Strategies to avoid office weight gain

By Lt. Col. Twyla Leigh, Army Reserve Registered Dietitian, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJanuary 7, 2014

Performance Triad Nutrition
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It's been a long day at the office. Visions of the vending machine flash through your mind. Caffeine and sugar are calling your name. STOP! The additional 140 calories from a 12-ounce can of soda and 220 calories (or more) from a candy bar or bagged snack, if consumed on most work days, will create a weight gain of a jumbo 25 pounds per year. Even if the soda is diet and only the candy or bagged snack is eaten, expect a weight gain of 15 pounds per year. Add to that the extra calories we eat when someone brings in donuts or "goodies" to the office, or what about that desktop candy jar? These office hazards add to inevitable weight gain that most of us blame on aging, heredity and/or metabolism or the lack thereof.

In addition, technology has created an environment (office and home) that promotes sedentary behaviors. Studies have shown that sitting too much during your waking hours (whether it is at your desk, in meetings or in front of the television) is detrimental to your health and may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. In addition, sitting too much and lack of physical activity (at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise) can contribute to weight gain.

Healthy nutrition coupled with activity are two of the three key components of health defined in the Army surgeon general's Performance Triad (the third is quality sleep). Quality nutrition promotes health, prevents disease and contributes to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. We think better, feel better and perform better when our bodies are well nourished.

We are not destined to work in "obesifying" office conditions and can make positive changes in our work world to manage our health and weight. Be prepared for office pitfalls (even if you work from home) and plan ahead.

Here is a list of strategies to consider for a healthier work environment:

Eat breakfast--Breakfast skippers start the day at a disadvantage and may start grazing early and feel they have no will power or resistance to sugary and fatty foods that they might otherwise avoid.

Bring healthy (and portion-controlled) lunches and snacks--Prepare your lunch and snacks the night before. By doing this you have complete control over the size of your meals and what goes in your body, and you save money too. In addition, having healthier, portion-controlled snacks on hand will keep you from visiting the vending machine.

Eat mindfully--No matter what you are eating, focus on the smell, taste and crunch. Avoid eating while you are working at the computer. This type of "multitasking" doesn't allow you to realize that you are satisfied with your snack or meal and you may be tempted to keep "grazing." Try eating in a relaxing area away from your desk instead.

Think thirsty, not hungry--Have lots of cool water on hand to drink throughout the day. Many times we think we are hungry and overeat when we have not had enough fluids. Watch those sugary, calorie-laden cold and hot beverages.

Sit less; move more--Grab a movement break. Stand up and stretch. Take a 10-minute walk break and get some steps in to reach the recommended Performance Triad goal of 10,000 steps daily. Walk briskly to meetings. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park your car at the farthest point in the parking lot. Limit phone calls to co-workers and walk over instead.

Identify supportive co-workers--Share recipe ideas for healthy snacks. Encourage one another to eat healthy and exercise more.

Change the office culture--Model good eating. If you bring in a snack to share, make it healthy--fresh fruit, whole grains and lower fat recipes. Suggest non-food rewards and celebrations. Positive recognition and certificates of appreciation add to a supportive, productive and healthier work culture.

Related Links:

Army Medicine

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