One common goal people have at the start of the year is “to live a healthier lifestyle.” If you have that on your list of New Year’s resolutions, I have bad news for you: Research shows that a measly 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions.
At work, you’re faced with all sorts of temptation. There’s the vending machine in the hallway. Then the cookies Gina from Accounting keeps bringing over. When you’re trying to avoid it, there always seems to be a random surprise Wednesday afternoon birthday cake. So how do you stay true to your New Year commitment and avoid all the junk food at the office?
Here’s how to sail past the junk and stay committed.
Remember your motivation
Be clear on what made you want to live a healthier lifestyle in the first place. Do you want to look better? Feel better? Stop spending too much on healthcare? Pinpoint what you hope to gain and write it down, so you don’t forget.
Whenever you feel yourself wavering, remember your motivation. Whip out the sheet of paper you wrote it on, if that helps. Ask yourself if the “exception” is worth it. Will it prevent you from reaching your goal?
Be mindful of your habits
Often, people reach for bad food out of habit. In his book, “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg says this happens because you’ve established a loop. First there’s a cue, followed by a routine, culminating in a reward.
Take time to observe yourself and identify the components of your loop. Do you eat when you’re bored? Or reach for potato chips because you skipped a meal?
Once you understand what’s going on, you can start making changes.
Make the changes manageable
Real, tangible change don’t happen overnight. Start with baby steps, like cutting down and then cutting out processed sugar. Preparing an accessible stash of low-calorie snacks is a good idea as well.
You can also try being creative—literally. Julie Cameron’s “The Writing Diet” suggests engaging in creative activities that put you in a state of flow. Try writing or crocheting while you’re on a break. The idea is that creativity can block overeating, and give you the satisfaction feedback loop you’re craving.
There will always be temptation at work. No doubt about that. But as they say in basketball, the best defense is a good offense. Bring your own food as an alternative to junk food. A healthy packed lunch and nutritious snacks will make it easier for you to say no to candy bars.
Your choice of food can also make a difference. Fruits ease sugar cravings, while avocado has “good fat” that leaves you feeling full and energized.
If you’re bringing food in for a meeting, try opting for a lighter choice like salads or Mediterranean. Many people like to get a healthy start to the year, so there’s a good chance your healthy choice will be well-received.
Hack your mind
Knowing what to do is different from actually doing it. You need to proactively rewire your brain. Think negative thoughts about junk food, and positive ones about healthful food.
For example, think of a healthy snack as a reward for completing a difficult tasks. Or picture junk food as unhygienic. If that fails, fall back on distractions. Check emails the moment you start craving for junk food. Make eating junk food difficult by forcing yourself to eat with chopsticks or your non-dominant hand.
Keep your stress in check
Among other things, stress triggers unhealthy eating, and it must be kept in check if you want to stay on track. While you can’t avoid stress, you can manage it without raiding the office pantry for donuts.
Step away from stressful situations, if you can. Take a walk for a minute or two. Otherwise, consider breathing exercises that you can do at your desk to keep calm. If you feel like you need to expend nervous energy, chew some sugar-free gum.
Also, ensure that you’re getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep contributes to stress and cravings.
Find allies at work
Making healthy changes in your life on your own can feel like an uphill battle. Surround yourself with people with similar health objectives. Bond with co-workers who are also trying to be healthy. Share healthy alternative snacks and recipes.
Ask someone to be your accountability buddy. Find others at work who are on the same path, so you can motivate each other in cases of peer pressure. Establish a “healthy eating” committee that will help organize team lunches. Ensure there will be available options for the health-conscious.
Look for work-arounds in sticky situations
Of course, some situations can’t be helped. You have to make the best of them. If you’re at a restaurant for a team lunch, stick to healthy appetizers or have coffee for dessert. At after-work get-togethers, avoid or limit alcohol and stick to light snacks, such as olives or protein.
The thing most people don’t realize about New Year’s resolutions is that they often involve making major adjustments in attitude and behavior. You can’t avoid seeing junk food at the office, but that doesn’t mean you can’t avoid indulging in it.
As long as you keep your health goals top of mind and have doable strategies in place, you can avoid junk food at work.
As long as you keep your health goals top of mind and have doable strategies in place, avoiding junk food at work is absolutely possible.