How your co-workers’ generosity may be sabotaging your diet

Free treats at the office can add up to extra calories over the course of a week, new research has found.
Free treats at the office can add up to extra calories over the course of a week, new research has found. Global News/File photo

It’s nice when a co-worker picks up a big box of Timbits when they go for a coffee run. Or when there are muffins at a morning meeting.

But all these treats can add up. Research presented by the Centers for Disease Control at a nutrition conference this week found that nearly a quarter of the more than 5,000 study participants got food at work at least once a week.

On average, it meant an extra 1,300 calories per week.

Although the study included all food obtained at work and not brought from home, including cafeteria food, vending machine food and free snacks, 71 per cent of calories came from free food.

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“To our knowledge, this is the first national study to look at the food people get at work,” said Stephen Onufrak, an epidemiologist in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a press release. “Our results suggest that the foods people get from work do not align well with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

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“The leading food types obtained include foods typically high in solid fat, added sugars, or sodium, such as pizza, soft drinks, cookies/brownies, cakes and pies, and candy,” said the study abstract.

The study analyzed survey data on household food purchases and acquisitions to determine what people consumed at work. Research presented at conferences hasn’t necessarily met the kinds of standards that would be required for publication in a journal, and should be regarded as preliminary.

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Registered dietitian Andy de Santis says he’s not particularly surprised by the study’s findings. “I see that issue all the time.”

Although most people are good at planning their breakfast and lunch, they often forget one thing: the afternoon snack, he said.

“One of the biggest issues that everyone has is they don’t plan the afternoon snack. They get hungry, and they eat everything that’s around.”

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Usually, these are high-calorie snacks around the office, he said. Additionally, when someone goes home after work, they might overeat at dinner or be too tired to cook and instead buy something unhealthy, he said.

“After lunch, the planning stops and the problems begin.”

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Over a work week, 1,300 extra calories might not sound like much. But it could be enough to sabotage someone’s weight-loss plan or even to contribute to very slow weight gain, de Santis said. “It’s definitely enough to stop someone from losing weight, if that’s their goal.”

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Sugary baked goods and other such treats also don’t keep you full, he said, so they don’t really solve your hunger problem.

“No one is saying you can’t have a Timbit and be healthy and enjoy your life. … But the issue is, if you’re eating the foods that don’t make you full and you’re eating them because you’re hungry, you haven’t really resolved the issue of hunger.”

Planning ahead and bringing a healthy snack, like fruit and a quarter cup of nuts, is the best solution for most people to avoid office treats, he said. “It improves the diet and reduces the need for these random snacks.”

Onufrak suggests employers could help too, by providing healthier options in the cafeteria and break room.