Strong colleague friendships can have a major impact on your life. They make you happier and more fulfilled when you’re logging those long hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., but they can also impact your choices — and some can even add a few inches to your waistline.
In fact, registered dietitian and nutrition expert Bridget Swinney, MS, RD says some new employees can expect to gain five pounds within their first few months at a new job — or more.
“Without willpower, it can be huge. That’s because some staff work very long hours and turn to food for stress relief or to stay alert. Others must rely on fast food for lunch and don’t always choose the healthy options—peer pressure is common in adult eating habit,” she says. “Working environments are often filled with unhealthy food — like candy, pop tarts, snack bars, cookies, ice cream and chips. Junk food is cheap, so that makes it appealing.”
But if you want to turn your habits around — and maybe encourage your colleagues to do the same — here are some tricks and tips on improving the health of your office:
Limit the birthday sweets to one big party a month
While a universal shift that allows workers to take off their birthday without sacrificing paid time off would be a welcome change, more than likely, you’ll work plenty of birthdays during your tenure. And if you’re going to have to attend meetings, answer e-mails, send reports and hold brainstorming sessions on your once-a-year celebration, you definitely appreciate when your manager acknowledges your lap around the sun. Though, sure, a cupcake or a slice of cake on your birthday is definitely encouraged, if you have several of these celebrations every week, Swinney says they can add up to weight gain, poor glucose control and even high cholesterol.
To remedy the temptation of devouring endless sugar-sweet snacks, Swinney suggests hosting a once-a-month birthday celebration for employees, and handing out a card on their specific day instead. Or flowers or a bottle of alcohol they can take home. This way, you’re still making them feel special, without inviting the whole office to have their 10th double-chocolate slice of the month. If the birthday person is more of a health nut, she also recommends making a watermelon cake or a fruit bouquet in place of a dessert. In addition, she notes selecting cupcakes can provide damage control, since you have more choice over your portion.
Make your office a no-alcohol zone (or at least offer nonalcoholic options)
Blame it on “Mad Men”, the stress of overtime or the emergence of the startup culture that’s bringing craft beer into the office kitchen, but alcohol and work seem to be synonymous in most working environments. And hey, while it’s definitely a perk to be able to crack open a cold one or pour a glass of your go-to red vino, when you consistently find yourself drinking at your desk as soon as the clock strikes 5 p.m. — thanks to the encouragement of your cubicle mate — those extra calories will add up… fast.
This is when a conversation with your operations manager may be your best tactic, according to Swinney. Approach the topic as a trite-but-true tactic of a compliment sandwich, starting with how appreciative you are of all they do to keep the office stocked. Then, mention how healthier options would help improve productivity and offer a less expensive route for those who simply can’t say ‘no’ to round two. “Ask if they will provide sparkling water with have lime and orange slices, or unsweetened iced tea with fresh mint,” Swinney says. This way, even when your co-worker grabs a beer, you can join them in ‘drinking’ even if it’s alcohol-free.
Find something else to do with your coworkers during happy hour
Before you give yourself too hard of a time, Swinney reminds us moderate drinking – especially wine! – can be beneficial to our long-term health. The only issue is that middle ground may feel different for everyone: two drinks for you may feel like the equivalent of four for your office BFF. As defined by nutrition experts, ‘moderate’ boozing means one to two drinks per day. But at an after-work happy hour, where everything is half-off, strong and perfectly satiates your stress? Chances are slim you’d stop at number two. “After work happy hour can often add up to more drinks, as well as drinks that pack on a lot of calories. Add on the bar food that will most likely tag along, and you’ve got a diet disaster,” she says.
The solution to your daily invite outside the office walls is to help nurture your friendship without it being about alcohol. With ‘sweat-working’ as an ever-growing trend in the professional landscape, Swinney suggests a shared workout class, a bike ride or a hike, if you’re near trails. And hey, if your pals isn’t really into fitness? There are other options that get up your heart-rate and don’t put weight on you. “Even going shopping would get you some exercise and help with stress. Active options that work for stress relief and for improving health,” she says.
When all else fails, order a faux-tini
Being the only one not drinking at the monthly corporate happy hour can make you stand out in the sea of raised eyebrows (or raise questions about your family planning status, if you’re a woman.) If you’re truly trying to improve your health scores, lose some weight or merely need a break from alcohol, Swinney says there’s a way to cleverly avoid actually boozing, while appearing like you are part of the crowd. She recommends filling yourself up with an apple right before you head out and making a pact with the bartender to keep giving you sparkling water with lime for the night, making it look like you’re having a vodka tonic.
If you are okay with one drink, she suggests a lower-alcohol concoction like a wine spritzer, a well-drink or a diet soda with a shot of liquor. She also says to down as much water as you can, while will also make you feel more fulfilled and less likely to reach for another glass – or the fried food appetizers your boss charged to his company credit card.
Volunteer to bring the healthy alternatives
When you see free breakfast on your calendar, it’s a relieving way to begin your TGIF workday. But then upon arrival you only notice fatty, sugar-filled muffins and high-calorie bagels with cream cheese, you’re likely promptly disappointed in the selection. Swinney explains carbs — especially super-sized ones like these breakfast favorites — can add on the pounds, spike your blood sugar and leave you starving a few hours later, since they offer little-to-no nutritional benefits. With nothing else left to munch on, you might find yourself stuck between a chocolate chip muffin and an everything bagel, with no nutritious option to turn to.
Again, talk to your manager about a different solution by suggesting cost-effective ways to offer a complimentary weekly breakfast, without the unnecessary fluff. “Bring in an electric griddle and cook some over-easy eggs. With a couple of packages of whole grain English Muffins or some baked tostada shells and avocado and some fruit on the side, you’ve got a much healthier, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast,” she shays.