’s a lull in your workday. Try to head elsewhere if you can’t go inside, or do non-work-related tasks to give your mind a break. If your workspace is in the kitchen, make an extra effort to go elsewhere during a break to avoid idly opening the refrigerator.