Need another reason to retire early? Here’s one: your job might be to blame for the pesky extra pounds you’ve put on over the years. In a 2013 Harris Interactive survey of more than 3,000 employees conducted for CareerBuilder, more than 40 percent of respondents reported gaining weight while in their current jobs. Those in positions demanding lots of desk time and with a hefty hit of stress were more likely to pack on the pounds. So what’s to blame for workplace weight gain? Here are seven sneaky ways your job could be making you fat―and how to cope.
In a 2014 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, women who reported being stressed in the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than non-stressed women after consuming a high-fat meal. Mathematically, this adds up to an 11-pound weight gain over the course of one year of stress-eating. Since stress in the workplace is somewhat inevitable, it’s how you handle it that can make all the difference. In moments of stress, be particularly careful what you’re putting on your plate (or in your cup) and opt for non-food comforts like a lunch-time stroll. A 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports demonstrated that subjects who enjoyed lunchtime walks experienced improved enthusiasm, relaxation and nervousness at work―a recipe for de-stressing success.
2. Long hours in front of a screen―or behind a wheel
When the bulk of your day is spent in a chair or a car, calorie burning is at an all-time low. And when mealtimes are spent multi-tasking, it’s easy to forget you even ate, which can lead to mindless snacking later in the day. To combat the effects of a sedentary workday, set calendar reminders to get up and walk at least once an hour. Walk the long route to the bathroom, water and coffee stations, and always take the stairs. Try to carve out time at lunch for a quick stroll or, at the very least, move away from your desk, cell phone and all other forms of technology for at least 15 minutes while you eat.
3. Late nights at the office
The research is overwhelming: the less sleep you get, the greater your risk of becoming overweight or obese. Multiple studies have suggested a relationship between hours slept and pounds accrued, suggesting that when late nights at the office lead to later bedtimes, your waistline can suffer. So how do you beat the aftermath of a late curfew? You resolve to hit the sack as soon as you can―skip the TV-watching, late night snacking and otherwise unnecessary tasks, and go to bed. And focus on getting seven to eight hours of sleep the next few nights if you can. One late night here and there won’t be your diet’s downfall. But the findings from a study from the University of Colorado showed that losing just a few hours of sleep a few nights in a row can cause you to pack on an average of two pounds.
4. Peer pressure
You head to lunch with coworkers, intending to order a salad―dressing on the side, light on the cheese, hold the croutons, etc., etc. But, once you arrive and everyone orders the pizza, you cave and chow down on three slices of pie. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, people have a tendency to conform to eating norms when in social settings. So how do you deal with meal-time peer pressure? Try telling your lunch pals earlier on in the day that you’re excited to join them for lunch, but that you’re working really hard to make healthy choices these days, and plan on ordering something light. They may tease you a bit, but by letting them in on your guilt-free game plan ahead of time, you’ll be more likely to stick with it―and they’ll be more likely to hold you to it once lunch time rolls around. Another option is to suggest that everyone brings his or her own lunch (or takeout), and you enjoy the mid-day break at a local park together. That way, you can control your lunch picks and still enjoy the company.
5. Coffee breaks
For many workers, the office coffee station is a frequent stop. And while there’s extensive research suggesting that coffee may be brimming with all kinds of health benefits, loading up on add-ons like cream and sugar can be to blame for extra inches. To avoid diet destruction, swap sugar for cinnamon and other spices, and opt for low-fat or fat-free milk.
6. Vending machines
When busy days mean missed meals, a trip to the office vending machine may become a necessity. Unfortunately, vending machines seldom serve up healthy―or filling―options. Instead of relying on packages of calorie-packed cookies and crackers to get you through the day, keep healthy options at your desk. Designate one desk drawer your “healthy snack spot,” and stockpile it with apples, bananas, nuts, seeds and popcorn. If you’re on Nutrisystem, leave some of your grab-and-go options at the office and stay healthy even when things get hectic.
7. Happy hours
After-work events aren’t just filled with glee. From calorie-packed drinks to fried appetizers, happy hours can be a fast pass to weight gain. The good news is, you don’t have to skip social events to stay trim. You just have to make better choices. Skip the alcoholic beverages and opt for a seltzer with lime instead. Or make these smart drink swaps. Pack an extra snack the night before, and save it for the very end of the day so you stay satisfied and aren’t tempted by pre-dinner treats.