I recently made a simple change to my workday eating routine that has helped me achieve my weight goals—and improved my life. Before, I had been congratulating myself on how disciplined I was about my food during the workweek: I always ate a reasonable breakfast; I always brought a small salad to work with me for lunch; and I always brought two pieces of fruit, for a midmorning snack and a mid-afternoon snack.
The problem was that when I got home after riding my bike 6 miles to and from work, I was ravenous. While preparing dinner I would obsessively snack on whatever was around—crackers, peanut butter, handfuls of breakfast cereal, whatever. I was certainly not achieving my weight loss goals; indeed, I was having a hard time maintaining my weight.
Then, after a week when I had several work events that led me to eat more during the day (my birthday lunch and a few catered meetings), I had a revelation: Instead of gaining weight that week, I actually lost a pound. It stumped me until I realized that I wasn’t as hungry on those days when I arrived back home. I made dinner, sat down and ate it, and was done with food for the night—there was no snacking at home.
After that, I concentrated on bringing more food with me during the day to ward off uncontrolled eating later at night.
More Can Lead to Less Snacking is not a magical path to certain weight loss. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the quality and total quantity of the food in your diet are still the best predictors of weight gain or loss. However, common sense and research still point to the fact that consuming more calories at work can lead to fewer calories consumed in the evening, when fatigue can lead to less self-control and more binge-type eating.
If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry, goes the rallying cry of nutrition professionals around the world. And, as annoying as that statement may be when you really want potato chips, it’s a good one to use as a guiding principle when organizing your workplace snack stash—choose healthy, enjoyable foods, but not ones you are apt to overeat. Both protein and fiber are great for keeping you feeling full. Stay far away from refined carbohydrates like cookies, crackers, and chips. Single serving snacks such as high-quality trail mix bars or nut mixes are also good stash choices. Better yet, buy some reusable containers and an economy-sized bag of snacks and make your own single-serving hunger buster snack packs.
Organizing Your Workplace Snack Stash
Making sure your desk is properly stocked will help you consume more of the good stuff during the day (and help you resist the siren call of doughnuts in the conference room, too).
Here are 6 great choices for adding calories wisely:
1. FRUIT: Obviously—we’re The FruitGuys! Whole fruit should be your go-to snack. It’s powerful enough to battle a sugar craving, perk you up during your afternoon energy slump, and the fiber promotes good digestion and lowers cholesterol. For an increased sense of fullness that will last until dinnertime, pair with a protein source like yogurt or string cheese. Remember to always wash your fruit before your eat it, even if it’s organic.
2. NUTS: These little packages of deliciousness are packed with healthy fats and protein. A 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who eat nuts more often gain less weight over time than those who don’t. It doesn’t seem to make a difference which nut you choose, so enjoy pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, or cashews. Amount does matter, though, since nuts are calorie dense, so keep your portions to one ounce (about a handful).
3. CUSTOM TRAIL MIX: Make your own trail mix by choosing your favorite nuts, a seed (like sunflower or pumpkin), and some no-sugar-added dried fruit. Add sweet elements judiciously—try tossing in a few coconut chips or a small handful of dark chocolate chips. Mix it all together and package in single-snack servings.
4. TUNA AND SALMON POUCHES: If you are hankering for something savory and satisfying, look for shelf-stable pouches of tuna or salmon. These can give you up to 20 grams of protein for under a hundred calories. Salmon offers additional heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
5. CUSTOM POPCORN: Does your office have a microwave? Forget the pre-packaged (and high fat) microwave popcorn varieties. Make your own fast and easy popcorn to enjoy in your cubicle. Just bring a stack of paper lunch bags and a container of popcorn kernels to work. When it’s pop time, place a couple of tablespoons of kernels into the paper bag and roll the top shut. Microwave for 3 minutes, or until you hear the popping slow down. You may need to experiment with popping times depending on your microwave’s wattage. Sprinkle your choice of seasonings (why not try curry powder, lemon pepper, onion salt, chili powder, or ground cinnamon?) and enjoy.
6. HEALTHY BARS: Granola bars, protein bars, and trail mix bars can be a good desk food strategy, but be careful when you’re shopping for them. Look for as few ingredients as possible and choose bars with fewer than 10 grams of sugar. Or, just make your own with the following quick and simple recipe:
RECIPE: Homemade Granola Bars
2 cups rolled oats
½ cup toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
½ cup dried fruit of your choice (raisins, chopped dates, chopped dried apricots, or a mixture)
½ cup almonds, chopped
⅓ cup peanut butter
⅓ cup honey
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla
1. Butter an 8 x 8 pan, and preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix almonds with the rolled oats and seeds, and toast in the oven for 10 minutes in the buttered pan or until fragrant.
3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt peanut butter and honey on medium-low heat, stirring constantly. When melted, add cinnamon and vanilla.
4. Place toasted oats, nuts, and seeds in a large bowl. Add dried fruit and pour peanut butter and honey mixture over everything. Mix thoroughly with hands or a wooden spoon.
5. Press into a pan and chill in the refrigerator until firm. Slice into 12 bars and wrap each in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Keeps for 6 days, or you can wrap the bars tightly and freeze.