Is Your Job Affecting Your Waistline?

Is Your Job Affecting Your Waistline?

You love it when your friend at work brings in cookies to share with the team. You also love the occasional box of donuts that shows up for everyone to enjoy. Your waistline, however, doesn’t. These workday treats, paired with stress and lack of exercise when you’re practically tethered to your computer for hours on end, have a lasting effect on more than just your sweet tooth and sugar cravings.

A study on job and weight gain by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder last April revealed that more than half of workers surveyed considered themselves overweight and 39% said they packed on pounds at their current jobs. The figures are alarming and it’s easy to see how quickly this can happen, with company potlucks, lunches and dinners out, happy hour, and limited mobility for those with desk jobs all to blame.

America is leaning towards an information-technology-based workforce, and as such, much less physical labor is done at work on a daily basis.

Weight Gain at Work

“There is strong evidence that sedentary lifestyles, particularly where you are seated for long hours at a time, are detrimental to your health,” says Bariatric Dietitian Laurie Shank, RD, LDN at St Luke’s Weight Management Center. “The current American work environment contributes to this in several ways. Working in weight management for several years now, I see many of my patients struggle with their weight due to job-related factors. America is leaning towards an information-technology-based workforce, and as such, much less physical labor is done at work on a daily basis.”

Shank says this results in a much lower level of energy expenditure daily, which often leads to weight gain.

“The typical recommendation for the required amount of steps taken per day to maintain a healthy weight is 5,000 to 10,000 steps per day,” she shares. “This is virtually impossible to achieve while seated at a desk or cubicle for 8-plus hours per day, 40-plus hours per week.”

Besides the limited activity, food and treats are often a big part of the corporate culture, whether as rewards or social snacks from colleagues. For some, continuous snacking at work may seem to help relieve stress, but it’s really counterproductive to your health and your waistline. Alcoholic beverages at happy hour can seem fairly innocent, but Shank reports they often contain a minimum of 100-200 calories apiece. Just five drinks per week could see you gaining a pound a month!

“I also see a lot of patients struggle with their weight, and struggling to find a regular meal routine, when working overnight shift or swing shift,” Shank says. “This can really throw off your meal schedule and leave you feeling lost as to how often and how much to eat and when.”

What You Can Do

As you think about your own work situation, realize that you may be able to make some modifications while other things may be limited to the nature of the work that you do. Here are some tips to help you limit your weight gain at the office.

Resist the Urge to Graze – Whether attending a potluck or navigating the sporadic flow of treats brought into the office, limit yourself. Just because the food is there all day doesn’t mean you have to go back for seconds and thirds just to pass the time.

“One suggestion I would recommend for this would be to have a water bottle or other calorie-free beverage with you to sip on throughout the day,” Shank advises. “This keeps your hands and mouth busy in the same manner as snacking does, but prevents the excess calorie consumption and also helps keep you properly hydrated.”

Make Smart Choices – When you go out to eat with colleagues, you are still in many cases responsible for placing your own food order. Use this to your advantage and make those calories count. Shank recommends choosing a side salad and a small appetizer to satisfy your hunger and your healthy intentions… or better yet, packing your lunch. That way you avoid many of the unhealthy options just waiting in the cafeteria and its vending machines.

Get Creative with Meetings – “Many of my patients with corporate jobs also report the obligation of frequent client luncheons or other meetings centered around food,” says Shank. “This can be difficult as it is often seen as an obligatory part of corporate culture. Although this may be difficult, also try thinking outside the box when meeting clients. Perhaps a walking meeting, or meeting clients over a round of golf, may be a feasible idea.”

Move When You Can – Shank also recommends using part of your lunch break to eat and then spending the rest of it walking around the office building or outside in the corporate campus. She also suggests getting up to walk around  at least once per hour, whether to refill your water, stop by the restroom, or simply to speak with a coworker instead of sending a message. Choose the stairs rather than elevator and park farther from the door when possible – every little bit helps over time.

Set an Eating Schedule – Eating three balanced meals per day and one to two snacks tend to be an appropriate meal schedule for most people. As a bariatric dietician, Shank advises finding the meal schedule that fits with your work schedule so you have a better idea of what and how much you are consuming.

“Lack of sleep and stress also contribute to weight gain and poor health,” Shank explains. “Both of these can increase your body’s cortisol levels. This is often referred to as the ‘stress hormone.’ Increased stress can lead to additional weight gain and fat deposition around your midsection. Lack of sleep not only increases your body’s stress level, but also increases your appetite and decreases your inhibition when making food choices. You can think of it this way: Your body tries to make up for the energy deficit from lack of sleep by taking in more energy from food.

“Getting seven to eight hours of sleep on a regular basis will help control your appetite and food choices. Regular exercise also helps improve your body’s stress levels.”

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram