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Is your job making you fat?

November 22, 2011

While getting ready for work this morning, I was contemplating the degree to which the nature of my work affects my weight and fitness level. (I guess in anticipation of the Thanksgiving feasting, I am looking for a scapegoat for my weak willpower over the next few days.) Could your job be to blame for that extra 5, 10, 20 pounds that you’ve been struggling to lose? I read a few articles on the subject (The Week, msnbc, Allure, Shape) and the first couple were focused on the lower activity level that sedentary workers perform (makes sense when you sit on your butt all day glued to the computer screen, then take the elevator down to the garage, only to drive home and plop yourself in front of a TV for another couple of hours).

I see the correlation between weight gain and work as two issues:

1. Are you getting enough activity at your job? (Basic advice I gathered from the articles – Get off your ass and move more!)

2. Is your job leading to unhealthy eating habits? (This is more involved as it depends on the individual habits and specific work environment.)

Let’s take my work environment at Microsoft as an example. I can definitely see how the answer to number 2 would be yes:

1. Various treats hiding in co-workers offices, hallways and the kitchen. Many workers try to boost team morale, make more friends, and impress management with their thoughtfulness and work commitment by bringing in pounds of candy, dozens of cookies and donuts, bags of bagels, or homemade cakes and muffins. I am guessing they are trying to say “see how much you all mean to me!” Every day before getting out of my car and walking up the stairs to my office, I have to prepare myself to avoid these obstacles – plop a piece of gum in my mouth, do a mental mantra “Stay strong, stay thin!”, practice the “No” headshake in the mirror. One may think that it’s a kind and caring gesture to bring treats into the office, but an old food Ninja like me knows better. It’s a trap to sabotage your diet – for some, they’re trying to get rid of their temptations from their kitchen at home. Do you ever see the person who brought the stuff in actually eat any of it?

2. Vending machine. All those chocolate bars and chip bags staring at you through the glass, begging to be rescued from the plastic chains holding them tightly in place. They must be using some special lights because never have I seen a Kit Kat bar look as good as it does when standing up in a vending machine. Over the years, our selection at work has been slowly improving. There are more nuts, protein bars and baked chips available now, so when you are really hungry it’s not that bad of a spot to hit as long as you stick to a better option like Pop Chips. I still try to avoid the machine and pack my own snacks instead. Another tip to avoid vending machine binges is not to keep any change around! Anything less than $5 I put in my bedside table. It keeps your wallet light and pants comfortable, and you’d surprised how fast the change adds up for a much nicer treat like a new top or a mani/pedi.

3. Cafeteria. Everyone needs to eat lunch but not everyone has the dedication to pack it every morning (except weird Canadian girls that run a lot Smile). I try to stay away from the cafeteria food. It’s hard to eat wilted lettuce from the salad bar while everyone else is getting burgers, fries, pizza, corn bread and chili. The smell alone will drive you nuts.

4. Team morale events, potlucks, parties, lunches out. These are hard. There is something to be said for people becoming closer over a meal, “breaking bread together,” so you can’t avoid these gatherings. Even so, it’s so hard to stick to healthy choices, especially when you have no control of the menu at all. You just have to suck it up and go with the flow and follow the basics – fill up on veggies first, then protein, then fat, sugar and alcohol. (In my case, alcohol often comes before veggies. It’s mandatory to help loosen things up for the mingling.)

5. Unwinding that you do on your own. Some have a secret stash in their desk drawer. Some rush home to stuff their face with their favorite snack. Some go out with a bunch of friends for happy hour or just drink a bottle of wine (!!) alone. Some order a large pizza and eat it all by themselves. (I confess to doing all of these at least once). Whatever your vice, it’s likely that it’s the biggest cause of the pudge you see in the mirror.

Now, on the other hand, when I used to work at a retail store, things were very different:

1. No food is allowed on the sales floor, so there are limited opportunities to eat. You have a scheduled break for lunch and a couple of 15 minute coffee breaks, which, depending on the time, you might be too busy to take. Having a restricted meal schedule minimizes the munching, unlike in an office where you are the boss of your own eating habits.

2. On the other hand, the food court was worse than any cafeteria. Panda Express, New York Fries with the best poutine ever (why is a Canadian Chain serving poutine called NY Fries? Marketing thing probably. Americans have it better.), Pizza/Pasta bar, freshly baked chocolate cookies… Oh the never-ending temptations of the food court! The only solution is to bring your own lunch and hang out in the staff lounge.

3. Team outings were limited to full-time employees only. I was never invited since I was a part-timer.

4. You get so busy with customers, playing with sampling new merchandize, shopping cleaning the sales racks, and chatting with training other associates, that you don’t even notice how time flies by and you don’t think about food at all (unless you are really hungry).

Now that explains why my weight was at my lowest in college while working at the Bay and going to school (I didn’t ever eat in class– very tacky and inconsiderate to profs and other students.)

[Jane Asks]: Is your job making you fat? When were you at your thinnest?

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