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The Snackidemic

During a corporate wellness workshop about a week ago, I asked the attendees, “How do you manage stress?”  About 30% of the room said “physical activity”, another 30% said “wine.” The group also all laughed and collectively agreed on the office’s source of “snacks” as a stress reliever.  This workplace in particular had a moderate selection compared to many Silicon Valley offices equipped with giant snack bowls cadenced at every fifth cubicle.

Furthermore, when I was a recruiter, hiring managers would often emphasize how the respected office they were looking to hire for provided free beer on tap, standing desks and yes… “healthy” snacks as an incentive and retainment strategy.  I as a matter of fact also used this motivation to sell the company to prospective candidates.  After my regular 90 day check-in, these new employees would end up expressing their frustration with this new found habit they admittedly were trying to break, always followed by a chuckle.  I have also experienced this on a personal level unknowingly consuming up to an extra meal a day, mostly made up of simple carbohydrates, marketed as “nutritious” leaving me driving home with droopy eyelids and a little extra around my waistline.

When the excitement wears off.

After my third client this week expressed their frustration with the over-ample options of snacks at work, I knew I needed to write about this snackidemic.   This widespread movement was originally intended to drive productivity, lessen time outside of the office and increase employee satisfaction.  Now, from my own personal observations, it is actually becoming an added stress to many already burnt-out, motivated professionals who are unwittingly training their brain to release serotonin every time they reach into the big bin of “healthy” snacks.

Brian Wansnick, author of “Mindless Eating” suggests that both visibility and convenience are the top two contributors to overeating.  Snacking when hungry is absolutely encouraged and advised to balance blood sugar and mediate cravings, but when I find multiple clients feeling frustrated with the over-availability of unnecessary consumables at their own office, it is assumed these extra sources of food are not being utilized as fuel, but more as a distraction.  So today I'm sharing three ways to avert this habit while still optimizing your nutrition.

Eat Breakfast at Home.  Not at Your Desk.

One of my client’s who has seen a tremendous amount of success on her own personal health journey works in a competitive office environment where food is almost always available.  When work called for extra hours and little time for herself, she became occasionally reliant on the food her office provided.  Recognizing how this was resulting in low energy, weight gain and poor sleep, she made an effort to find a solution.  Over the last two months, this client has seen an eight pound loss and a new found energy that will allow her to soar through her industry’s busy season beginning next month.  When I asked what one of the most significant choices was to contributing to such change, she responded, “I eat a good, balanced breakfast at home.  I come to the office energized, and I rarely think about distracting myself with empty-calorie snacks.”

There is a time and a place for trendy intermittent fasting, but since it’s almost 2020, I think we have all learned that eating breakfast starts your day off right, increases memory and reduces the chances of imbalanced blood sugar - or what most like to call, “hanger.”  Did you also know by eating breakfast in front of your computer also increases the chances of constant consumption all day?  When you eat breakfast at your desk you are triggering your brain to recognize that specific location as an eating area and positioning yourself to eat while emails are pouring in resulting in the habit of snacking throughout the day due to an increase in stress hormones.

Alternatively, when we eat breakfast in a comfortable, calm environment, our stress hormones are balanced and your stomach is able to properly signal when you are full.  This also allows you to be more productive, and prepared for the work day, eliminating extra trips to the kitchen, and the distraction snacks provide.

Ask a co-worker to keep your own snacks in his or her office.

The first solution many clients think of is to bring their own snacks to work, but this choice often does not prevent the convenience of snacking as a distraction - in most cases, your own snacks may be even more convenient than the Kind Bars on the other side of the room.  By asking a co-worker to house your snacks reduces the visibility, and convenience of extra unneeded consumption typically due to an emotional trigger of almost any kind, typically related to...stress.

Exercise Before Work.

If you have been reading my newsletter, you’re well informed that morning exercise increases the activity and “readiness” in your brain.  In an early 2019 study done for Time Magazine, research suggests that exercising in general allows you to make better food choices.  If we think about the effort to get out of bed early and vigorously move our bodies at a time when our subconscious is not fully "turned on", how likely are you going want to “undo” this decision by snacking on empty calories with low nutritional value?  It’s easier to think, I don’t want to undo my workout, rather than…. I’’ll just burn it off later. You’re also more likely to make it to more workouts, avoiding any run-ins with social events or meetings that run over into dinner time.

In conclusion, we all love a good snack, especially when they're wrapped up in cute packaging and advertised as only 100 calories, but let’s break it down assuming you consume an extra 100 calorie “healthy” snack 4x per week.  Since nutrition labels have a 20% variance, we will round up to 120 calories.  In a month, you’ll consume an extra 1,920 calories contributing up to 23,040 calories per year which is an estimate of around six pounds.  Snacks do increase our serotonin levels, but this can be easily off-set if what we are eating alters our chemical reactions making us feel fatigued, unfocused and heavy.  As with anything, moderation is the primary rule and considering everything we consume in good health, happiness, and with intention is the most important thing to consider.

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