When we think of post-holiday resolutions, a healthier lifestyle is often what comes to mind, starting with our eating habits. For all people with an office job, the first place to start with is the workplace, as we spend most of our waking hours sitting in front of computer screens.
However, finding ways to eat healthy when working in an office can be an ongoing challenge: the vending machine starts calling your name at 10am, your coffee buddy calls you for a break at 11, you eat a sandwich in front of your computer at 12 and then the guy from IT is celebrating his birthday with a massive sugary cake at 3 o‘clock. The struggle is real, way too real, and you need to be prepared.
Read on for 10 tips to break bad habits and start living a healthier life. You’ll be more productive and energetic and I’m quite sure your wallet will be thankful as well!
1. Know thyself and get into the mood
To start with, get into a “healthy mood”. To make changes, it’s very important to first understand your eating habits and patterns. It’s a good idea to keep a nutrition diary for some time and then analyze the results. You can add a little note about what was on your schedule that day to better identify patterns. For instance you may notice that you indulge more in unhealthy food when you are stressed out or when a big event is approaching.
Educate yourself on nutrition: carefully read the food labels, and preferably go for those products with the shortest and easiest to read labels, get inspired by blogs and websites, join relevant newsletters and Facebook groups.
It’s also important to understand that eating healthy should not be seen as torture and is not as complicated as it may sound. It can be tough at the beginning but you just need some time to adjust to the new changes in your nutrition habits. After a while you’ll find yourself at the bio supermarket desperately looking for bulgur and kale.
2. Don’t skip breakfast
Start your day with a nutritious and filling breakfast to charge the batteries for a new day at the office. Your brains will work better and you won’t feel those hunger pangs in the morning anymore. The vending machine’s call will only be a whisper. Studies have shown how eating breakfast can not only improve memory and concentration levels but also improve mood and lower stress level.
3. Stock up on healthy desktop snacks
To combat hunger pangs, stock your desk drawer with healthy, low-calorie, nutritious snacks, such as protein bars, small snack portions of trail mix or nuts. If you have a mini fridge or a communal fridge, stock up on fat-free yogurt, fresh veggies and fruits and bottled water. These snacks will be a lot better than whatever you can grab out of a vending machine.
It’s important to keep the food off your desk and out of sight or you’ll be tempted too much to grab a snack whenever you feel like. Some examples of good snack optio
ns: oatmeal and blueberries, Greek yogurt and strawberries, carrots and hummus, or apple and peanut butter.
4. Stay hydrated
During the day you should drink at least 1.5-2 liters of fluid, preferably water. Start the day at the office with a big bottle of water and make an effort to finish it by the end of the day. Drinking water helps you think, focus and concentrate better.
5. Pack your meals and snacks the night before
The best way to control what you eat is simple, just cook yourself! Make bigger portions so that you can use the leftovers the day after or spend some extra time in the evening cooking a simple meal for the office. You can also prepare meals and snacks and then store them in your fridge or freezer. Invest some money in a practical lunch box, possibly with different compartments for food, seasoning etc. This way your food won’t mix up and will stay fresh until lunch time.
6. Plan ahead – Meal plan for the week
A good way of budgeting and controlling your nutrition is to make a weekly meal plan. This way you can make sure to include plenty of veggies and fruits into your diet not only when you’re at home but also at the office. Making a meal plan will save you lots of time and money. I personally find inspiration in blogs and website or just make up my own healthy recipes, combining what I like the most. Here are links to some of my favourite websites:
7. Master the “No, thank you.”
There’s always a work buddy who’s a bit of a tempting demon. He’s the one that comes over to tell you “the pizza place behind the corner has a new offer this week”, “a new Chinese restaurant opened last month and we haven’t tried it yet”, or “I really feel like junk food today, c’mon just once!”. Practice your nicest “No, thank you” and then use it every time he comes by your desk. Well, not every time: a slice of pizza or a Gong Bao Chicken won’t kill you and you can’t always say no, can you? The same goes for the slice of cake for your colleague’s birthday/promotion/baby/new car/retirement. You don’t have to eat that huge slice just to be nice. You can say no or just ask for a smaller portion if it really looks tempting. By no means should you never eat junk food or donuts at work again!
8. Don’t eat lunch in front of your desk
One of the biggest mistakes when working in an office is eating lunch at your desk. You won’t be able to decompress from the office environment, and you won’t enjoy your meals as much. Staying in front of the computer means you never really take a break. Whenever the phone rings or you have a new email in your inbox you have the tendency to stop whatever you’re doing and just pick up the phone or read that email. Go out! Take your lunch, leave the office and enjoy a walk outside (unless you work in Beijing or Delhi, in that case, given the levels of pollution, it would be advisable to stay inside). You’ll come back refreshed and more productive.
9. Keep moving
Sedentary work can be tough and is not a good ally for a healthy lifestyle. However, unless we all resign and open a surf school in a tropical paradise, we have to deal with it. You can still be active at your workplace: for instance, you can take the stairs rather than the elevator to move from one floor to the other or get out of the public transport one or two stops before your destination.
Regular physical activity is essential to a healthy lifestyle, especially for office workers. A study by Russell Clayton, published in the journal Human Resource Management, suggests that regular exercise can help keep stress levels down and confidence levels up. In addition, regular physical activity is also responsible for a better work-life balance via increased self-efficacy, defined by the author as “the sense that one is capable of taking things on and getting them done”.
September is the perfect month to start a new challenge and sign up for a gym membership, preferably not too far from your workplace so that you can hit the gym just after work. In my personal experience going home and then going to the gym has proven to be quite unsuccessful. If you hit the couch, you won’t hit the gym! Finding a work buddy willing to join you would be ideal so that you can keep your motivation up and enjoy your training more. Having a gym buddy at work will also help you with your nutrition habits: you can share experiences, exchange recipes and possibly inspire other colleagues to follow your example.