Omnipresent snacks in the kitchen. A ready supply of carbonated beverages – for free. Coworker birthday parties. Vacation residuals in the form of edible souvenirs, passed around for everyone to enjoy. Boss’s attempt at a new baking recipe. Company-sponsored lunches. Let’s be honest: the office is one of the worst places for snacking temptation, one to which we often fall victim.
Naomi: Seriously, work snacking is probably the leading cause of work weight gain. First of all, free food combined with the fact that I like food, also combined with stress. BAD COMBINATION!! Chips, donuts, bagels, muffins, casserole day: ALL IN THE FIRST TWO WEEKS OF WORK! Has the work place always been this way? I am trying to remember all the jobs I’ve had, and I can honestly say this new one is pretty intense with food.
Elle: My office has a Snapple machine full of free Cokes and cans of Lipton tea and Seagram’s selzer water….and more. Yes, there’s Diet Coke, but carbonated beverages still aren’t really good for you. There’s always a bucket full of pretzel rods (hello, salt craving, nice to meet you), and the basket full of peanut butter – my favorite/worst enemy. Genetically speaking, I cannot resist peanut butter; blame it on my ancestors’ addiction. THEN there are the drawers. Every now and then, the office manager will refill them with treats: Honey Maid graham crackers, Famous Amos, Goldfish, Fig Newtons…all so free.
Naomi: I can honestly say peanut butter is my weakness, too; the salty and sweet combination gets me EVERY time. Is it the fact that it is free or is it sheer boredom that draws me to stuffing my face at work? I am the type of person that when I am super busy, I don’t think about eating, but when there is downtime and you haven’t eaten since 8am in the morning, the free food (seemingly) becomes the necessity to continue. The worst part about being hungry and having those things around is that even though you know you shouldn’t, you’re just not making logical decisions.
Elle: I am used to living life as a financially-challenged college student, a poor graduate student with loans, a meagerly paid teacher, and an income-deprived New Yorker. I also grew up in a household where clipping coupons (and using them) was a sport. If something is free, it almost seems a necessity to take it; I find it difficult to resist or justify leaving it be because I think of how taking and eating that food will feed (pun!) my frugal spirit. The truth of the matter is that if that snack hadn’t been there, I probably wouldn’t have eaten it – or probably anything – in the first place, but it’s incredibly difficult to break those habits.
Naomi: I am the queen of “if it’s there I’ll eat, even if I am not hungry.” So do we trick ourselves into thinking this food isn’t free? In fact, it’s very costly. One Oreo cookie is equal to the calories burned in running a mile (depending on your weight). Because I know that information, I psychologically feel more guilty about my “mindless eating.” I know this cookie is awful for me, but I still eat it. Why?
Elle: That Oreo fact is a killer. Damn. The obvious answer is just to remember these facts and “Just Say No.” But obvious doesn’t mean plausible or easy. As we’ve been discussing in this blog, so many of our bad habits – and bad thoughts about ourselves because of our habits – are deeply ingrained and cannot be “cured” so simply; that’s what we’re trying to work through by writing and what we’re trying to get people to understand. There are days when I’m great at saying no, and I feel overcompensatory delight and pride that I’ve abstained. But some days, I inexplicably “go for the kill” or can’t resist eating a slice of that decadent cake somebody brought in because they just felt the inkling to bake last night.
I suspect one cause for my behavior is witnessing everybody else indulge with no misgivings (even if they say they have them – these skinny folk who say “Oh, I shouldn’t!” so much are really just looking for someone to say, “Girl, please. You’re too skinny anyway; eat up!”). I hate feeling like I can’t participate in the same way, that I’m excluded from this treat and from the social practice of gathering around in the kitchen to eat. It’s the equivalent of wanting to smoke because you want to join your coworkers outside for their break, to bond with them and talk about something besides work (or to bitch about your boss).
Naomi: Elle, you are so right!! I can’t tell you how many times I felt that way. I want to participate without sacrificing all that I am working for, while also fitting in with my coworkers. Like today for instance, the company is buying us lunch. I brought lunch, but I feel like I work hard, so why not partake in this gift? However, if I am being honest with myself, I have to ask: Is my addiction to food masking itself as socializing with coworkers? Do I really have to eat the food people bring in order to make friends at work? I feel like these are excuses and I know it.
Elle: At work, when snacks are prevalent, though, it’s difficult to be intentional. I employ the “out of sight-out of mind” philosophy at home with food; rather, I employ the “if I don’t buy it, I won’t eat it” philosophy, meaning that my cupboard and portion of the fridge are usually pretty empty. I eliminate temptation and, for the most part, that helps. At work, I don’t have the same freedom.
A big part of losing weight or simply sticking to a healthy eating plan is that kind of intentionality, though, and learning to strive for mindfulness. Having snacks around leads to mindless grabbing because we’re so used to multi-tasking, so used to distracting ourselves from our current task for a second, then getting back to it. We need to be intentional about planning and saying, “This is what I’m having for a snack. This is what I’m having for lunch.” But we also need to forgive ourselves a little bit. Negotiate. Take a bite of that cake to fit in but leave the rest – just a bite.