Step away from the office vendo machine. Your office snacking habits are ruining your diet, and the sad thing is you don’t really like the food. You’re stress eating, which is a lot like drunk texting. You don’t really know what you’re doing, and you’re going to regret it in the morning. Here are some facts on office cravings and how to kick the habit.
What is Stress Eating?
Stress eating (or emotional eating) is when you use food to deal with anxiety, anger and other
negative emotions. Sometimes it’s simple delaying tactics, like “I’ll write this report after I have a snack.” But more often than not, it’s a way of making ourselves feel better. “French fries are my comfort food.” “Chocolate makes me happy.”
That’s why office cravings usually hit us when we’re doing something we dislike. If we’re really absorbed in a task, we can actually forget to eat – we’re too busy or too happy to want food. We will reach for a snack when we want to escape.
Why do we think eating will help us deal with office stress? Some snacks can actually give a temporary feeling of happiness (in a chemical, artificial way). Pastries, chips, sodas and anything that contains processed sugar like sucrose or fructose elevate our body’s levels of endorphins, which are our body’s “happy hormones.”
However, the sugar high is quickly followed by a sugar crash, and you will instantly feel more lethargic and depressed. You will instinctively reach for something that will bring up your mood levels again, leading to a pattern of constant office cravings.
Stress eating can also be a mindset we inherited from parents or partners who used food as a reward or a way of showing affection. We associate dessert with being good, and feeling praised and affirmed. Unconsciously, we start looking for food to boost our self-esteem during a particularly discouraging day at work.
Psychologists say that stress eating may also be a way of releasing emotions that we don’t want to verbalize or acknowledge. For example, you may be terrified of failing at a big project. You don’t want to admit that you think you’re in over your head, so you give your mind and body something else to focus on – like a big cupcake.
Office Cravings: How to Kick the Habit
Stress is unavoidable, but office cravings are. There are many ways for you to get your eating and emotions under control. Many of these tips are surprisingly easy to implement. Others will require you to think about your relationship with food really so you can beat cravings not just in the office, but at home or when you’re eating out.
Make it Inconvenient to Get Snacks
You’re less likely to give in to a craving if you have to go out of your way to get the food. Don’t keep snacks in your cubicle. If you’re near the office vendo machine, lock your wallet in one of your desk drawers and store the key out of reach. It’ll take you several minutes just to get money, and even more to walk to the vendo machine. By then you may have changed your mind and decided the snack wasn’t worth it.
Ask Yourself, “Am I Really Hungry?”
That simple question can already stop you in your tracks. Emotional eating is often unconscious, so just being aware that you’re looking for food just to deal with stress forces you to make a powerful choice. “Is this worth it? Is there any other way of dealing with this stress?”
Save Your Calories for Something Good
Many people find it discouraging to “deprive” themselves from food when they’re already feeling bad. “After today’s meeting, I deserve this cake!” you say.
You’re right: you do deserve a treat. But is that dry, tasteless chocolate cake in the office cafeteria the best way of satisfying your craving? Tell yourself that you’ll wait for the good stuff. Plan a trip to your favorite café later this weekend, or pass by for a pint of premium chocolate ice cream on the way home. The important difference is by waiting, and consciously deciding what kind of food you will eat, you can then stick to smarter portions and make the calories count.
You’re not saying no to your craving, you’re saying “Wait.” And very often, cravings subside within the hour.
Look for Healthier Alternatives with Similar Tastes and Textures
Every single unhealthy snack has healthy alternatives that give more nutrients and have fewer calories. If you want potato chips, baked apple chips or vegetable sticks dipped in Greek yogurt give a similar crunch. If you want a gooey chocolate bar, reach for a banana with peanut butter.
You’re not likely to find these things in the office vendor machine or snack bar, so come prepared. Make healthy snacks at home and bring them to work. Since you’ve made them yourself, you can adjust the flavors to your preferences and can control the portion and calorie count.
Don’t Crash Diet
You’re more likely to get office cravings and binge if you’re on a very restrictive diet that is low in calories or forces you to eat the same kind of food every day. After eating cabbage soup and salads for a week, anything and everything else you see are going to look pretty darned delicious.
Studies show that people are more likely to stick to healthy eating habits if they get variety in their actual meals. Stick to the prescribed calorie count for your weight, height, and lifestyle. Instead of taking three meals a day, take five or six smaller meals, so you never feel hungry. Schedule a weekly “Cheat Day, ” so you can indulge in your favorite food.
Avoid Social Eating
We often overeat when we’re in the company of friends. Someone invites us for coffee or a pastry, and we tag along even if we weren’t even thinking of eating until they showed up.
Stick to your diet and turn down these random requests to group gnosh. If you do join them, either because you want the conversation or because you don’t want to be labeled as the office snob, then consciously avoid the temptation to binge. Sit in the chair that doesn’t face the pastry counter, or brings just enough money to buy a black coffee and nothing else.
Put in Control Mechanisms
We’re only human, and there will be times when we must have that chocolate bar – right here, right now. If you have to give in to an office craving, then put in automatic portion controls. Break the bar in half and hide the rest before you begin to eat. Buy a smaller bag of chips. Pour half of the can of soda into your mug and give the rest of the can to your co-worker before you can change your mind.
Remind Yourself of Your Goals
Sometimes the best way to fight a strong craving is to constantly remind yourself why you’re controlling calories, to begin with. Are you dieting so you can fit into a bikini by summer? Print out a picture of the style you’re eyeing and pin it to the bulletin board. Are you cutting back on sugar because diabetes runs in your family and you want to be healthy for your kids? Keep their picture by your computer. Your cravings may feel very strong, but your goals are bigger and more important than any of them.
Find Non-Food Ways to Deal with Stress
Office cravings are a coping mechanism for stress, so just find another way to cope! Laughter is the best medicine, so allow yourself 20 minutes to watch a funny YouTube video or an episode of your favorite sitcom. You can also fill your drawer with aromatherapy oils and balms, or take a brisk walk around the office grounds to get your blood flowing and your endorphins going. You can also listen to relaxing music or meditation podcasts.
Download a Food Tracking App
Do you even realize how many calories and grams of fat you can get from satisfying all your office cravings? One serving of potato chips can be as much as 400 calories (and most bags are meant for four servings). One caramel macchiato is over 500 calories. A burger can reach a whopping 1200 calories.
Food tracking apps will list down your calorie intake with every bite, and sometimes those numbers are the wake-up call you need. Get an app that has an exercise tracker function too, and you get the added reality check of seeing how many hours at the gym you’ll need to burn off what you’ve just eaten. To give you an idea: it will take about 1 Zumba class, 1 hour on the treadmill, and a weightlifting session to make up for the cold, greasy pizza that tasted like cardboard with burnt cheese. Was it worth it? Uh, no.
Find a Diet Buddy
Many people struggle with office cravings. Join forces and help each other make healthier, smarter food choices. You can scout out the healthier restaurants in the area, take turns preparing healthy snacks you can share, or even just give each other moral support.
Find Your Stress Eating Patterns
If you notice you are constantly bingeing and giving into cravings, both at home and at the office, then try to get to the real source of your anxiety. Keep a food journal and record what you eat and when. See if there’s a pattern of what circumstances (or even people!) make you want to eat.
Obviously, there is no instant fix to the anxiety that you’re facing. You know that, and possibly the awareness of this huge issue that you have to face will make you want to bury your head in a bag of potato chips and never come out. However, remember that food can’t make you feel better – and in all likelihood, will make you feel worse. High-sugar and high-salt diets have been linked to numerous health issues. Do you really want to get sick? Do you really want to give up your control over your life and give up on being really happy (and not just sugar-high happy)?
Organize Your Schedule and Workload
Since office cravings are triggered by office stress, it makes sense to go to the root of the problem and find ways to get your schedule and workload under control. Look for time management and productivity books that will show you how to avoid cramming, deal with difficult bosses or co-workers, or do your job better and more efficiently. If you feel more in control over your job and more confident in your ability to succeed, you won’t need to “eat your negative feelings.”
Reward Yourself for Healthy Eating Habits
It takes 21 days to change a habit and other 21 days to replace them with something better. So if you’re a chronic stress eater who has been struggling with office cravings for years, you’ll need a great deal of resolve and focus on breaking the habit.
That’s why it’s important to make yourself feel good about doing good. Give yourself a small but special treat for every week that you’ve successfully fought your food cravings. One idea is to fill a jar with all the money you’ve saved from not buying snacks. The $2 here and $8 there add up, and you’ll have enough to buy a beautiful lipstick or the video game everyone’s been talking about.
Don’t Feed Your Cravings – Feed Your Emotions
Psychologists say that stress eating comes from hunger to feel confident and in control. You’re not physically hungry, but you feel emotionally depleted. Once you’re aware of this, you can pay more attention to paying attention to your feelings and reactions. Sometimes it’s enough to verbalize: “I am annoyed by my co-worker.” “This meeting is boring.” “My client is driving me crazy.” Then say, “I can do this. I can handle this. The stress is temporary.” You don’t need food to make yourself feel better when you can already do that yourself.