The surprising thing keeping American employees from sticking to their diet

Work has a way of complicating diet commitments. You got a lot of deadlines, obligations, and expectations, so you’re likely to get stressed out-enter cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone that increases our appetite and cravings for sugary fat nonsense.

Or maybe you’re always on top of things; you go in and get things done, which means you’ll likely get bored, which causes our dopamine levels to drop, which in turn makes us reach for fatty sugary nonsense.

Maintaining willpower on the clock

A new Harris Poll survey of over 1,000 employed U.S. adults, commissioned by the American Heart Association and Aramark as part of their Healthy for Life 20 By 20 initiative, reports that over 56% of working Americans have a hard time eating healthy on the clock, with an additional 77% saying that  they’re more likely to eat healthy on their days off. The intent is certainly there.

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More than 82% of respondents agreed that having healthy food options at work is important and more than 68% value help from their employer in becoming healthier. Providing a catered lunch for employees can be a great method of instituting healthy dietary habits if a firm has the passion and the resources.

Unfortunately, healthy food options are rarely the default. Seventy-nine percent  surveyed whose workplace has an on-site cafeteria, food service or vending machine reported getting food there at least some of the time. Younger employees were more likely to eat unhealthy foods at work because of the convenience or because of the lower costs. On a stressful day at work, around one in three employees surveyed, who typically eat lunch during work (35%), say their lunch is less healthy than a typical day.

Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, is the vice chairman of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Thorndike, who has dedicated several years to dietary awareness had this to say about the premise of the new report:

“Understanding what employees are eating for lunch on a typical workday and what factors influence their choices helps us develop strategies to improve dietary intake with multi-level approaches through food systems, communities, and individuals. The finding that healthier food choices at work may impact food choices throughout the rest of the day presents a unique opportunity for the workplace to have a positive influence on not only the employee’s health but also the health of the employee’s family.”

Healthy choices

One of the most promising finds of the new study is the reassuring amount of respondents that are genuinely interested in promoting a healthier dietary work culture. More than 91% of U.S workers surveyed said that they are concerned with improving the healthfulness of their typical workday lunch, particularly younger workers under 40.

Four-in-five respondents said that there should be more healthy food options at work, and nine out of 10 workers prepare their lunch at home “at least some of the time” in order to avoid temptation at work, with women being more likely than men to do so.

“Improving the nutrition content and reducing calories of classic favorites and typically indulgent menu items helps. Having more plant-based options to choose from at home and on menus helps. But in the end, people still need to choose to eat healthier food. The good news is most people said they are interested in doing better,” concluded Thorndike.