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The insane amount of calories you mindlessly eat at work

By Leah Groth ; Updated June 14, 2018

A new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows people working in an office may be consuming an extra 1,300 calories per week — and that doesn’t even include what they bring to work for lunch or order as takeout. Yikes!

Anyone who has worked in an office where pizza deliveries, doughnut days and birthday cupcakes are the norm will not be surprised by this news. Trust us, we get it.

“Office foods are part of the ‘see food’ diet — meaning if you see food, you’re more likely to eat it,” culinary nutritionist Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, tells LIVESTRONG.COM. In other words, constantly seeing delicious food in the work environment can trigger “visual” hunger — that desire to eat.

“And if it’s cheap or possibly free, it’s that much more tempting to eat,” she adds.

The problem with eating high-calorie office food is that when those caloric choices are unplanned or when you don’t realize just how many calories are in those free cupcakes, it can contribute to weight gain. Compounding the issue is how the typical sit-down office environment isn’t exactly conducive to weight loss. “Those extra calories aren’t such as good thing if you’re simply sitting at a computer all day,” Newgent says.

Then there are the unhealthy ingredients most of these foods contain: “Much of the traditional vending machine-type foods you might find at the office contain synthetic preservatives like sodium nitrite and and sulfur dioxide, which your body absolutely doesn’t require, and excess sodium, which may contribute to high blood pressure for some and bloating for others,” she explains.

If you want to avoid adding those extra office calories every week, Newgent offers the following tips:

  • Make sure veggies or fruits are always readily available wherever and whenever foods are offered. Encourage your workplace to offer more worksite wellness options. 
  • Keep your own healthful and satisfying snack stash at your desk, like one-ounce portioned containers of nuts, such as almonds. Almonds provide a triple whammy of power-packed protein, satisfying fiber and “good” fats that can fill you up. When you mindfully enjoy your own satiating snack, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly choose not-so-healthful office foods.
  • Take charge and promote foods for meetings and work-related events that are both nutritious and delicious. Turn those boxes of doughnuts into a DIY yogurt and fruit bar. Transform office pizza parties into salad and pizza parties. Suggest your workplace participate in Meatless Mondays and have only vegetarian options available on those days.
  • Remember that small changes can add up to big differences in your health! 

So let’s look at what the study (which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition earlier this month) actually shows about the office eating habits of 5,000 employees across the country. Spoiler alert: It’s not exactly kale and green smoothies.

Researchers looked at all the food consumed — from the cafeteria, vending machines, common areas and meetings and worksite social events — over a seven-day period. What they learned, unsurprisingly, is that most of them were extremely unhealthy and high in sodium and empty calories. They also tended to be processed foods — things like pizza, soft drinks, baked goods and candy.

“The majority of the calories people got at work, people didn’t pay for: 70 percent of the calories were free,” said study co-author Stephen Onufrak, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to WebMD. He explained to ABC News that nearly 25 percent of working adults get food at work during the week, with the average damage tallying up to nearly 1,300 calories per week — “more than half the recommended daily calorie intake for the average adult,” he pointed out. “With employees spending eight hours a day on average at their place of employment, a lot of people may not be aware of all of the calories they get from work, especially from foods they get for free,” he explained.

While a doughnut or a slice of pizza every so often won’t totally derail your diet, this study is a good reminder of how easy it is to add unnecessary calories without even realizing it. Stay mindful, friends!

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