Step away from the cookie jar: How to stop mindless snacking in the office

mindless snacking

According to new research released by Wonderful™ Pistachios, almost two-thirds (63%) of Australian office workers gain an average of 3.3 kilograms a year. It’s clear that mindless office snacking is rife in Australia and having started my career as a corporate health nutritionist and having consulted with office workers for the past six years, unfortunately this research doesn’t come as a surprise.

We’ve all been there – it’s 10:43 a.m, you ate breakfast four hours ago and you have a document that needs to be finalised by noon. You’re procrastinating and looking for a distraction, but rather than thinking twice about what is nutritionally beneficial and what will curb your appetite, you find yourself reaching for the cookie jar instead (or simply passing on a few dollars to your colleague who is making a coffee and muffin run down at the local café and has offered to bring you back a snack).

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Office work leads to “Snack Envy”

What is really interesting is the findings reveal 71 per cent of office workers are experiencing “snack envy” by admitting they’re more inclined to join in when they see their colleagues enjoying a snack. Nowadays, most offices are open plan and people sit in close proximity to their colleagues. When Australian professionals are watching their colleagues indulging in an unhealthy snack, they become motivated to also consume food – even when they’re not hungry. I think that most of us can relate to a time when a colleague is going to the café to grab a coffee or a pastry and it has encouraged us to join in too! Interestingly, female office workers are more inclined to snack when their colleagues are doing so (an example being an office birthday cake).

The study also found women are almost twice as likely to snack when stressed at work compared to men. It can be typical to feel under the pump or pressurised to meet deadlines within the workplace environment, however, if you are susceptible to getting stressed and reaching for the biscuit tin, then it is a good idea to have a snacking strategy in place so you can turn your habits around and make the wisest choices. It is worthwhile taking some nutritionally beneficial snacks like pistachios or nuts to office meetings, so you don’t reach for the refined carbohydrate heavy muffins that are laid out in front of you. It is also really important to take a moment before you are about to grab a snack and consciously think about why you are choosing it. Just this extra pause will help to evaluate if you are hungry and make food choices that are nutritionally beneficial for you.

What can we do to curb mindless eating?

What’s important to remember is snacking in itself isn’t bad, but it’s all about the choices we make. Wise snacks can be part of a balanced diet and it is important to plan ahead. If you have a mid-morning meeting planned, it’s a really good idea to keep smart snack choices readily available to avoid hunger, and store the junk snacks out of sight – perhaps the desk drawer or a communal cupboard – so visual temptation is minimised. Being organised is always key to avoid being tempted to follow colleagues’ unwise food habits; one example of this, that I really love, could be to have a healthy mix in a jar either on your desk or in your drawer, made up of 70-80 per cent cacao dark chocolate, pistachio nuts, dried coconut meat and chopped up high fibre bars.

We all know how mornings before work can be rushed and frantic. What can really make the difference is ensuring you pack some easily portable, healthy and delicious snacks in a plastic container. I recommend having higher fibre and protein rich snacks on standby such as pistachios, a delicious, convenient and fun snack for the office. I also often recommend people keep non-perishable foods, such as tins of tuna in olive oil and canned corn at their desk, so that they can simply mix it up in a bowl at the office without even needing to think about bringing the snacks with them to work on a daily basis. Other options could be to have a stash of rice cakes or high fibre wraps in your desk drawer, and simply bring in an avocado, a few slices of cheese, or have a jar of natural nut butter already at your desk, and put together the snack on the spot mid morning or afternoon when you start to feel hungry.

Evidence also suggests that consumption of in-shell pistachios may promote mindful eating, since you have to crack open the shells and it takes longer to eat them. Leaving leftover shells on your desk would also provide a visual cue about the amount you have eaten! Recent research from Harvard University and published in New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the benefits of snacking on nuts go up as the number of servings go up too. Based on this, it’s a good rule of thumb to try and incorporate three servings of nuts, like pistachios within your working week. You could take a portable plastic snacking container with you to enjoy ten pistachios in the morning and 20 for your afternoon snack.

I think a lot of us are creatures of habit, so although initially weaving in some of these suggestions may take a bit of conscious effort, over time, it will become second nature, and can lead to a wealth of benefits when it comes to both your energy levels, as well as your waistline and health.

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My top office snacking tips:
1. For busy women on the go, why not set a reminder on your phone on Sunday night so you don’t forget to pack your wise snack choices with you for your working week
2. Get into a good workplace snacking routine and don’t be afraid to spread the word amongst your colleagues. Tell them you enjoy nutritionally beneficial snacks and suggest pistachios, fresh fruit, carrot sticks and hummus for your next team meeting
3. Ensure you have snack variety, so why not try pairing some delicious pistachio nuts with an apple slice or a square of dark chocolate if you have a sugar craving
4. Ensure that you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day to keep hydrated
5. Be a snacking leader and encourage others! Make recommendations about which cafes or shops to go to, rather than letting others who do not usually prioritise healthy eating make the decisions. This will make it easier for you to stick to healthier food choices and will encourage snack variety which you can share with your colleagues!

photo credit: a.funk via photopin cc

Kara Landau
Kara Landau- Image 2013
Kara is an Australian Accredited Practising Dietitian and author of The Clean Separation. She blogs at the Travelling Dietitian and tweets @TravelDietitian.