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Job-related Weight Gain: Battling the Bulge at Work

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Image for visceral fat article It is a mantra you could repeat in your sleep: eat less, make healthier choices, and get more exercise. But let’s face it—you are busy, and even though you have sworn a thousand times that you will lose the ten pounds you have gained since you started your job, between the doughnuts at every meeting, the vending machine down the hall, and the long hours at the office, it feels like the deck is stacked against you. Here are some tips to help you regain control of your nutrition and your weight.

In general, the culprits behind weight gain at work are no different than those that trigger weight gain anywhere else. These include:

Too Much Food or the Wrong Foods

Grabbing fast food for lunch, or skipping it entirely? As you already know, these are dietary no-nos when it comes to your weight loss plan. But a busy lifestyle does not have to mean an unhealthy diet. Here are some tips to help:

  • Eat breakfast! You may have more energy in the morning and you won't be starving by lunchtime.
  • Buy fresh produce and carry it with you so you always have a healthy snack on hand.
  • Reduce butter use. Try substituting butter with extra virgin olive oil instead. It will help you cut back on saturated fats.
  • Use nonfat or low-fat dairy products.
  • Salad dressings are notoriously high in fat and calories. Try using just one tablespoon of dressing on your salad.
  • When you buy meat, choose the leanest cuts. Trim any visible fat before cooking.
  • When eating in a fast food restaurant or cafeteria, try ordering a lean roast beef or grilled chicken sandwich, and no super-sizing! Also, order items without cheese, and omit or go light on the mayonnaise.
  • Drink more water. It helps your body function and if you drink water before a meal, it will make you feel more full.

There are other things you do to maintain control over your waistline at work. Space meals out more evenly so you eat every 3-4 hours. Think before you act. Instead of candy bar boost in the afternoon, substitute it with:

  • Microwave light popcorn
  • Whole wheat crackers with peanut butter
  • Fresh fruit, plain or with reduced-fat cheese
  • Nonfat or low-fat yogurt
  • Carrot and pepper strips with a low-fat dressing or bean spread
  • Mixed nuts and dried fruit
  • A fresh fruit yogurt smoothie

Depending on your activity level, you should keep your snacks between 200-300 calories. Many food products are packaged as single servings. Take some time to read the food labels before you buy.

Too Little Exercise or Physical Activity

You already know exercise is good for you, but between the demands at work and home, there’s simply no time, right? Wrong. Here are a few ways to work exercise into your workday:

  • Park a little farther away from the office than you actually need to. Use the same trick when keeping appointments or running errands. A little extra walking every day can make a big difference.
  • If you are tied to your desk because of your phone, get a headset or use your cell phone. This will allow you to walk around as you talk. But be courteous. Make sure you do not disrupt your coworkers’ activities.
  • Have meetings on the run. Discuss business during an afternoon or noontime walk, run, or jog.
  • Hand-deliver a message or document instead of using email or the phone. These few steps can help you accumulate more physical activity by the end of the day.
  • If you have a sedentary job, take a break every hour to get up, move around, or stretch.
  • If your office has or is near a gym, use it! Make it easy by keeping workout clothes and an extra towel at the office.
  • Take “brain breaks.” Need a minute to think something through? Trying to compose a letter or an email? Take a short walk around the block or up one or two flights of stairs. Exercise helps improve blood flow to your brain, which can help you think.
  • Tell your boss and your coworkers what you are doing. Don’t just disappear to go for a run or walk while at work. They will likely support your physical activity breaks when they see your improved energy level and productivity. Some of your coworkers might even join you!
  • American Dietetic Association

  • American Heart Association

  • Canada's Food Guide

  • Heart Healthy Kit: Public Health Agency of Canada

  • Drink water before meals to aid in weight loss. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Eat Right website. Available at: Accessed January 31. 2013.

  • Eat right nutrition tips. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Eat Right website. Available at: Accessed January 13, 2013.

  • Get moving: Easy tips to get active. American Heart Association website: Available at: Updated November 15, 2012. Accessed January 31, 2013.

  • Lallukka T, Laaksonen M, Martikainen P, Sarlio-Lahteenkorva S, Lahelma E. Psychosocial working conditions and weight gain among employees. Int J Obes. 2005;29:909-15.