What Is Your Workplace Food Environment and Why Is It So Important?
Let’s start by visualizing yourself in your workplace by using all your senses. When you’re eating at work what do you see as you’re eating? Are you in front of your computer screen, are you driving distracted as you eat, or are you outside enjoying some nature on a picnic table? What do you hear as you’re eating? Do you have Netflix on, are you on a conference call or are you in a quiet and peaceful place? What do you smell and taste as you’re eating? Are you taking the time to actually breathe, chew, and mindfully acknowledge your meal and appreciate the sustenance it’s providing to you?
For a lot of us we are spending at least 40+ hours long in our workplaces each week, whatever setting that may be. Daily, including your drive time, you could be spending around 55-70% of your waking hours away from home which means that most likely you’re having at least 1-2 meals and some snacks during this time (or you should be!). I’ve had hundreds of patients describe to me their eating patterns throughout the workday and I can say that a majority of people are not eating in their ideal “rest and digest” mode. It’s interesting then why you might not connect your workplace food environment with the reason why you’re not successful at reaching your weight loss or health goals.
However, you are not alone! A lot of my patients, in fact, say things like “oh this is so embarrassing but everyday at work I eat ______ because I never remember to bring anything for myself,” or “this certainly isn’t your job to discuss with me if my job has a refrigerator or not.” And yet, it is! How can you tell me your goal is to meal prep and bring lunches and snacks to work if your workplace doesn’t have the right tools for you to succeed?
Once you become aware that your food environment is not helping you achieve your wellness goals then you need to identify the barriers and start knocking them down one at a time.
3 Things You Can Do This Week
Make 1 dinner meal large enough that you can pack up the extra for work the next day for lunch. Yes, this is still meal prepping! If you are overwhelmed by thinking you need instagram worthy food prepped for a full week so you’ve never tried it then this tip is for you. If this strategy works and you replaced fast food or unhealthy snacking with a healthful home cooked meal then continue to increase this ie. next week 2x and the following 3x a week.
Buy 1 pre-made meal from a local meal prep company like one of my favs Food Fit Meals. Pick a place like this that’s easily accessible (two locations on opposite sides of town), and has walk-in service (meaning meals are ready for you to grab on the way to work and you didn’t have to pre-plan ordering ahead for the week). If the meals are tasty and something you feel like you can recreate at home, awesome. If you consistently buy these meals 3x a week to help you stay on track, also awesome.
Take a ready made protein shake with your for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Future blog post in the works that will review these shakes more in-depth but here’s my top picks for you to try: Premier Protein, Ensure Max Protein, lactose-free Shamrock Farms Rockin’ Protein Builder, or vegan option Owyn Complete Nutrition Shake. If you tend to have coffee only for breakfast and then notice it’s harder for you to control your portion sizes for other meals/snacks throughout the day then this tip is for you. My personal favorite is to have a shake in the afternoon to help cut back on afternoon un-healthful snacking and to help me feel full and satisfied enough to get home and make dinner. Raise your hand if you’ve completely ditched making dinner at home because you’re ravenous the second you clock out from work and you need something NOW!
Long-term Strategies to Improving Your Workplace Food Environment
Find a buddy. Get a co-worker on board with you as an accountability partner. Share your pitfalls, strategize on simple changes, swap meal ideas, and be there to support each other in the process. Behavior change is hard but even more so if we think we have to do it alone. Reach out to others and you'll most likely be surprised that you have multiple co-workers who are ready and willing to create a more healthful environment with you.
Find out about and utilize all your healthcare benefits or workplace wellness programs. Your manager, HR department or benefits coordinator may be sitting on valuable resources that you just haven’t looked into. For example, most insurance plans offer at least 5 fully covered visits to see a Registered Dietitian each year (some up to 26 visits!). If you have a Health Savings Account your plan might give you money, usually around $300, on that card just for going to get your annual exam and blood work done. If your job doesn’t have any of these wellness perks then consider advocating that they start.
Quit your job. Yup, I said it. If you’ve tried all the other tips on this list and you know that your workplace environment is just that negative on your health and wellness then WALK AWAY. I’ve had numerous clients that completely changed their life and their relationship with food and fitness because they realized that they were just setting themselves up for failure staying at their current position. They changed jobs, they prioritized their health, lost weight, and kept it off because they will never again put a job first over their health. If all you’re waiting for is someone to give you permission then let that person be me. I give you permission to choose YOU every. damn. time.
Get out there and live your healthiest, happiest life and remember that:
"Each of us has the opportunity to change and grow until our very last breath. Happy creating." --M.F. Ryan
Thanks for reading this post and if you try out any of these tips make sure to reach out to me and let me know how they went.
Tara Laguerta, MS, RDN, LD