January is typically the time of year when, full of guilt and mince pies from overindulging during the festive period, a lot of us decide to diet. Research last year found that starting a healthy eating plan of some kind on January 15th (Wednesday) instead of New Year’s Day increases the chances of success by 45%.
According to a 2017 study by CV Library though, a third of workers say various aspects of their job are to blame for weight gain, with top reasons including not having time to exercise and snacking at work.
With UK unemployment at its lowest level for more than 40 years, most of us will have work to contend with as well as a diet, so how can we curb our weight gain on the job?
Never miss breakfast
It really is the most important meal of the day, so as the saying goes, eat ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord and dinner like a pauper’. Regardless of the hours you work and when you sleep, your internal body clock is set up to digest fats and sugars less efficiently during the night. It’s nothing to do with you being less active and therefore shift workers should really pay attention.
Consuming most of your calories in the morning is best, rather than starving yourself all day and eating a huge meal later. Just think how less hungry you are throughout the day when you’re not at work and you’ve been out for a big breakfast – point made!
Even if you’ve just finished a night shift, fill up with a nutritious breakfast before going to bed. If you eat breakfast on your commute, prep the night before and pick something that’s easy to eat on the go like a banana, slice of wholemeal toast and even a boiled egg!
It’s so much harder to make healthier choices when you have to eat out. Preparing your lunch and snacks in advance will give you complete control over what you are eating and help you avoid that ‘starving and rushed off your feet’ feeling that makes you run out and grab the easiest thing on offer, which is usually the most calorific.
After dinner the night before is a great time to make your lunch for the following day. Author of Slim by Design, Brian Wansink says that because you’ll be feeling full, you are more likely to make healthier choices, or can keep some leftovers back.
Drink lots of water
Dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger so it’s important to make a concerted effort to consume the recommended 6-8 glasses of water per day. Get yourself a reusable water bottle, that you can add fruit to if you’re not a fan of H20, and set yourself a target. You may not like it, but it will take seconds to drink.
If you’re still not convinced, a study in the US by Virginia Tech found that people who drank two cups of water before every meal lost weight after two weeks.
We all have a tendency to not enjoy our meals when they are healthy. We force a salad down when really, we want that bacon and brie panini that our colleague has. We also think that our healthy salad is not going to make us full when the truth is, it’s not actually our stomach that isn’t content, it’s our mind. Research from Canada has revealed that when you’re eating something healthy, the part of your brain that pays attention to fullness is turned off and creates a bias in our own judgement. Retrain your brain to enjoy your healthy food and you will feel full.
Don’t miss out on what you love
Cutting out your favourite sugary snacks and cheesy dinners altogether will only increase the chances of failure and make you feel dissatisfied all the time. Instead of grabbing a pack of chocolate biscuits and telling yourself you’ll only have one or two, take the amount you are allowing yourself, and walk away! The same goes for that donut your colleague brought in. It’s OK to have half, or share with someone else.
You could also try substituting some foods for lower fat alternatives and cut down your portion sizes. In fact, behavioural scientist Hugo Harper says that people don’t notice when their portion sizes are reduced 5-10% because they tend to eat without thinking about it.
Stay busy and active
It’s all been said before, but taking the stairs, parking further away from the office than you usually do and taking breaks from your desk to do 15 star jumps will have benefits for your mind and body. Start lunch time workouts or take up the classes your employer is providing – a growing trend right now.
Boredom is a diet killer too, so if you do find yourself twiddling your thumbs at work, busy yourself and fast. Offer to help out a colleague, clear your desk or organise your emails.
Keeping busy can also cut snacking. Wansink also says: “Those who had a small taste of a desired food then distracted themselves for 15 minutes felt satiated and didn’t feel the need to indulge more.” Snacking is reduced by 50% if you go for a 15 minute walk, according to the University of Exeter.
Sleep more, stress less
Stress can negatively impact your metabolism and disturb your sleep, which can also throw off your sense of hunger and fullness. It’s a vicious circle which you need to break. Workload is often out of our control, but by keeping busy and active at work, you’ll find yourself more productive and with less to worry about at the end of the day.
Also switch off when you get home, leaving work emails unanswered until the next day, or if unread emails are the cause of your stress, give yourself a 15 minute window an hour before bed to give yourself a heads up and make a short list if you have to.
Women in particular are at risk of gaining weight due to stress at work and home according to a Swedish study, which revealed how 33.5% of females gained more than 10% of their body weight over a decade.
Create a ‘healthy habits’ timetable
If all of the above leaves you feeling overwhelmed, create yourself a timetable. You’ll be far more likely to eat well, exercise more and drink enough fluids if you write it down. You could even add it to your work and personal calendars and block the time out in your diary.