It’s the curse of the modern lifestyle – struggling to stay healthy when you’re chained to a desk all day at work? The reality is that – whether we like it or not – many of us have sedentary jobs. Exercise often consists of getting up to use the toilet, or ambling down the corridor to the photocopier. Indeed, some desk jobs can be so dull that morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea become the day’s highlight! With such inactive lives, preventing weight gain can be a challenge.
So, what would a dietitian recommend?
Creatures of habit
According to Katie Peck, a registered dietician who runs her own practice (Pecknutrition) in the UK, the task of ‘watching your weight’ while working at a sedentary office job is made more difficult by a number of ‘bad eating habits’. Among these are:
- Eating on ‘autopilot’ during the day so that you are not even aware of reaching for that biscuit at 3pm
- Consuming lunch too fast, which gives you indigestion (because you haven’t chewed your food properly). This leads to lower energy levels post lunch and increases the likelihood of you snacking mid-afternoon
- Purchasing a packet of crisps to go with your sandwich – unfortunately that innocent-looking 25g bag contains nearly 2 tsp of fat!
- Becoming so focused on work that you forget to drink water. This affects concentration and often results in over-eating at lunchtime, when in reality our bodies are dehydrated and crave water. It is important to drink natural water; those who consume cups of tea or coffee with sugar are just adding extra calories.
“But I don’t have time to go to the gym!”
Few of us have a lot of spare time these days, especially if we have a long commute before and after work. So what does a dietitian suggest for those office workers who would like to integrate more exercise into their day?
Katie insists that the solution is easier than most people realise.
“Walk briskly. Walk to the station in the morning. Walk your dog in the morning and/or evening. Take the stairs at work. Wear a pedometer to record your efforts – and challenge yourself to walk more every day. Walk to the water machine (and get rehydrated at the same time!). Maximise your weekends. Swap TV watching for 15 minutes of walking a day – which has been proven to lengthen the human life-span by two years!”
What’s an ‘ideal’ lunch for an office worker?
Katie recommends foods that balance blood sugar and give you brainpower. Avoid eating foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, such as white bread and sugar-rich foods, especially in combination with coffee.
Instead, Ms Peck suggests a ‘power lunch’ – such as a two wholemeal slices of bread, a wholemeal wrap or pitta filled with:
- a couple of spoons of protein-rich quark, cottage cheese, or reduced fat hummus; or 30-60g of reduced fat cheese; or around 20g of grated mature cheddar
- 100g of lean meat or fish – e.g. turkey breast, chicken, ham, beef, or a boiled egg, smoked salmon or mackerel
- salad –avocado, lettuce, spinach, watercress, onion and grated carrot.
This not only tastes amazing but provides high fibre carbohydrates (wholemeal breads make you feel ‘full’) and protein fillings to help you feel ‘satisfied’.
And what about some advice for all those ‘snackers’ out there?
In order to stop snacking, our dietician recommends that you eat a high fibre breakfast before work – with some low fat milk or yoghurt. “Having milk with breakfast will make you less hungry for lunch, and less likely to snack. Take 15 minutes to eat lunch, and chew well. Drink calorie-free fruit or herbal drinks in between meals, as they will keep you feeling ‘satisfied’. For a healthy snack mid morning, I recommend a palm-sized piece of fresh fruit with a 150g pot of yoghurt.”
To avoid that mid-afternoon ‘crash’ Katie Peck suggests, what she calls her ‘snack threes’.
- 30g of nuts (almonds, cashews or walnuts)
- 20g of chopped dark chocolate, and
- 20g of dried fruit (dried cranberries, apricots or raisins).
“A handful of this delicious mix, an hour or two after lunch will boost your energy levels all afternoon and prevent the 3pm energy slump!”
Changing habits does take a bit of effort at first, but the health benefits are worth it. We spend so many hours at work that it’s essential to manage our eating well. So, tune in, slow down, and work on one habit at a time. Your body will thank you for it!