By Lance Breger, Executive Wellness Coach & CEO of Infinity Wellness Partners

At least 1/3 of a 24-hour workday is spent at work and for the vast majority of professionals their job is still performed at an office. It is estimated that we make over 200 food-based decisions per day! This suggests that a large % of our eating and drinking decisions happen at work and at the office. Decisions and thinking take time, energy, and are ultimately inefficient. To prove that, the brain uses 80% of our available blood sugar when cognitively engaged. So what does the brain do to help fix this inefficiency? It develops habits. Our brain can run on autopilot to conserve resources and time by sending 90% to be performed on the subconscious level (breathing, digesting, walking, talking, typing, bathroom-ing, driving, dressing, etc.). When you add this all up, you can bet your britches that if we are going into the office for 8-9 hours, five out of seven days per week, year after year we have some deeply ingrained workplace habits…including eating!

The phenomenal book, Power of Habit simply explains that habits are created from a combination of 4 key steps:

  1. Cue – A trigger that signals to perform an action or behavior.
  2. Routine – Is the specific repeatable action or behavior – the habit.
  3. Reward – Personal perceived benefit or value for doing the habit.
  4. Craving – Routine becomes a craving after repeated and predictable reward experiences.

There are universal 7 Workplace Eating Habits that I want to spotlight as a major contributor to a professional’s fatigue, digestive challenges, depression, sluggish metabolism, poor concentration, sleep issues, stress, sugar/caffeine addiction, and weight gain. Ready for them?

1. Dehydrating > Hydrating

The most important yet overlooked habit is choosing to drink everything besides water. Your body (70%) and brain (85%) are primarily made up of water and every biochemical reaction in the body is water dependent, not coffee-and-water, tea-and-water, or juice-and-water. Throughout the entire workday, professionals are consuming way more beverages that dehydrate them (alcohol, coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks, and protein powders) rather than rehydrate them (water). When you are thirsty or the mouth is dry, you are already dehydrated! As little as 1% total body water loss can lead to psychological conditions and 2% water loss impairs athletic and job performance.

The average American consumes 3-5 eight ounce cups of coffee. What about you? For every one of these diuretics, you will need two to three cups of water to replace what was lost. A minimum of 2.5 liters of filtered water is needed every day and the optimal recommendation is half your body weight in ounces of water.

New Habit: Have 1-2 glasses first thing in the morning, 1 glass before meals, and 1 glass between meals…you will notice an immediate change.

2. Skipping Meals

One of the worst habits in the workplace is to skip meals. Skipping meals will send your blood sugar into the ground creating energy issues, cravings for caffeine/sugar, and release stress hormones. Also skipping meals (going over 4+ hours without eating anything) makes your brain think there is a famine and you will double the release of fat-storing ((lipogenic) enzymes and cut your fat-burning (lipolytic) enzymes in half. Another thing to consider is that each meal/snack is comparable to a log for your metabolic fire. If you wait too long to put on another log or put on crummy wood the metabolism will go out!

New Habit: Have a meal or snack every 4 hours this meals planning ahead, stashing snacks, and putting yourself before work priorities.

3. Overeating

‘Food baby’ and ‘food coma’ are all ways clients describe how they feel after they overeat. The average professional overeats at 2 out of every 3 meals! Overeating is an extremely common eating habit that can be the result of many things: dehydration sends signals of hunger, skipping meals leads to ravenous eating, deep-seeded ‘clean plate’ or ‘don’t waste food’ philosophies, cravings, and stress.

Overeating stores body fat, backs up your digestive system, causes you to skip the next meal, and creates workday fatigue by sending blood from the brain to the stomach.

New Habit: A good rule of thumb is to follow the Japanese zen philosophy of Hara Hachi Bu, ‘Eat until 80% Full’.

4. Mindless Eating

How many other things are we doing when we are eating at work besides actually eating? You are walking, talking, reading, watching, typing, texting, meeting, and driving just to name a few! Mindless eating in front of the computer (or anywhere) also leads to overeating, digestive distress, and eating when you aren’t hungry.

62% of workers say they typically eat at their desk. Eating and working also puts a big wrench in digestion because work is mostly stress-inducing, which diverts blood away from digestive organs in favor of fighting or flighting muscles. As a fascinating side note, simply eating with one other person increases the average amount ingested by 44 percent!

New Habit: Eating alone in a quiet space with minimal distractions while using all five senses when you eat. Practice these new concepts…sitting, breathing, putting down your utensil between bites, chewing, and slowing the heck down.

5. BIG Dinner

It is reported in the smart book Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell that the average person is eating 70% of their calories between 5:00PM and 5:00AM. We have a serious dilemma because 75% of our calorie-burning happens between 6:00AM and 6:00PM. This means we are consuming most of our food energy when our bodies and metabolisms are least active. This is a sure-fire recipe for gaining weight that has been practiced by Sumo wrestlers for centuries. Is this your goal?

New Habit: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. Dinner was also referred to as supper that came from ‘soup’. Have a light dinner of protein, fat, and above ground vegetables.

6. Carb-Dominant

By definition, carbohydrates are any plant-based food created by photosynthesis (fruit, vegetables, grains, and starches). We have even more man-made carbohydrates available to us in the form of cereal, bagels, muffins, toast, scones, sandwiches, crackers, rolls, chips, bread, pretzels, pitas, pasta, cake, cupcakes, candies, and cookies juice name just a few. When carbohydrates are the dominant nutrient in a meal, snack, or drink it will cause a greater release of insulin to store the sugar that the carbohydrates have been broken down into.

Professionals are not eating enough high-quality sourced protein (comes from something with two eyes) and fat (animal products, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado) in their meals and snacks to counterbalance the high levels of carbohydrates which sends their blood sugar into a frenzy leading to all the craving, energy, focus, stress, and weight gain challenges mentioned above.

New Habit: Include one full serving of fat and protein in all your meals and snacks.

7. Free Food isn’t FREE

There is always free food floating around the office and it’s never celery sticks. It always is somebody’s birthday cake, a goal-hitting or missing pizza party, leftovers from a catered meeting, cans of soda in the staff refrigerator, your co-worker’s candy jar, or the not-so-healthy snack foods in the cafe. Guess what? Free food is not FREE…there’s a high cost of calories, sugar, fat, salt, and artificial ingredients. When food is free it is devalued and often forgotten, that leads to food eating amnesia.

New Habit: If you are tempted by a free office food ask yourself, ‘Am I really hungry?’. If you are hungry, have some of your lunch or a protein/fat-based snack. I know you’ll drop hundreds of calories each week from only eating food that you paid for and prepared.