Every office has them: the colleague who brings in the donuts, the other who brings in homemade banana bread loaded with fat, calories, sugar. How about the office celebrations, birthday parties, retirements, baby showers and an endless list of corporate events that provide a readily available feast of sugary indulgence that can sabotage even the most willful dieter? What about the dreaded on-the-desk candy jar that's easily accessible after a stressful meeting? Or the holiday-themed candy lurking around every corner...too bad candy corn isn't a vegetable. Perhaps when it comes to achieving your weight management goals, it's time to take a closer look at your office environment, not just your home environment.

Think about your office, which one of your co-workers is the "office feeder?" Or, insert dramatic music here, are you the office feeder? For those struggling to lose weight, the constant exposure to yummy munchables may torpedo weight loss efforts. This is because nibbling throughout the day can pack on the pounds, especially if snacks are close by. Dr. Brian Wansink found that female secretaries ate 5.6 times more chocolates if the candies were placed on a nearby desk than if they had to walk to retrieve the chocolate goodies. Further, Wansink's research reveals that when two women are together, they tend to reflect each others eating habits and eat more calories (www.mindlesseating.org). Even the type of dish makes a difference. Candy residing in a clear jar results in more snacking than if it's "hidden" in an opaque one. Merely seeing the candy is tempting yet out of sight, is out of mind.

So what drives the office feeder? Some are bakers and get joy from cooking and sharing tasty snacks. Food, coffee breaks and workplace snacking can represent valuable social time and camaraderie. But there is some evidence to support sinister motivations. The co-worker that brings in sweets but never eats them or the one that bullies colleagues into eating every last morsel of the homemade cupcake are just two examples of office feeder behavior. Some office feeders have a disordered relationship with food and can't seem to enjoy sweets so they force them on others and act slighted when proffered food is rejected. And then there are those office feeders who seem to take pleasure in sabotaging co-workers healthy stance, thinking that their own ability to resist tempting sweets makes them more attractive or powerful in the eyes of others.

Some office feeders are unaware of the impact they have on co-workers' health. For example, while conducting an on-site "workplace wellness" visit , I was approached by "Diane," an office manager who was in a quandary about what to do about their office feeder, "Mary." According to Diane, It's common office knowledge that 2 co-workers are insulin-dependent diabetics, yet when it comes to office parties, many work mates and the resident office feeder, Mary, bring in tempting sugar-filled baked goods and snacks. Diabetic friendly food alternatives, like fresh fruit, veggies and protein-rich edibles like cheese are rarely provided or even considered. Ditto for sugar free cookies. So, despite the health risks, Diane says that her diabetic co-workers often feel compelled by office mates to nosh on the delectable treats because participating in office food fests is a social, teambuilding event, and no one wants to feel left out. Diane explained that those with dietary concerns often feel alienated or pressured by dismissive co-workers who don't take their dietary needs seriously.
So what is an office manager to do about diet disparagers?*

Tips for Thwarting the Office Feeder and Mindless Snacking:
• Managers might consider providing the office staff with food fest guidelines. E.g. if you bring in sweets, consider bringing in alternatives for your co-workers with different dietary needs.
• If you are the office feeder, limit your treats to once a week and bring in healthier alternatives for those with nutrition-sensitive diseases like diabetes.
• Bring in baked goods made with less sugar and fat.
• If you are the target of the office feeder, talk to them directly and be firm about your dietary discipline.
• Pick one day a week and make that "sweet treat day." This limits the ever-present treats to just one day a week.
• Strive for teambuilding and social activities that don't involve food.
• Move, hide or change the desktop candy jar. Just for fun, change the clear jar to an opaque one as see how long it takes for the jar to end up empty.

Office feeders can be a destructive dietary force in any workplace. Once you've identified the feeder, have a chat and talk about alternatives to food. Most sweet-treat toting office mates are unaware that their break room goodies bring so much angst. But if your co-worker is the bullying type of baker, then make an effort to avoid treat-laden table and the tormenter. By steering clear of muffins, candy and other workplace temptations, you may be able to curb "muffin-top."

*Health privacy is paramount. In Diane's situation, her 2 diabetic co-workers voluntarily disclosed their diabetes to co-workers in an effort to educate and improve "office-fest" food selections. Those with dietary needs may choose to share this information with others, however, it is up to them.

Please see the excellent article written by Sue Shellenbarger in the March 15, 2012 WSJ. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405270230371730457727940252209046...

About the Author

Martina M. Cartwright

Martina M. Cartwright, Ph.D., R.D., is an adjunct professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona and an independent biomedical consultant.

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