Americans are working longer and longer hours than ever before. Whether at the office, a coffee shop or at home, work time also can be stress time. If you're like most people, when you're feeling stressed you're also less like to pay attention to what you're eating.
Unfortunately, that's a recipe for poor nutrition. Whether or not you are at work, you still need to consume a certain number of calories a day to maintain your weight (given your individual height and weight), or less if you are trying to lose it. To stay within those boundaries, you need to be aware of your food choices at every meal and not turn stress or time limitations into excuses for overeating.
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If you're like me, you probably have a lot of thoughts about delicious foods, cuisines, and flavors when you're hungry (my weakness is Chipotle's burrito). But you'll find that when you've had a meal and feel full, those cravings magically disappear. So in reality, a healthy salad, half a sandwich and some fruit will actually satisfy you just as much as a cheesy burrito — but with far fewer calories consumed.
With that in mind, here are some strategies for filling up at work without falling off the good-eating wagon:
1) If your company cafeteria has healthy choices such as grilled chicken, fish and salad bars, make it a priority to choose those options as often as possible. Watch out for fried or butter-drenched fish or chicken, as those add needless calories. Also, skip the high-fat creamy dressings on the salad bar and season your salad with lemon, salt and pepper, garlic powder or balsamic vinegar.
2) Take your entire lunch break and eat slowly. If you eat too quickly, you're more likely to take in unnecessary calories.
3) When you're finished eating, don't hang out at your lunch table chatting with your co-workers and eyeing the desserts. Instead, suggest that you continue the conversation while taking a walk.
4) Eliminate sugary drinks. They're a leading cause of obesity. Cut back on sodas and switch to water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee.
5) Wherever you are working — at the office, on an airplane, at home or at a client meeting — make it a habit to always drink water. To make it more enticing, try carbonated water. Instead of coffee or plain water, try just a simple cup of hot water with a squeeze of lemon to satisfy your thirst.
6) Pack your own 100-calorie snack bags filled with low-salt nuts and dried fruits to keep at the office. Bring a piece or two of fresh fruit along with a low-fat cheese stick or low-fat Greek yogurt to work daily. Protein and produce snacks will help keep the edge off of your appetite throughout the day, and will keep your energy in high gear as well.
7) When you're working at home, set regular hours for breaks and lunch. Do some menu planning for your work at home time. For instance, decide what you'll have for lunch and snacks in the morning. If you find yourself grazing in the fridge or cupboards, post a "yield" sign as a reminder.
8) To make at-home lunch salads less time-consuming to prepare, make a large base salad with lettuce, red cabbage, shredded carrots, cucumbers and green peppers to keep it in the fridge. It will stay fresh for half of your work week. Then at lunchtime, you can start with a portion of your base salad and add toppings such as tomatoes, shredded cheese, diced meats and low-calorie dressing, or just plain or flavored balsamic vinegar.
9) Coffee shops are loaded with temptations, from the mocha lattes to the fresh-baked goods. But one coffee shop visit can add up to more calories than you should eat in an entire meal. So instead of a Starbucks Frappuccino, have an iced coffee with low-fat milk and a pack of sugar substitute or one pack of sugar. Bring your own low-calorie snacks instead of succumbing to a muffin or look for healthier options. Most coffee shops offer lower fat, high-fiber choices like oatmeal with dried fruit and a sprinkling of nuts.
10) But don't completely deprive yourself: When you are making healthy choices for the vast majority of the time, you'll have room for a higher-calorie treat every once and a while. That strategy will provide some emotional balance to your program and inspire you to get right back to your smart eating.
Remember, eating well isn't just something that's simply "the right thing to do." There's plenty of evidence that keeping your weight down, reduces your risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and that it boosts your productivity as well. That's good for both your bottom line and your waistline.
Hyman is founder and chairman, Retrofit.
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