New Study Says That Eating Healthy at Work Requires Planning — Not Willpower

Posted by on Friday, December 27th, 2013 with Comments Off on New Study Says That Eating Healthy at Work Requires Planning — Not Willpower Comments

Do you think willpower is the key to achieving your diet goals and keeping your New Year’s resolutions? Think again. A new study from the University of Lisbon reports that planning, not willpower, may be the secret to successfully changing your eating habits — especially in situations ripe with temptation, like the office.

office worker drinking soda

The office can be a graveyard of good intentions.
Image source: flickr user UWW Resnet

Published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, the study used detailed questionnaires to examine when and how participants ate healthy foods (fruits and vegetables). Over three weeks, more than 200 people described their eating habits, their intentions to eat healthy foods, their thoughts on how their health would be impacted if they ate more fruits and vegetables, their plans for meeting their goals, and their strategies for overcoming obstacles.

Who wanted to eat more fruits and vegetables? The people who understood the benefits of doing so, and felt confident that they could do it. However, the study found that the actual consumption of the healthy foods was optimized by people who had ideas in mind about how to deal with tricky situations and obstacles. Planning ahead, not confidence or willpower, was the difference-maker.

diet diary

Planning tools like food diaries make it easier to stay on target.
Image source: flickr user the Italian voice

As the study’s lead author, Cristina Albuquerque Godinho said, “We found that having strategies in place to deal with a range of eating situations that could undermine good intentions is very important, and helps people to regulate their daily dietary choices.”

What does this mean for the workplace? We all know that between birthday cupcakes, candy bowls in the break room, and pizza delivery lunches, it can be all too easily to slip up and “cheat” on our good intentions. The key to eating healthy at work, according to this study, is to have a plan in mind for how to deal with these obstacles when they come up.

Here are just a few ways to plan ahead for office diet obstacles:

1) Set specific goals. A blanket “no fatty foods” ban is hard to follow, and will make you feel like you’re depriving yourself when the rest of the office orders pizza. Instead, strive to stick to only one slice piled with veggies, and a hearty serving of salad.

Coworkers looking at cupcakes

Asking coworkers for support is a way to plan ahead for office temptations.
Image source: flickr user elstudio

2) Ask for accountability. When you know a birthday celebration is coming up, share your goal of limiting sweets with a coworker ahead of time, and ask her to split a cupcake with you on the day of the party. Her support will make it much easier to stick to — and enjoy guilt-free — one small serving of an indulgent treat.

3) Know your takeout options. Do a little advance research and scope out the nutrition info from your office’s favorite delivery spots. Choose a go-to tasty yet healthy takeout option from each menu, and let the person in charge of ordering know your preferences. That way, when someone decides “Hey, it’s Mexican day,” you’ll be all ready to order up a black bean bowl with avocado instead of a cheesy burrito.

4) Request changes. Don’t be afraid to ask your office manager to swap the candy bowl for a fruit delivery, or at least to add some healthy snack options to the break room. The research is on your side: workers are more focused when they have brain-boosting foods like nuts or whole grains rather than sugary treats.

5) Keep records. Whether you use old-fashioned pen-and-paper or a sleek mobile health app, food diaries were another factor in the study that helped participants meet their food goals.

When it comes to eating healthy at work, you may have no better ally than Customizable online ordering and regular meal deliveries mean you can always plan ahead to meet your diet goals — and as you now know, that’s the key to healthy eating!

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