Your office runs like a well-oiled machine--too bad it's fueled by greasy take-out meals, creamy cups of coffee, and enough birthday treats to open a bake shop. (Clearly, the occasional premeeting doughnut is the least of your problems.) Even in the best work environments stress and sleepiness can open the door to devastating diet decisions. Avoid workplace pitfalls with these expert suggestions.
A generous coworker with an overflowing candy dish might mean well, but she's unknowingly setting diet traps for unsuspecting colleagues. A 5-minute conversation about the company picnic and suddenly you're three mini chocolate bars in--more if the cubicle is in an area you regularly visit. Do yourself a favor and take a detour for your diet, says Keri Gans, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of The Small Change Diet. "If you know there's food on a certain desk and you think you'll be tempted, take a different route."
If a busy day forces you to hit up the vending machine for a snack, try to find the items with the least saturated fat and sugar, and the most protein and fiber. Options like baked chips and trail-mix bars are good, but unsalted nuts are best, says Gans. Just make sure to check the serving size before polishing off the bag.
Even better, avoid the candy machine. Keep foods like 100% whole grain crackers, all-natural peanut butter, high-fiber cereal, and 1-ounce servings of nuts in a desk drawer for emergencies, Gans recommends. If your office has a refrigerator, stock it with low-fat Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese, fruit, hummus, and raw veggies.
Nothing but the promise of free, frosted bliss could convince coworkers to brave plastic cutlery and 15 minutes of awkward conversation in a conference room. But will indulging ruin your diet? It depends, says Gans. "If your office celebrates birthdays once a month, enjoy. Why not treat yourself to one cupcake in the grand scheme of things? But if you celebrate every time a coworker has a birthday, you're better off passing on the dessert--especially if you might go back for a second slice." Arrive at an office soiree with a healthy snack or a beverage to sip, says Gans. Both will help keep your hands busy when the goodies circulate.
Eating out every afternoon can be expensive, but if you don't have time to prepare a brown-bag lunch, frozen fare is the next best bet. Trouble is, many frozen meals are sodium and saturated-fat bombs, says Gans, so compare labels and purchase the options lowest in these two categories. Eat a meal that's around 400 calories to avoid being ravenous at snack time. If your entrée has fewer than 400, round out the meal with a side salad, some veggies, or a piece of fruit to help fill you up, says Gans.
Do you power through the day on steaming cups of liquid energy? If you take your coffee black, you have little to worry about. But if you add creamer and multiple packets of sugar to make the stuff palatable, you could be in trouble. A splash of half-and-half and 2 teaspoons of sugar stir in upwards of 75 calories. Sip on ice water to stay alert and reduce caffeine and liquid calories. If you're really running low on energy, try to get to bed earlier and avoid fatty foods that will leave you feeling sluggish, says Gans.
If you work in an environment where meal delivery is a daily event, check restaurant menus online ahead of time. That way you're not put on the spot or have to make a snap decision when asked for your order. It's too easy to jump on the bandwagon and default to "I'll have whatever they're having," even when they're having a bacon double cheeseburger with onion rings. Know your order ahead of time to avoid diet slipups.