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Surviving the Office Nosh: Eating Healthy at Work While Still Being Social

Office eating and socials can sabotage anyone’s diet and fitness plan.  While it is always an option to skip the parties, potlucks, and lunches, these gatherings are more than just people gathering to eat.  The seemingly casual atmosphere belies the fact that these gatherings are a great place to network as well as keep up on what’s happening in other departments.  Company events are a way to show support of the company and demonstrate one’s ability to be a team player.  However, sacrificing one’s diet and fitness plan isn’t an option either.  There are ways to still participate and keep up with a healthy lifestyle.  Taking a few simple steps can help you keep on track and a part of the company events.

Pesky potlucks

The bane of all healthy eaters — the office potluck.  Most departments and offices have at least one potluck a year with many having one per month.  Potlucks are notorious for less-than-healthy alternatives because, honestly, would you rather have that triple chocolate brownie or a handful of carrots?  When tackling a potluck, consider these tips:

  • Be proactive — Talk to the person or committee in charge of potlucks and suggest a theme of healthy eating, diet make-overs, or a catchy name that gets people excited about healthy food.  (For the first potluck of the new year, one company had a “Resolution Restaurant” potluck that featured healthier options.)  Be sure everyone involved knows about the theme at sign up.  In order to build support, offer some ideas of fast, healthy foods on the sign up sheet.
  • Going beyond the veggie tray — While picking up a veggie or fruit tray on the way to the office is fast and easy, why not make your own custom tray?  In the long run, it is more cost effective and you have more control over what goes on the tray.  It is discouraging for those who eat late lunches to have a smattering of leavings from earlier eaters.  Custom trays allow you to have enough of the foods your office-mates like without those most people could do without.
  • You are in control of your mouth — In the end, you control what and how much you eat.  Now, what do you do when your office mate says you simply MUST try her grandmother’s recipe for extra crispy chicken bites?  While it is up to you to do what you think is best, portion control is your best friend in this situation.  Sampling your way through a potluck, with an emphasis on healthier options, will still allow you to participate without the guilt overeating may bring.

Lunches out

Getting out of the office with your friends or going to lunch with a client doesn’t mean that you are relegated to eating a salad with no dressing while everyone else orders a cheeseburger and fries.  Lunches out can affect both your pocketbook and your diet plan.  Yet, if you put a little thought into your ordering, you can go out for lunch and still eat healthy.

  • Be choosy — but not picky —  Have you ever been to lunch with the person who takes at least 10 minutes to order EXACTLY what they want including several substitutions and explicit instructions to the chef on how to make the perfect egg salad sandwich?  If you check over the menu and feel the need to order something that you basically will have to have remade, find something else.  Most restaurants offer lighter fare and/or smaller portions.  You are going to lunch for the social aspect as much as the food.  Keep perspective about why you are going and then what you are eating.
  • Make it special —  Make a lunch date once a month with an office mate or another friend while for the rest of the month, you pack healthy alternatives.  It is easier to account for one lunch out a month rather than trying to squeeze in daily excursions.  You will find that by doing a monthly lunch date you will benefit both your waistline AND your personal bottom line.
  • Plan, plan, plan —  If you are planning a lunch out, build it into your daily food plan by eating a lighter breakfast and/or making plans for a lighter dinner.  You many even be able to eat half your meal for lunch then take the rest home in a doggie bag for dinner or even lunch the next day.

Office parties

Whether is it the monthly birthday celebrations or the holiday party, office parties aren’t known for offering the healthiest fare.  In order to navigate these events, you will have to actively consider your options and act accordingly.  Regardless, you need to remember that you are in control of what you put in your body.  No one is forcing you to eat three pieces of cake, are they?

  • Birthdays — Many offices celebrate employee birthdays once a month with, at the minimum, a cake for everyone to share.  One way to handle this is to suggest to the person in charge of getting the cake that it would be nice to also have a healthier alternative.  Therefore, no one feels as if they are being denied their cake and those who want to eat something healthier have a option too.  If you can’t stop the flow of cake, you have two choices — don’t eat it (but who wants to do that?) and portion control.   Don’t be afraid to ask for a smaller piece and/or once with less frosting.
  • All-day seminars — You are stuck in an all-day meeting or seminar where the only thing you have to look forward to is lunch.  Many companies are moving toward a pre-packed box lunch from the caterer so that participants know ahead of time what is being served.  This is a much better option for those who want to eat healthy as they have more control over what they are being served.  However, be mindful of the “extras” such as pasta salads, cookies, etc that may come with your lunch.  Also, remember that box lunch sandwiches are usually huge so you might want to bring a cooler to take home some leftovers.
  • Holiday parties — While you shouldn’t sacrifice your healthy eating plan for the holiday party, you do not want to appear ungrateful for what may be an expensive venture for the company.  Managing the holiday party is a dance of control and choice.  Most importantly, be very aware of your alcohol consumption.  Too much alcohol will make it more difficult for you to make wise decisions — regarding food as well as other things.  Consider eating a light meal before going to the party so you don’t arrive starved and more likely to overeat.  Finally, remember why you are at the party — to celebrate with your co-workers.  Therefore, focus on the more social aspects of the event instead of hovering over the buffet table or monopolizing the chocolate waterfall.

With some planning and creativity, it is very possible to eat healthy and participate in eating situations at work without sacrificing your personal goals or your office social standing.

About Author: Joanne Hembree is a corporate health expert, helping businesses large and small to keep their workforce healthy with Fruitful Office Fruit.

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