Have you ever walked into the kitchen in the office only to be greeted by a table or counter full of treats and leftovers? Office kitchens and break rooms can be notorious repositories for extra, free food. It can be difficult on a normal day to make good choices, but it can be especially difficult around the holidays. We spoke with Chelsea Rakszawski, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in the Jefferson Bariatric Surgery Program for some insight into the biggest culprits, as well as how to get back on track if you do get derailed.
is a dangerous habit to fall into! It seems like “just one bite of this” and “just one bite of that”, but if we were to add up an entire day worth of these small portions, it often adds up to much more than we realize. Take an example of what a day of grazing might include: start with a chocolate chip cookie (which, by the way, some brands have 440 calories in whole). Even “munching” on ¼ of that cookie is a 110 calorie “bite”. Add four ounces of a holiday punch (70 calories for four ounces of 100 percent grape juice), eight potato chips (80 calories), and one mini brownie (140 calories for one typical mini brownie), and you are up to 400 calories. This is just one example, but you can see how quickly it adds up, and this doesn’t even include the other food consumed that day. Eating an extra 400 calories per day between Thanksgiving and Christmas (roughly 30 days) equals an additional 12,000 calories or (if using the average of 3,500 calories per pound) an estimated 3.5 lbs. Pair this with less-than-normal exercise (colder weather, busier schedule) and you’ve got the perfect storm for holiday time weight gain.
I’ll just work out to burn it off….
Calories burned during exercise varies drastically depending on a person’s height/weight, but as an example, after plugging it into the MyFitnessPal website, a 150 lb. person would have to walk UPHILL at 3.5 mph for an entire hour to burn 400 calories.
Yeah, but that extra food probably won’t have THAT much of an effect on my body…
Consuming highly processed carb-based foods (which are often what the typical “break room snacks” consist of) can lead to spikes in blood sugar since they break down very quickly in the blood stream. On top of blood sugars, these sugary foods can lead to elevated triglycerides. They are also typically very high in saturated fat which can affect heart health. For our bariatric patient population, these foods can fill the stomach which means no room for the most essential foods (protein and vegetables). Due to the lack of protein, patients often become hungry an hour or two later and find themselves snacking again. It’s a vicious cycle!
Help me avoid the treats, please!
Practice mindful eating. Be aware of what’s in front of you, assess your hunger level, and why you’re choosing to eat. Are you really hungry? If so, aim for a snack that’s higher in protein (i.e., bring some string cheese or Greek yogurt to work to prevent needing to snack on what’s in the break room). If you’re eating simply out of “desire” and not physical hunger, try to identify what’s causing you to want to eat those foods (are you stressed, bored, tired?) and try to tackle it head on (if you’re under stress, try taking a 5 minute break to write in a journal, etc.)
Out of sight out of mind! Try to keep the most tempting foods away from your desk and out of sight if at all possible. If you know there are high calorie foods in the break room, try to find somewhere else to go on break. Or, you could try to bring in a healthy snack to share (such as a veggie tray or fruit with low-fat cheese slices).
I have a sweet tooth, what are some better alternatives?
The first question I’d always try to ask is “Are you hungry for it?” If you are looking for something sweet, here are a few options: sugar free products (pudding, popsicles, Jello), chocolate flavored protein bar (eat half if it’s for a snack), or fruit with fat free whipped topping.
Do you have any tips for getting back on track?
Don’t wait! The longer you wait, the harder it gets. If you feel like you made a poor choice at a holiday party, try to brush it off and move on. Focusing negatively on that one 400 calorie poor food choice could lead to days or even weeks of 400 calorie poor food choices (and 400 calories extra per day x weeks worth of these habits = extra pounds!). Instead, try to make a conscious decision to return to healthy habits following a night of derailment (instead of waiting for the week, month, or holiday season to end).
- Keep a food journal. The benefit of journaling what we eat is that it forces us to slow down and recognize what’s going on. If I don’t feel like having to write in all of those snack foods into my journal, I probably shouldn’t consume them.
- Find an accountability partner. Is there someone at work you could trust to hold you accountable? Maybe it’s a friend in another office who could swap food journals with you once a week for accountability. Maybe it’s a coworker who can help steer you toward the healthier treats on the table. Maybe it’s your dietitian 🙂