Snacking At Work? Here's How To Deal

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cNvMoIoP_Mw2SiHMhAdTcPopCYVafi9LnHK5t14E3jMPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
I'm just going to say it: Our office is kind of ridiculous. Last week, a friend dropped by and I took her on a tour of the palatial space I get to work in every day. "Here's the ping pong table," I said, "and the photo gallery. Here's the bridge view and here's the other bridge view. Can I offer you some Panda Puffs? Because, here's a closet FULL OF THEM." I never tire of this routine.

I'm no good at ping pong, but the Panda Puffs are one perk we can all enjoy, and I think we'd gladly forfeit pay raises to save our cereal budget (just kidding, kind of). But, the free treats are also one of the biggest challenges of my morning — and my afternoon. Not to mention my anytime-I'm-here-past-7-p.m. nights.

I always knew office snacking was a tricky business, but it wasn't until I began Intuitive Eating that I realized just how many bullets I'd been dodging all these years: the cereal cupboard, the bagel Fridays, the monthly birthday celebrations, the reception desk candy bowl, and those "Good job! Free lunch!" surprises. Until last fall, these things were either perks or pitfalls, depending on where I was in my diet cycle; I could either view them as free food or an opportunity for self-sabotage. Now, they're just another chance to hone my new relationship with food — another challenging hurdle that makes me a healthier, more intuitive, eater. At least, that's what tell myself when I have to limber up and leap over that hurdle five times a day.

I think of it this way: There's Office Me, and there's Weekend Me. From the very beginning of this practice, it was infinitely easier to eat intuitively on the weekends, because weekends are far less routine. Some days, I have a big post-gym brunch at 11:30 and then won't be hungry again until evening. Other days, I'll eat an early breakfast, write for a few hours, and then break for lunch around noon. When the days are open, so is my mind — so, it's easy to eat exactly what I want, right when I want it, without even thinking about it. But, on workdays, if I feel hungry at noon I tell myself to hold off. I'm used to eating lunch at 1 p.m. or 1:30; if I eat earlier I'll get peckish and snack all afternoon.

Intuitive Eating is all about listening to my body's cues for hunger and fullness. But, there's one factor that makes those signals harder to hear: habit. Our work lives are all about habit. We require the routine to structure our day: Wake up at 7:04, have first coffee at 8 and second coffee at 8:30, eat cereal while scanning email, order lunch with desk-mate (sushi or salads or — screw it — burgers), then perk up somewhere between 2:30 and 4 p.m., because that's chocolate o'clock.

9YXDDkxp5SqoQJbO57133K5CRWVRJwSH68aXnYnTMKYPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
After years of repeating this routine daily, my internal chocolate alarm still rings on the regular, and I have to ask myself out loud: Do I really want chocolate at 4 p.m., or am I just used to chocolate at 4 p.m.? The answer isn't always clear. After all, Intuitive Eating asks me to obey my body's cravings, whether for raw spinach or Hershey's Kisses. Creating forbidden foods or doing the whole "I don't need chocolate, I'll just have four to seven baby carrots!" thing is what turned me into a candy fiend in the first place; I found myself eating shameful handfuls of Kisses at midnight instead of just three Kisses in the afternoon. But, is my chocolate alarm based on natural, spontaneous desire? Or, is it just an instinctive response ingrained by years of afternoon "treats," Pavlovian dog that I am?

To that end, do I really want a birthday cupcake, or am I just panicked because everyone around me is eating cupcakes? Did I just grab a handful from the candy bowl because my body says, I require five Twizzlers, or is it just that the bowl is almost empty and I want to make sure I get "my share"? Would I really be knocking back a paper cup full of Panda Puffs if I wasn't working late and feeling sorry for myself? Dealing with office cravings is confusing, but when I ask myself those questions, the answer is pretty clear: It's not really me who wants 4 p.m. chocolate. It's Office Me.

So, while Weekend Me breezes along, eating when she's hungry and stopping when she's full, never stressing about the "4 p.m. problem" because, for her, no two afternoons are alike — Office Me needs a little more hand-holding. Office Me needs an Intuitive Eating supervisor.

Every morning as I walk to work, my internal supervisor asks, "What's for breakfast?" This often stops me mid-walk as I'm automatically heading for Pret a Manger again. "Do you really want the Pret egg sandwich?" I ask myself, "Or is it just convenient?" At lunchtime, when a bunch of office friends decide to order pizza, the supervisor chimes in again: "Have pizza if you want, but didn't you say that you felt like chicken salad?" At 4 p.m., the supervisor pops by for a check-in: "How's it going over here? Want to go for a walk?"

My internal supervisor is here to help me break my routine and learn a new one. She's great about offering helpful alternatives. She asks if I need to take a break from work and spend five minutes browsing People to see what the royal baby's up to — or if I need to take a break from my screen entirely. (Yes, she's a "she." I basically have an imaginary friend, you got a problem with that?) Sometimes, when an office craving arises, she just has to tell me to wait 10 minutes before reaching for the Hershey's Kisses. If that craving still lingers after 10 minutes, I go for it. No judgment, no distractions. I don't just pop the candy into my mouth; I take my time, turn away from my computer, and enjoy the chocolate with complete consciousness.

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I could blame my office cravings on the candy bowl, the birthday cake, and the heaping piles of bagels that appear in my office each Friday. But those are, in fact, perks — not punishments. The real culprit here? Years spent building a routine based on stress eating, group eating, or reward-for-finishing-the-story-on-time eating. It's clear that I need a little un-training.

I still don't have this one down pat, and I admit I'm still working to solve the office problem. But, with each 4 p.m. that comes and goes without an automatic reach for the candy bowl, I break one habit and begin a new one. Some people say it takes 40 days to make a new routine, and others say it's just 21. I'd like to believe it'll only take a matter of days for me to disassociate Fridays from bagels and late-nights from Panda Puffs, but I suspect it will be a longer road. I don't say that with despair or disappointment, but with the hope and resolve of an anti-dieter. I'm someone who knows there are no quick fixes — and who doesn't need them anymore.

The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. Follow my progress (read: sweaty gym selfies and food that doesn't come in a 100-calorie pack) on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject — and hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments! I love checking in on your journeys (and sweaty faces) too!