Many people don’t take into account the importance of a balanced diet let alone when it’s related to work. Employees often put work before health, drinking multiple cups of coffee or skipping lunch or dinner in exchange for more time to do those reports, never wondering about the effects these habits have on their health. I turned to an expert for advice.
Louise Horner is an Australian dietitian. Among her nutrition-related activities is presentations in the workplace, from which she drew the following advice:
- Drink WATER. “The most important thing for working in an office is WATER.” Air conditioning or heating systems make people tired. Most workers react by filling up on coffee, which may boost their energy in the short term but doesn’t do much good in the long term. “Drink at least 500 ml of water and this will help fight fatigue.”
- Plan for the week. “Have a week of supplies ready on Mondays, including fruit, nuts, tins of tuna, soups, vita wheats or rice cakes as nibbles so you are less likely to over indulge in that birthday cake or the cookie jar.”
- Eat regular meals. “Take breakfast cereal (high fiber/low fat) to work and eat that if you’ve rushed out the door.” This will make you less likely to pick on options that aren’t very healthy as the day progresses. Eat regular meals and avoid being overly hungry or you will be again tempted by (and may over eat) quick, high fat/high sugar fixes.
- Get peer support. “It’s a good idea to get the entire office on board to eat healthier and support each other to do the same. Choose healthy lunches, agree to have healthy morning or afternoon tea as this will make it a lot easier to remove the temptations or to resist them.”
Just eating regular meals isn’t all there is to it, of course. What you eat is very important. Fast food every day and your arteries will let you know when they’re full, literally. Nothing but salads every day and you’ll collapse sooner or later. If you don’t put into your body the necessary and proper fuels how can you expect your body to function properly? And remember that your brain is part of your body.
If you’re a junk foodie it may be hard to acquire good eating habits, which are usually associated with celery sticks — oh SO tasteless. Well, yeah: our tongues love fatty, sugary and salty treats. The owners of fast food joints and restaurants know this and they’ve got pros working on it.
The Deal with the Fatty Stuff
In a recent article (editor’s note: the Guardian has since removed the content from the page) in The Guardian, David A. Kessler discussed the rising rate of obesity, especially in the UK and the US. A former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kessler tells us how food engineers develop foods to make us feel good while eating and to make us eat more while still feeling unsatisfied, leading us to stuff ourselves:
- A combination of high levels of sugar, fat and salt will make us love a food and want to eat more of it.
- If you chew less you’ll eat faster and won’t feel how full you’re getting; by the time you feel full you’ll have overeaten. For you to chew less, food joints make foods just soft enough so you feel like you’re chewing enough but also so that the food sort of melts in your mouth.
I’d thought that restaurants would want to serve smaller portions so that their food costs would decrease but it turns out that foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt make the customers somewhat “addicted” to the foods since this combination offers the eater a bigger “reward” than milder foods; the more they feed you the more you want to eat. This reward is none other than increased levels of dopamine, the same chemical whose level is elevated when people use cocaine.
So of course it’s hard to go from a junk food diet to a healthy one: “junk foodies” are pretty much addicts. Louise Horner recognizes this challenge and offers these tips:
- If you’re a savory buff try low fat pretzels, popcorn with some salt but NO butter, a small handful of nuts and rice cakes.
- If you have a sweet tooth try dried fruit, raisin toast, low fat/low sugar chocolate milk, low fat/low sugar fruit yogurts and fruit generally.
- Munching on celery sticks is healthy but not very enjoyable so slowly introduce fruit and veggie snacks if you’re not used to them — start by putting them in sandwiches or making salads. (Author’s note: I like to dip celery sticks and strips of bell pepper in hummus or yogurt/spinach dip).
We maintain our computers, our cars and other mechanisms we need in our work lives but sometimes we forget that our bodies are also necessary for us to work (duh!). We need to put our health at the top of our priority lists.