Healthy Snacking Can Happen - Even at the Office
Some people are able to watch their waistlines by cooking healthy meals at home, and keeping fattening fare out of the fridge. But what if your office lunchroom offers a day-long carb fest?
A growing amount of employees come face to face with fattening food in the workplace every day. Oh yes, and its free. Many employees think work does not get any better than this. Whether it is donuts, bagels, or even just coffee, noshing on the house on the clock is more likely to be considered a workplace luxury, not a liability. It gives employees something to look forward to on breaks, encourages lunchroom bonding, and boosts morale. You might not be thrilled with this arrangement, however, if you are trying to watch your weight.
Not to fear, because even if you work in a high calorie temptation rich professional environment, you can strategize for success. Research on workplace snacking indicates that food consumption depends on organization climate, emotions, self-control, and believe it or not, even where the food is placed.
Corporate Climate Determines Snacking
Sabine Sonnentag et al. (from 2017) studied employee snacking on the job with the goal of identifying predictors of healthy versus unhealthy consumption.
They found that "organizational eating climate predicted health as food-choice motive, whereas emotional eating and self-control demands predicted affect regulation as food-choice motive." With respect to specific snack foods , health motivation predicted consumption of cereal bars, fruit, and generally snacks that were less sweet.
Affect-regulation motivation, in contrast, predicted consumption of more sweet treats. The authors note their findings underscore the importance of promoting healthy eating in the workplace, and recognize the potentially negative consequences caused by "high self-control demands" on the job.
Sonnentag et al. note that their results demonstrate that "the long arm of the job" can potentially impact employee leisure time as well as snacking behavior, resulting in significantly far-reaching consequences with respect to employee health.
In terms of unexpected findings, the authors noted that contrary to their hypothesis that high self-control demands would predict both increased affect-regulation motive and decreased health motive, they found that although self-control demands did in fact predict high affect-regulation motive, they were unrelated to health motive.
They speculated that perhaps self-control demands were not sufficiently powerful to override the goal of healthy eating.
Smart Snacking Is About Strategy, Placement
Ernest Basking et al. (2016) examined the impact of the increasing trend among some employers to provide free snacks at work. Commenting on the growing trend, they note that employees enjoy access to free food during working hours, and feel valued and appreciated by their respective employers.
But they recognized the primary downside as well: employee health. Obesity is a significant problem, prompting concern over employers encouraging snacking on the job. Consequently, one of the questions Basking et al. considered was the extent to which employees took advantage of the opportunity to eat for free. And they got creative in examining other factors as well.
Choice Architecture: I Need a Drink (Location, Location, Location)
Drawing from previous research on choice architecture, Basking et al. examined a factor that could impact snack consumption without deceasing employee satisfaction: the distance between snacks and drinks. Conducing a large field study at Google, they measured employee consumption of snacks depending on how far the snacks were placed from beverages.
Employees who chose to use the beverage station that was in closer proximity to the snack station were more likely to also take a snack. How much did the likelihood of snacking increase? From 12% to 23% for men, and from 13% to 17% for women.
One positive health-related implication of this research, as noted by the authors, is the potential to decease snacking by increasing the distance between beverages and snacks. This easy, likely unobtrusive modification could be used by employers as well as families to reduce snacking in a fashion that is likely to escape the snacker´s conscious awareness.
The authors note that this reduction in snacking behavior might prevent a snacking-with-a-beverage habit to be formed in the first place — which could carry over to other settings.
An Appetite for Healthy Alternatives
The fact that people apparently both consciously and unconsciously restrict or expand their intake of healthy versus unhealthy snacks in the workplace indicates what most of us already know — that snacking on the job is motivated by much more than simple hunger, or even food cravings.
The good news is that goal setting, self-control, and self-awareness are demonstrated to promote healthy eating, both on and off the clock.
This article was first published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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