How to Discourage Unhealthy Eating Habits in the Workplace

employees working together

The typical office worker sits at their desk for almost eight hours a day, only getting up to get coffee, go on their lunch break, or run a quick errand. With this kind of lifestyle, even an hour at the gym every day after work can hardly offset the amount of time spent sitting down. That said, nutrition remains the more important factor in maintaining a healthy weight.

However, office workers tend to have difficulty eating healthy as well. With fast food joints right around the corner, unhealthy options in the pantry, and vending machines stocked with junk, it can be challenging to develop or maintain healthy eating habits.

Below are some of the best strategies on how employers can help their employees kick unhealthy eating habits to the curb.

1. Offer eating disorder support

Eating disorders are generally not appropriate topics in the workplace, and people with these conditions may not be comfortable talking about them at work, much less their employers. However, there is one way that employers can help employees suffering from eating disorders, and that is to offer to pay for treatment, such as a bulimia recovery plan, as part of their benefits.

2. Replace the junk

While “junk food” is not really junk (since they provide energy for your body), they are full of bad stuff such as fats, sodium, preservatives, and excessive calories. The quick burst of energy that they provide is what makes them so enticing to office workers, who often need ‘pick-me-up’s in the middle of the workday, or perhaps they just want something to snack on because they’re bored, stressed, or upset.

The best way to discourage overconsumption of unhealthy snacks is to replace them with healthier options. Some of the best examples include veggie chips, fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, nuts, seeds, and light-sodium popcorn.

3. Make dishware smaller

Downsizing dishes is one of the best ways to promote healthier portion sizes. With a smaller bowl or plate, employees will be better guided with how much they should eat. If they want a second helping, they can always get one, but having already finished a plate can better make them realize that they are already full.

Instead of regular-sized dishes, bowls, and glasses in the pantry, offices should provide smaller ones to encourage smaller portions as well as early satiety.

woman eating salad

4. Educate

Eat vegetables and fruits. Exercise regularly. Avoid junk food. Everyone already knows what they should do to lose or maintain a healthy weight. But do they know how to count calories or read nutritional labels? Are they aware of the real health effects of obesity and unhealthy eating? Do they know the proper strategies to avoid unhealthy eating both at home and at work?

Providing nutritional education is a great way to help employees realize the importance of healthy eating and what exactly can their unhealthy eating habits could lead to. Moreover, it gives the company a chance to show how much they care about employees’ well-being, which can increase overall job satisfaction and encourage loyalty.

5. Be careful with the office ‘treats’

Many offices like to treat their employees with a pizza party or free donuts in the pantry as a motivator. But while treating employees with food is a great way to show appreciation, it’s not-so-good on employees’ health. For one, calorie-dense foods can dramatically increase their energy consumption in a day. Second, it enforces the idea of unhealthy food as a treat for a job well done, which can further encourage the habit of using unhealthy food as a reward.

There’s nothing wrong with offering delicious treats every once in a while, even if they are not so healthy. However, there are healthier options to use as rewards, such as salads, low-fat ice cream, low-calorie pizzas, fresh fruit bowls, and vegan burgers. Rewards don’t even have to be food at all. Offices can also offer free gift cards, extra breaks, and fun office games instead of food.

6. Remind employees to hydrate

Slight dehydration can cause headaches, inability to focus, tiredness, and lightheadedness. It can also make employees think that they are hungry when they are really just thirsty.

To avoid these symptoms and help employees stay productive, encourage employees to take sips of water at certain times of the day. This can be done by using a program that sends notifications to employees’ workstations, or by having employees download a hydration app.

Unhealthy eating habits are very common in office settings and deeply ingrained in the culture. For this reason, employers must step up and use these strategies to discourage unhealthy eating before it’s too late.

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