Office (Food) Politics: Thirteen Ways to Deal

Very often, I hear from clients that navigating office culture when trying to change your health is super tough.

officefoodLunch out seems to be a foregone conclusion.  Annual review lunches, birthday lunches, promotion lunches, leaving the company/goodbye lunches, off site meeting lunches.  If you are the co-worker, then you’ve got lots of lunch commitments.  If you’re the supervisor, too, then there probably isn’t many days you aren’t headed out for some sort of meeting or celebration.

Then there is the breakroom/lunchroom dilemma.  Treats of all (unhealthy, but very tasty) manner are in there.  All. The. Time!  Shared extra home-baked goods, birthday treats, work anniversary treats, bridal/baby showers for co-workers, potlucks.    Food just sitting on that table…calling your name…smelling yummy…all the live long day.


Candy bowls sit in nearly every office/cubicle.  If candy is your kryptonite and there are bowls of it everywhere, it’s damn near impossible to leave it alone.  If you’ve hosted the candy bowl, but have decided to remove it, you’ve undoubtedly ruffled some feathers with that move, too.

And, the coup de grace, the food pushing co-worker(s)!  We’ve all had it done to us (and we might have been the do-er at one point).

“Really??  It’s my birthday and I bought this fabulous cake.  You won’t have just one small piece?  Come on!  This one time isn’t a big deal.  You can get back on your diet tomorrow.  I want you to have some.”

Or there is the slightly less pushy, but no less bothersome approach.  You know, that one where you go in the breakroom/lunchroom to get some water or wash out a coffee cup and the commentary goes something like this:

“Oh, getting that water refill, hey?  I know you won’t have any…you never do…all you eat is that rabbit food, but there is cake here for my birthday if you want to help me celebrate.”


How in the world do you navigate the perpetual parade of crap?

How do you learn to navigate being healthy with having the treats when they make sense for you…all the while trying not to offend co-workers?  Keep reading!  I’ve got some ideas for you!  🙂

...and do you?

…and do you?

  1. Keep your own goodies on hand…the ones you chose and are in line with what you want to achieve.  Stock your desk with healthy snacks and even those indulgences that help keep you on track (fave protein bar, dark chocolate, salted nuts, etc).
  2. Talk with receptive coworkers about how all the little extra bites of sugar add up.  If you had 5 pieces of candy per day (average of 40 cals each) each day, it could add up to being 1000 extra calories per work week in just “one piece here and there.”  Maybe simply understanding how those pieces of candy add up could have some of your co-workers getting rid of their candy bowls.
  3. Stay out of the breakroom/lunchroom.  Bring your own thermal lunchpack with an icepack and then you don’t need to have foot traffic to the area with the most temptation.  Walk the long way around when you need to head somewhere in the office…don’t put the treats in your path or sight (out of sight…and smell…out of mind!).
  4. Mindfulness.  If you are journaling and making those connections between what you eat and how you feel then ditching the treats may be an easier choice.
  5. Create a habit of your own for lunch.   Walking, running errands, reading alone in your car.  Eventually co-workers will know this is your thing and not continually invite you OR they will know that you only acquiesce on rare occasions.
  6. Don’t go to work hungry.  Get your breakfast in if you can or have your meal with you so you don’t feel tempted to get the bagels or donuts.
  7. Figure out when you “go on the hunt.”  Do you find yourself wandering the cubicles or wandering to the break room to see what’s in there?  Do you do this at a certain time of day or after a certain event like a long meeting?  Learn your pattern and be ready for it!  Sometimes transitions or boredom lead us to mindless munching.  Pay attention to yourself.
  8. Enlist your co-workers as accountability checkers.  Let them know you will be avoiding those treats and ask for their help.  Sometimes being able to be your advocate (or watchdog) takes them out of food-pusher mode.
  9. If you want to join in for the festivities and resulting food, develop a plan.  Know what you will choose and your boundaries around it.  One piece of cake only.  A small scoop of potato salad, etc.
  10. Savor.  If you decide to take the homemade cookies, grab a couple and make them last for the rest of the day.  Take a bite and really taste and savor it.  Break off another hunk in 30-45 minutes…savoring again.  Make it last!
  11. Take what is offered and leave the area.  You can discreetly dispose of it in your own wastebasket or take a bite and leave it on your desk to get stale and nasty (if your willpower allows that).  The problem co-workers can see you ate it and then when it gets nasty you won’t want it and can pitch it.
  12. Use finances as an out for lunch.  It’s hard to argue with someone’s choice for how to spend money.  You can simply say something like “I’ve been out for lunch already this week, and I’m keeping a strict budget for meals out.  I’m not going to join today, but you guys enjoy.”
  13. My personal favorite:  boldly say no and set boundaries.  I have used many of the suggestions above with success.  But the one that felt the best and put me in charge and in my power was being bold and honest and sticking to my guns.  “No thanks.  It looks really tasty and I appreciate the offer, but I’m going to pass.”  No explanations needed, no details to lay out about your personal choices…simply “No thank you.”  And if they persist, you persist back with the same phrase.

Learning how to handle these situations is tricky.  We spend lots of time with our co-workers and having them upset because we didn’t comply makes for a super-fun work environment, doesn’t it?!  Ultimately, you don’t want to give up your focus simply to appease, but life just isn’t that cut and dried.

As I already said above, I tried many of the strategies I just listed…and they did work.  Problem was, I was expending a good degree of mental energy placating rather than simply doing what I knew to be in my own best interest:  saying no when I meant no and saying yes when I meant yes.

As with everything on this health journey, you will need to find WWFY.  In my case, it meant I did number 1-12 for awhile…until I was ready to draw some clear lines.  That worked for me.  WWFY??


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