By Elyn Zimmerman
Is your work life dragging your diet, and maybe
even your health, down? For many, the highest
percentage of one’s waking hours is spent at the
workplace and in activities devoted to work, including
commuting. These precious hours significantly
overlap with those that must be dedicated
to fueling the human body in order to maintain the
performance necessary to get the job done.
While workplace wellness initiatives are expanding
in recognition of the need to promote the
health of employees, most of us do not work in
environments like Google that cater figuratively
and literally to optimized health by providing spa
cuisine, meditation and creativity spaces, and fitness
Most daily eating is dictated by the nature of one’s work–its demands, schedule, culture and even its relationships. While the realities of workplace eating are as varied as the jobs themselves, there are common feeding behaviors in our modern frenzied world that frequently lead to feeding frustration and a downward spiraling in health and well-being. The impacts of these behaviors may simmer slowly over time or manifest rather quickly.
Our work lives affect our eating habits by causing breakfast to be missed; provoking our stress hormones; blurring the division between working and feeding; accelerating the pace of eating; decreasing meal preparation time; minimizing physical activity; decreasing sleep, and altering the diurnal biological rhythms for those who work overnight or rotating shifts.
We have adapted to these physiological provocations by relying excessively on fast-food and takeout; eating during times when the body should be at digestive rest; becoming highly dependent upon caffeine in the form of highly acidic coffee, soda and energy drinks; craving sugar and alcohol; and overeating in response to stress and reward signals. While we may as a culture have seemed impervious to this situation, it is time to wake up and smell the green tea.
Though it may seem like a dog-eat-dog world in the workplace there are ways to soften this nutritional paradigm to one with less bark and more good bites. Here are some considerations.
â€¢ Caffeine alternatives. If you love coffee but know that your relationship may be too intense, consider alternatives like teeccino herbal coffee, yerba mate, green tea or rooibos tea. Start your day with water, before any coffee to aid in detoxification and hydration. Skip the chemical additives of powdered creamers and artificial sweeteners. Do not override hunger and the body’s need for real food by substituting with caffeinated drinks. Soda, diet soda and energy drinks are seriously health depleting and addictive. Daily habits of these should be evaluated and substituted with water, seltzer /sparkling waters and lightly sweetened teas. Wean gradually and know that any withdrawal symptoms of headaches or fatigue will soon pass, especially with good hydration.
â€¢ Easy breakfast and lunch ideas. The trick to stabilizing blood sugar throughout the day, and thereby managing hunger and sugar cravings, is to eat regular meals and snacks that feature protein, fiber and fat and that minimize refined carbohydrates. There are many websites available that provide great ideas for quick and healthy meals.
For breakfast, there are simple cereal recipes made with whole grains, ground seeds like flax, hemp and chia, fruits and nuts that can be prepared at home or at work. Likewise, recipes abound for morning green drinks and smoothies, rich in protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals. For lunches, check out Mason Jar Meals. They are quite fun.
â€¢ Local healthy options. If you do need to eat out or take out, know what stores and restaurants offer healthy meal options near where you work. Thankfully, there are some good ones to choose from in this area.
â€¢ Workplace food culture. If you are in charge of or participate in your workplace food environment, consider if any changes are possible that would enhance the choices available to the employees. Gestures like bringing in boxes of donuts may seem sweet at first, but can ultimately be a big energy and health drag. Find other ways to boost morale.
Awakening to dietary change takes some initial exploration, experimentation and courage but once some traction is found, the results are usually exhilarating. Don’t forget to take a moment’s pause before eating, smell your food and chew slowly. On a busy work day, that will be a good start.
Elyn Zimmerman, is the owner of Lifeseeds Nutritional Counseling (www.lifeseedsnutrition. com) with offices in Saratoga Springs and Round Lake.
Photo Courtesy of Lifeseeds Nutrition Counseling