Scientists Discover the People in Your Office Make You Gain Weight (and It Has Nothing to Do With Going Out for Lunch)
According to the CDC, the average person eats 1,300 calories of this type of food each week. That’s 1 pound every 3 weeks.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Yep: According to research conducted by the CDC, the average person consumes nearly 1,300 calories a week from the food and drinks they get at the office.
Do the math and that's a major problem: Since the average person needs to burn around 3,500 calories to lose one pound, eating 1,300 calories of office food a week (over and above what you normally eat, since few of us regard cookies and chips as lunch) means that every three weeks, you could gain a pound.
Or that you have to work even harder to lose weight, if that's what you're trying to do.
To make turning down office food even harder, most of it is free. Studies show that over 70 percent of office calories come from free food, either provided by the workplace or brought in by colleagues.
But you know what that stuff tends to be: Researchers also found that office food tended to be high in empty calories, with plenty of solid fats and added sugars.
So why do people eat so much office food?
- Office food is available.
- Office food is free.
- Avoiding office food requires exercising a high degree of willpower, over and over again.
- In most cases, you have to make a conscious choice not to eat office food.
Which, over the course of a day, is really hard. We all have a finite amount of willpower at our disposal (although you can take steps to increase your mental toughness.)
So what can you do?
Use the power of choice architecture to fix the problem. Create an office environment that makes it easier for you to eat healthier.
By taking a few simple steps and putting a few simple things in place, you'll need less willpower.
You'll eat healthier without even trying.
1. Make it hard to grab the foods you don't want to eat.
Tons of studies have shown that we snack on what we see. If the potato chips are tucked away on the top shelf and bananas are sitting in a bowl right on the counter... you're almost certain to eat a banana.
All you have to do is make it hard to reach for the unhealthy stuff, and incredibly easy to grab a healthy option.
Do the same thing with the refrigerator. Put less healthy leftovers in aluminum foil or colored containers, and store the healthy stuff in plastic wrap or clear containers.
Why? What you see is what you tend to eat.
2. Eliminate as many decisions as possible.
Say you want to drink more water and less soda.
Easy: Keep two or three water bottles on your desk and whenever you're thirsty, you won't have to get up and make a decision between water or soda. You can just grab a bottle of water.
The same is true for snacks. I keep a bowl of apples on the table where I work. That makes snacking a no-brainer and makes willpower irrelevant.
And I always keep protein bars and water in my car; that way, if I'm out and around and happen to get hungry, I don't have to force myself not to stop for fast food.
I just grab a bar.
3. Never, ever eat from the package.
Portion control starts with knowing the size of the portion, and when you eat directly from the container, how can you know? You can't -- and you overeat.
I do that with ice cream. I can fill a (really small) bowl with ice cream and be happy when I'm done... but if I eat directly from the container, I can go through at least half of a half-gallon of ice cream in no time. (Actually, the best way for me to control my ice cream portions is to ensure we never have ice cream in the house. Ice cream is definitely my food Achilles' heel.)
If you're going to have crackers, chips, cookies, ice cream -- anything that you want to make sure you don't overeat -- always take the portion you want to eat out of the container and put it on a plate or in a bowl.
Then, eat slowly. Savor what you eat. You'll enjoy it more -- and you'll be less likely to eat just for the taste.
Now that you've better controlled your office environment, here are a few ways to better control your meal habits:
4. Fifteen minutes before every meal, eat five almonds.
I'm sure there's science behind this, but here's what I know: I'm always less hungry, and therefore eat less, whenever I eat four or five almonds 15 minutes before a meal.
Plus, a little healthy fat is good for you.
5. Drink a glass of water just before every meal.
Drinking more water is good for you. Plus, you'll partly fill your stomach and feel full faster.
Which will help you avoid eating as far past the point you feel full.
6. Use short, wide glasses when you want to drink more, and tall, skinny glasses when you want to drink less.
As Darya Rose says on Summer Tomato, "Height makes things look larger than width, even when the volumes are the same."
Use a tall, skinny glass and you'll think you're drinking more when you're actually drinking less. Use a short, wide glass and you'll think you're drinking less when you're actually drinking more.
7. Use smaller plates.
The same principle applies to plates. A full plate "seems" like a full meal, so the bigger the plate, the less you think you're eating.
According to research by Dr. Brian Wansink, people who used a 10-inch diameter plate instead of a 12-inch diameter plate ate less food with no effect on their perceived fullness or satisfaction.
Eat less and yet feel just as full (and satisfied)?
Sounds good to me.
8. Keep stacking the odds in your favor.
- Chew each mouthful of food for 30 seconds and you'll lose weight. Science says so.
- Exercise right after you wake up, before you eat breakfast, and you can actually consume more calories and not gain weight, which should mean you will lose weight if you keep your food intake steady.
- Try a ketogenic diet to lose weight and reduce body fat.
- Try intermittent fasting. (Here's a beginner's guide to intermittent fasting.)
And above all, never forget the basic math behind losing weight. Losing weight is a numbers game.
Which means it's a game you can definitely win.