Most Americans spend the majority of their waking hours at work, which may translate to sitting at a desk, eating out, and snacking often. Corporate culture doesn’t naturally lend itself to healthy behaviors. In fact, a 2016 CareerBuilder survey reported that 44 percent of US workers say they’ve gained weight at their current job. High stress levels, long hours, constant screen time, and limited food choices are all possible reasons that weight gain is common in offices.
One thing that’s within each employee’s control is his or her personal nutrition, but that may be one of the last things on your mind while at work. This is no surprise when we consider the typical office environment: snack bowls, vending machines, and limited kitchen space combined with high stress but low physical activity levels. While you may not be able to change your deadlines, client stress, desk position, or what actually fills up that snack bowl, you can change how you eat throughout the day.
Learning how to eat intuitively is one key to weight maintenance, whether you’re at work, traveling, or at home. Intuitive eating hones in on physical hunger and fullness cues, separating physical from emotional hunger, and ways to address emotions without food. It’s a philosophy I teach many of my nutrition clients, but it can be especially helpful in an office setting!
To start making your nutrition work for you, try these six intuitive eating tips:
Break first. Take a break before you eat, not just because you want to eat. Allowing time between the decision to have a meal or snack and the act of eating allows you to access your true physical hunger. Do you feel hungry yet?
If yes—you feel the familiar hunger pang in your stomach—then decide to eat to satisfy that hunger.
If no—take a little walk, or just pause for a few minutes to let the moment pass. You may just be bored, stressed, or trying to procrastinate. Food will not solve the problem.
Have a glass of water. Thirst and hunger have similar symptoms. Staying hydrated is important for overall health, too! If you’re not sure whether or not you feel physically hungry, have a small glass of water first. If you do eat, have water with your meal or snack, too. It helps with digestion!
Ask yourself how hungry you are. It’s easy to fall prey to meal or snack timing. For example, at noon you think you’re hungry for lunch, or at 2pm you think you’re hungry for your usual afternoon snack. Routine becomes more important than physical hunger. When you decide to eat, after step #1, first assess how hungry you feel. Will a small snack satisfy you? Or do need a more satisfying, full meal? Check in with yourself first, then eat accordingly.
Take your time. It’s common to eat a meal or snack so quickly that fullness cues don’t register (in time). Slow down! Time yourself with a meal or snack today, and then try to extend that by 5-10 minutes tomorrow. See what a difference it makes to eat slowly, and allow the digestive system to communicate that you’ve had enough.
Identify your triggers. We all have them! Boredom and stress are two of the more common workplace snacking triggers. But eating may also be triggered by timing (see #3), procrastination, or a need for comfort. Whatever your personal trigger may be, it’s important to identify and differentiate that from physical hunger. Once you know your triggers, you can start to experiment with different ways to cope with emotions. Remember, food will only cure hunger!
Be patient. A big part of learning to eat intuitively is having the patience to do so! That said, part of the problem with mindless eating—to try and cope with emotions or stress—is impatience, or looking for a quick-fix. Be patient with yourself as you try these new nutrition habits, learning to sense physical hunger, slowing down at meals, turning to other forms of stress management as needed, etc.
If you want to learn more about intuitive eating, or revamp your office nutrition habits, submit a request to work with me through Aspire today!