Poor eating habits and work seem to go hand in hand. Just ask my sister.
She’s worked in the corporate headquarters for a large retailer for the past 10 years. I asked her how easy it was to eat healthy there. She said that it depended on what level of healthy I meant.
She broke it down into three levels:
Level 3: Eating in the cafeteria.
While there are healthy choices there including a salad bar, a quinoa bowl, salmon, and other low-calorie options, the food wasn’t organic, and most items were probably genetically modified.
This is not a big deal for some folks, but for my sister, eating her lunch there was what she called a “last resort.” It is also an expensive option.
Level 2: Leaving the workplace and eating out.
My sister said there were no real healthy choices close by to her workplace except for an organic juice bar with limited food items. This is even more expensive than eating in the cafeteria, but at least it was truly healthy.
Level 1: Bringing lunch from home.
This is my sister’s favorite option because it is less expensive, and she always knows that the salad or leftovers she brings are made with healthy, organic ingredients.
She also said that there was a vending machine at her workplace filled with organic snacks. This is rare and a welcome change from the usual vending machines filled with sugary or high-salt, high-carb options.
Instead, my sister prefers to bring her own snacks. She has a mini fridge on her desk for cold beverages, an electric tea pot and, in her desk drawer, she keeps pistachio nuts, protein bars, bananas and other healthy items.
While some of her co-workers fill the employee refrigerator with salads and leftovers from home, many still make unhealthy choices. One of the biggest issues, she said, was when someone brought in a bag of bagels or donuts, a big sugary cake, pizza, etc., to share with co-workers, tempting them to fill up on fats and carbs.
Even with those shortcomings, my guess is that her workplace is much healthier than most. This seems not only shortsighted, but counterintuitive, because not only is unhealthy eating bad for the employees, it’s also bad for the companies.
In addition to a reduction in productivity due to difficulties concentrating, slower decision-making and less efficiency, a poor diet also leads to serious health problems, increasing absenteeism and health care costs.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Institute for Health Metrics, diet is the No. 1 factor impacting overall health, even more than tobacco use. In some estimates, including those by the World Health Organization, as much as 80% of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented by diet and lifestyle changes.
What does this mean for the typical employee?
In order to have a healthy lifestyle, eating healthy at work must become a priority. In a perfect world, companies would make this easier for their employees. But most companies aren’t yet willing or able to do this. Instead, the responsibility falls solely on the shoulders of the employee.
To follow my sister’s example, you must plan ahead and be prepared. The best bet is to buy and prepare your own food, bring in your own snacks and resist the temptations that surround you every day. You will feel better, think more clearly and your overall experience at work will dramatically improve.