By Michael Heinrich
The holidays are almost here and for office workers, it’s a time to celebrate their successes and hard work, whether at the annual company gathering, through festive lunches with co-workers and clients, off site events and more. But “the most wonderful time of the year” also brings with it a lot of opportunities to overindulge… in treats in the break room, overflowing party buffets, and a cocktail (or two) after work.
According to a study published by Cornell University in the New England Journal of Medicine, most people gain an average of 1.3 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years and the extra weight can take more than five months to lose. But this doesn’t have to be a given. Here are five tips for helping employees at your facility stay healthy over the holidays, so that they don’t have to make weight loss their #1 resolution in the New Year:
- Deprivation doesn’t work. People don’t like to be told that they can’t have something – in fact, depriving people of certain types of foods can have the effect of making them want them more, setting up a “scarcity mindset.” As dietician and nutritionist Alissa Rumsey wrote in a January 2018 column in U.S. News and World Report, “The more you try not to eat certain foods, the more likely you are to overeat once you have access to them, since you don’t know when you’ll be able to have them again.” If people feel like cookies or candy are usually an office no-no, psychology suggests that they’ll find it even harder to resist when that box of chocolates arrives from a client or a co-worker brings in brownies. Rather than “banning” bad choices, offices would do better to instead focus on making healthy (but also delicious!) choices abundantly available. Adding good foods instead taking away not-so-healthy treats is a better approach.
- If you build it, they will come. Increasingly, more and more organizations are offering food and beverages as a benefit – perks like snacks and catering services help attract and retain talent. This presents the perfect opportunity to also improve health and well-being at the office, both during the holidays and throughout the year. When organizations provide more nutritious options – either subsidized or free – people are more likely to change eating habits for the better. Something as simple as offering flavored or bubble water in addition to soda or stocking the kitchen with fresh fruits, nuts, hummus, and veggies can go a long way towards transitioning employees away from high-sugar and high-carb choices.
- Encourage mindfulness. The holidays can be a stressful, emotional time of year for your employees. And when people are stressed, in a rush, or just tired and in need of an energy boost, it’s not unusual for them to head to the kitchen or vending machine for a break. The problem is that quick pick-me-ups like sodas and candy don’t last long – the resulting sugar-crash can leave people feeling even worse in the long run. Encouraging calming, mindful practices like meditation at work can really help people re-set and center themselves so that they are better prepared to make good choices. One habit that’s easy (and works!) is meditative breathing. Remind employees to take a few calming breaths before they take a break and ask themselves: “What do I really need at this moment?” Instead of food, perhaps the real answer is a walk around the block for fresh air, a few minutes to socialize or brainstorm with a co-worker or perhaps just a drink of water. (Sometimes dehydration is the cause of the munchies rather than an actual need for calories, and drinking enough water is also linked to decreases in rates of cancer.)
- Make the healthy choice the easy choice. When people are busy and on-the-go, as they tend to be during the holidays, they will often grab what’s easy and available. Why not make the healthy choice the easy choice? Some of the best items to keep regularly stocked are fruits and veggies. This is especially true for offices that offer catering services – the most nutritious meals are those that are at least 50 percent plant-based. Another way to boost wellness is to provide healthier versions of typical office snacks, such as baked instead of fried chips, dark chocolate instead of ultra-processed candy bars and higher quality packaged items that have less sugar and additives. Products that aid digestion, like yogurt, apples and kombucha are also great to have on hand, as healthy digestion improves energy levels and helps people fight fatigue.
- Timing is important. When people eat is as important as what they eat. Ayurveda, an ancient system of holistic health, affirms that wellness is dependent on a balance between mind, body, and environment, with the timing of meals being very important. According to Ayurvedic principles, people are able to digest food more efficiently in the middle of the day, while eating late is more likely to contribute to weight gain and poor sleep. Consider this when planning celebratory events – if a meal is involved, going out for a big lunch is more healthy than waiting until after work. Other Ayurvedic tips for good digestion including sipping warm water or ginger tea in the afternoon and avoiding food after 8 p.m. as digestion is slowest then and ideally foods are eaten 2-3 hours before bed time. In other words, digestion in this system follows the circadian rhythm of the sun and temperature. Digestion is also a chemical process, when adding heat, it speeds up the process and when removing heat it slows down the process. Poor digestion can lead to sluggishness and added pounds.
Between holiday treats and holiday stress, it can be hard for people to stay on a healthy path between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Employers can make it a little easier for their people by providing nutritious food and beverage choices in the workplace, and fostering a culture that values health and wellness.
Michael Heinrich is founder and CEO of Oh My Green, a concierge-style provider of healthy food and wellness services for corporations of all sizes. Following several demanding jobs where he spent afternoons sluggish and tired after sugar-crashing on M&Ms and soda, he was inspired to create a business focused on making workplace food offerings more nutritious, healthy and delicious.