Americans gain an average of 1.3 pounds over the holiday season—which doesn’t sound like much, but studies like this one in The New England Journal of Medicine have shown that the weight we gain during these waning months of the year often doesn’t come off afterward. Since the average weight gain during adulthood is about one to two pounds a year, this suggests that some of the midlife “expansion” can be explained by holiday eating.
One way to avoid, or at least minimize, holiday weight gain is to be mindful about what you eat during the workday. After all, we spend a lot of time at work, and the cumulation of lattes, lunches, snacking, and grazing on conference-room leftovers adds up to a good deal of calories.
Healthier eating at work is easier than you think. Here are some simple tips to help you eat more fruit (and other healthy items) and less junk at the office this holiday season:
- Plan Ahead. Planning in advance is the best way to ensure you have healthy, nutritious options on hand when hunger strikes. If you leave it to chance, you may be more tempted to dip into that plate of homemade cookies or box of candy your vendor sent. Instead, pack your snacks and lunches ahead of time. Plan for the week and cook on Sunday. Try one of these easy heart-healthy lunches or make one of our slow cooker lunch recipes for a week’s worth of healthy, delicious food. If you are a day-of planner, try one of these simple stand-bys: Hummus and cucumber slices; hard-boiled eggs; diced tomatoes and sea salt; celery sticks with peanut butter; or baby carrot sticks. Fruit is one of the best snacks you can eat, especially when you have a sugar craving. The fiber in a delicious apple, pear, or piece of citrus provides energy, vitamins, and other health benefits. Ask your HR rep or office manager to order more fruit and healthy snacks instead of holiday sweets.
- Get Support. If your office is anything like mine, it’s loaded with unhealthy temptations, especially at this time of year. Between leftover Halloween candy and the influx of holiday cookies and other baked goods brought in by well-meaning colleagues or delivered as company gifts, there are countless opportunities to snack on sugary items—often when you’re not even hungry, but simply because they’re there. If you’re trying to keep a clean-eating office, let your colleagues know about your plan, and politely ask them to keep these goodies stashed somewhere out of sight. Most of the time they’ll be happy to help you avoid temptation. In fact, some of them may want to join you!
- Drink More Water. One incredibly simple way to cut down on mindless snacking is to be sure you’re fully hydrated throughout the day. Drinking more water, and drinking it consistently during the workday, will boost your metabolism, help you feel full, and prevent the dreaded late-afternoon energy slump, among other benefits. Keep a refillable water container at your desk and make it a habit to sip throughout the day. The old “8x8” rule (eight 8-oz glasses of water per day) is generally a reasonable goal for most adults. As an added bonus, refilling your water container gives you plenty of chances to get up and move around while you’re at work.
And if you’re heading to a holiday happy hour or office party, be sure to incorporate plenty of water into your festivities. There’s nothing wrong with a celebratory cocktail or glass of wine, but resist the urge to keep refilling your glass without thinking. After your first glass, try switching to water (sparkling or still) to help stay hydrated and keep calories down.
The idea isn’t to completely deprive yourself of the genuine pleasures of holiday eating. But if you can integrate mindful eating habits at the workplace, it may help temper overindulging at home and elsewhere so you can truly enjoy some of the great food and treats of the holiday season without guilt or regret.
Elisabeth Flynn is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor who has spent the last 15 years working in the nonprofit/social innovation sector, including stints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ-focused health and wellness provider.