What was it today? A doughnut from the dozen you brought in for the whole crew? Candy from the vending machine? Microwave popcorn stashed in your desk drawer? Whatever you ate, you have company: Recent studies, including two from the American Dietetic Association, show that more than a third of office workers have breakfast alongside their keyboards; as many as two-thirds regularly munch on lunch in their offices; nine in 10 snack on the job; and 7 percent even have dinner desk-side. Corporate America seems to be turning into a giant kitchen, where eating on the job has become a necessity for the time-crunched and stressed. The average "lunch hour" has shrunk to 36 minutes--and chocolate has become a bottom-drawer staple (its feel-good endorphins make tension easier to handle). But the number one reason for desk-side dining is hunger. "Most office food isn't satisfying," says Baltimore nutritionist Colleen Pierre, RD. "Doughnuts, coffee, pastries, and candy give you temporary energy, but you're hungry a few hours later." It doesn't take long for the quick fix to become a pattern. So Prevention tried an intervention.
First, we found volunteers at four work sites who let us rummage through their desks, briefcases, office kitchens, and coat pockets, leaving no crumb uninspected. Then Pierre gave the volunteers an office makeover--a corporate downsizing, if you will. Here's her analysis and habit-breaking strategies.
The Group Nosh, The Haystack Group, Marietta, GA"A sweet tooth is a job requirement here," admits Stefanie Long, director of public relations, who shares this consumer research office with six others. Not a single one is on a diet, and all enjoy the same kinds of food. "When we chow down, we do it together. It's a social experience," says Holly Cline, an account manager.
Desk-Side Dining Most of the crew eat breakfast and lunch at the office. Once a week, the company's founder, Bonnie Ulman, brings in a baker's dozen of mini Cheddar muffins. "I believe in taking care of the staff," she says. Other days might begin with sharing takeout Chick-fil-A Chicken Biscuits (buttermilk biscuits with a fried chicken patty) or bagels and cream cheese. "Despite the fact that the coffeemaker is going all day and we just got an espresso machine, one of us goes to Starbucks--sometimes twice a day--with an office order for tall mochas, lattes, and hot apple ciders," reports Cline. On stressful days, she says, they drink larger, 16-ounce cups of their caffeinated drink of choice with an extra shot of espresso. At least three times a week the group returns to Chick-fil-A for lunch, bringing back fried chicken sandwiches, fries, and Cokes. Alternatively, they might hit Taco Bell for Zesty Chicken Borders Bowls and an occasional Nachos Supreme. Or they'll go for chips and sandwiches from a nearby deli. Occasionally, they organize a potluck lunch. "At the last one, the chocolate-covered strawberries were the biggest hit," recalls Long. Between the sugar and caffeine highs and lows, the entire office usually slumps around 3 pm. Their solution: chocolate. Last fall, to celebrate the completion of a book Ulman wrote, the group enjoyed two 3-pound bags of M&Ms and a pound each of Hershey's Kisses, candy corn, and candy pumpkins. After 3 days, only a handful of Kisses remained. "Once someone brought in apples, but they rotted in the fridge," says Cline. "Work is the place to be bad," says Long. "No one here judges anyone. When you mention to someone that you ate half a bag of Oreos, they tell you it's okay because they did, too."
Office Overhaul Pierre says: Everyone should agree to have a breakfast that delivers more nutrients and fiber in fewer calories than chicken biscuits, muffins, or bagels with cream cheese. The caffeine in all that coffee is increasing everyone's stress hormones. Reaching for candy is a natural response and, because chocolate is also a stimulant, it fuels hunger. Ulman would do everyone a favor by passing up the Cheddar muffins and bringing in a fruit basket to put near the printer or wherever people gather. For lunch, cut back the fast-food trips to once or twice a week--and make better choices at the restaurants. At Taco Bell, for instance, the Bean Burrito has about half the calories and a third the saturated fat of the Zesty Chicken Border Bowl plus dressing. On the remaining days, try the soup and salad bar at a nearby supermarket or organize a weekly potluck lunch and limit desserts to fruit. If the Starbucks trips give people a much-needed break, skip anything topped with whipped cream and go for the steamed cider (180 calories) or decaffeinated, fat-free lattes (120 calories plus 35 percent of the calcium DV).
To learn more about Diet Wreckers, Dorm Style Diners and Out of Balance Eaters, click on www.prevention.com.