From Sweet Bowls to Endless Birthday Cakes: How Your Office Is Making You Fat

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The modern office is an increasingly bountiful source of unhealthy foods – from the sweets bowl at reception to the platters of sandwiches brought out to get us through boring meetings.

Not to mention the seemingly endless supply of birthday cakes and just-back-from-holiday treats.

If you’re trying to watch your weight, you’ve got no chance – we are biologically programmed to eat what’s put in front of us, says Professor Peter Rogers, head of experimental psychology at the University of Bristol.

Humans evolved to exist in an environment where food was scarce, so we are wired, he says, to exploit opportunities for palatable, energy-dense food.

‘Our physiology encourages us to consume,’ he adds, ‘and, the truth is, some of us are better at saying no than others.’

Adding to our woes is the fact that if you have a sedentary job you’re statistically twice as likely to be overweight as someone who moves around at work.

This has dire consequences for health – research shows type 2 diabetes is on the rise among office workers. Another major study found that workers who sit for most of the day are 54 per cent more likely to die of heart attacks.

Here, we identify your worst enemies in the fight to eat healthily at work…


Do you work with someone who arrives in the morning with croissants for everyone? Or who leaves some delicious, highly calorific treat on the corner of your desk? She is the office feeder: the dietary scourge of modern working life.

‘This pattern of behaviour often stems from feelings of insecurity,’ explains Dr Michael Sinclair, consultant psychologist with London’s City Psychology Group.

‘Handing out food helps the giver feel needed and allows them an element of control over their work environment.’

However, the office feeder may have a more selfish motive.

‘These people could be trying to absolve themselves of the guilt brought about by their inability to manage their weight,’ says Dr Sinclair.

‘By encouraging others to eat treats, they feel less guilty as they’re not the only ones indulging.’

THE SOLUTION: ‘It can be hard to say no when you don’t want to upset or offend,’ says Dr Sinclair. He suggests you acknowledge the kind gesture, asking questions about the food (‘curiosity implies empathy’), but firmly decline, if necessary telling them you are on a rigid diet.

Boost your resolve by scattering empty chocolate wrappers or crisp packets on your desk. According to Professor Brian Wansink, an eating behaviourist at Cornell University, studies have shown that evidence of past indulgences often provides an effective deterrent.


Do you often eat lunch at your desk, efficiently multi-tasking as you catch up on emails, finish a report and make a few essential personal phone calls?

One report (by a company that makes computer cleaning products) suggested that 87 per cent of British office workers eat lunch at their desk. The problem is that you are unlikely to be paying attention to your food, so it’s harder for your body to realise that it’s full. This makes you more likely to eat more.

A study last year by the University of Bristol found a group that had been distracted while eating their meal ate twice as many biscuits half an hour later than those who had not been distracted.

THE SOLUTION: Dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker recommends moving away from your desk to eat – go outside in the fresh air.

‘Even if you only move a few metres from your desk for five minutes, you have a better chance of being able to focus on and enjoy your food, so you should feel more satisfied – and less likely to make poor food choices later.’

Professor Rogers has more draconian advice. ‘Make a pact never to eat at your desk,’ he says. ‘Once you associate an environment with eating, your brain will make the link with food so eating will come to mind whenever you are there.’

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