Every year my profession celebrates all that Dietitians have to offer. For Dietitians’ Week 2016 our focus is Workplace Wellness. So many of us spend a huge proportion of our lives at work and even if we’ve established some healthy eating habits at home it can be hard to keep them up at work. A healthy diet supports a healthy workforce and if we are well nourished then we are likely to be more productive and take fewer sick days.
Today I am taking a look at what gets in the way of eating well at work and explore how we can eat better and hopefully feel better at work.
Many of us are not very good at recognising when we are really hungry and need to eat. We often confuse mouth hunger and emotional hunger for the real thing and that can get us into bad habits.
Conquering mouth hunger
When we see food that we find appetising our mouths fill with saliva and we start to crave what we see. We may or may not actually need to eat and if it’s fatty, sugary snack foods that we can see then even if we’re hungry we actually need to eat something quite different. Food is for enjoyment and not just for health so I’m not suggesting that we ban sugary/fatty foods at work. However I think we can become insensitive to those who are really trying to eat more healthily when there is pressure to eat these food too often especially if they are constantly on display. Instead of having cakes every Friday or whenever it’s someone’s birthday why not keep bake offs for 1 or 2 charity events each year and have a bring and share lunch to celebrate birthdays. Encourage people to bring dishes that are healthy but at the same time delicious and to share the “recipe” with everyone. This works really well if you make a start after everyone has been to a lunchtime healthy eating seminar or after you have pinged a healthy eating animation to everyone as part of a healthy eating week. Otherwise you might find that what people think is healthy actually is not and this would defeat the purpose.
Managing emotional hunger
This type of hunger can be triggered by all sorts of emotions eg anger, sadness, loneliness, boredom or anxiety. Emotional hunger is often only satisfied by particular foods that we crave when we are feeling a certain way. Some people say that only say cake or pizza will take the hunger away, a well-balanced meal simply wouldn’t cut it. We all succumb to this from time to time but some people are more prone to it than others. They key thing you need to do if this is an issue for you is to find another way to deal with the troublesome feeling without the need for food. This is easier said than done and strategies will vary from person to person. Lunchtime exercise can be a good way to manage a lot of unhelpful feelings. When we exercise our bodies produce chemicals that help us feel good and this can act as a counter-balance. We also get a lot of positive feedback from the changes that happen to our body shape when we exercise and this helps us to feel better about ourselves.
Recognising the real thing
Hunger is actually your friend. If you learn to recognise when you are truly hungry and start eating to satisfy your hunger you will start to develop a natural eating rhythm that will keep you feeling alert and focussed throughout the day. In my practice I use a hunger monitoring tool to help clients recognise when they are hungry AND when they are satisfied. Sometimes we think we’re hungry when actually we are just thirsty. Try drinking a glass of water, wait 20 minutes and then see if you still feel hungry.
Once you’ve got the hang of understanding your hunger the next step is to make sure you have access to great food and drink choices.
Eating and drinking well
One challenge that comes up again and again for my clients who work is that they don’t feel they have access to healthy foods at or near work and they are so busy that they don’t have time to prepare something at home. You can make healthy choices from the work cafe or local sandwich bars it just needs some planning. I like to take a tour of local eateries with my clients to help them make the best choices. If you are having a healthy eating focus at work then think about taking a look at what’s on offer in the cafes and restaurants on site and talk to the manager about how you could make more healthy choices available. If you can prepare food at home that’s great as you will know exactly what you’re getting. It does not have to mean extra work as you can take leftovers from meals you’ve prepared at home. Make sure you transport and store whatever you bring safely.
Make sure you include foods that release energy to your body steadily. High protein foods like meat, fish, eggs and pulse vegetables are a good option. Perhaps your work cafe could have an omelette bar and a daily grilled or steamed meat or fish option as well as a vegetarian option that includes beans and pulses. High fibre foods will also release energy to you body more steadily than the more processed options. Make sure your workplace food providers offer breakfast options such as porridge and wholegrain cereals and check that wholemeal bread sandwiches and wholegrain pasta and cous cous dishes are available. Jacket potatoes with beans or cottage cheese and salad bars are another great choice but make sure simple balsamic vinegar/lemon lime juice dressings are available.
Every workplace will need unique solutions but these are the skeleton to hang things on. If you would like advice and support for your workplace please do get in touch.