Food in the Office is the New Secondhand Smoking

Food in the Office is the New Secondhand Smoking

Photo by Tara Evans on Unsplash

I recently binge watched Mad Men with my wife. It certainly was amusing watching all the smoking going on in the offices of the 1960s. What was wrong with those idiots?

Maybe one day people of the future will look back at the office of 2019 and ask the same question.

Were those 2019 people stupid? Why does every single office meeting have to be accompanied by a big tray of bagels and cream cheese?

A large bagel with cream cheese can approach 600 calories — don’t believe those calorie charts that say 200. Those charts are talking about your grandmother’s supermarket bagel from the 1970s which are about a third of the size of today’s puffed up piece of heaven. And when eaten at work between breakfast and lunch it is rarely counted as a meal — it just tacks on an bunch of calories to your daily intake. Those calories are a big reason for your yearly weight gain, which according to the latest research, is five pounds on the average. That means average Americans will gain fifty pounds in a decade. And who’s to blame for that?

The office staff.

Have your office mates been leaving out plates of cookies and candies? If it’s near Easter, Halloween or Christmas, the answer is most definitely yes. Holiday food is one thing. But why does there need to be tempting, sugary, carby treats every day at my workplace? Isn’t it hard enough to keep to your healthy diet? Do you have to be bombarded every time you walk in the door, trying to avoid eye contact with the basket of pastries or donuts some supposedly loving co-worker brought in for you all?

It’s not loving.

It’s harmful.

“Second hand food is the biggest challenge to weight loss programs,” said nutritionist Salley Cerker. “If left to their own devices during the work day, people do fine. The problem is, there are lots of other people trying to throw them off the straight and narrow path. Those people, unfortunately, are their co-workers, colleagues and friends.”

“Beware the black magicians,” said Carlos Castaneda. “For they are your friends.”

I know, you think I’m making this way more ominous that it really is. So what, you say, if a few well meaning secretaries, assistants, even the boss, want to bake cookies for the entire staff? That’s a real first world problem.

Well, you’re right. The first world’s problem is obesity. Secondhand food is particularly difficult to combat, though, because food equals love, and we don’t want to reject anybody’s love. Nor do we want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

“I suggest to my clients a way to deal with this without hurting feelings,” said Rita Black of Shift Weight Mastery. “If Leo likes to bring in guava pies from the Cuban bakery, thank him and request that he leave them behind a closed cupboard, perhaps putting a little note — guava pies in here. That way it’s not in everybody’s face. And Leo doesn’t have to have his feelings hurt.”

This is truly the modern equivalent of asking people to step outside and smoke. At first, people were mortified and felt ostracized. Now they feel lucky if their corporate workplace allows smoking anywhere at all outside on the property.

We can shift the culture — but it is going to take courage.

One big problem with the secondhand food in the office is that it’s nine times out of ten carbs. In offices these days, nine people out of ten are adopting some low-carb or keto strategy to keep the weight off. These strategies are useless though, if you cheat every time you walk past your assistant’s candy dish.

“Low carb is fine,” says Dr. Gideon Besson of the Shelby North Carolina Institute for Health. “But without rigorous discipline, most people miss the blood sugar benefit because they are eating sugary, carby crap at the office. Then they come home, eat a no-carb dinner and wonder why they are still pre-diabetic.”

My strategy for the annual all-day department meeting where I normally ate seven bagels? Bring in a plate of hard boiled eggs. I was surprised at how quickly they went. People really do want an option to carbs. It’s just a little more labor intensive. Do I want to boil eggs or do I want to swing by Sam’s bagels on the way to work?

A veggie crudites plate is easy to grab at most supermarkets. The problem there, of course, is that nice looking white dip in the center is full of sugar — that’s why it tastes so good.

My solution — remove the creamy, sugary dip and buy a low-sugar salad dressing at the same grocery store. Pour it in the same center bowl and nobody will be the wiser.

But beyond these specific changes, a general culture change calls for a general shift in attitude. One of the reasons we think we need secondhand food in the office is that, well, let’s face it — work sucks, and snacking makes it feel better.

“Let’s get to the core idea of why exactly work is an oppressive, demanding and unpleasant space for us,” said Xavier Daria from the New Futures Think Tank. “Rather than bringing in candy to make it feel better, how about bringing in a four day work week? Or adding more green space to our corporate campus? Spreading income equality throughout the company? Giving workers more sense of ownership of their space, their time and yes, their consumption? Allowing pets in the office? I think most offices are filled with people who feel out of control of a lot of things, not just what they’re putting in their mouth.”

As we can see, fixing the problem of secondhand food might involve a synergistic approach. Fixing American capitalism is by no means an easy solve. But getting rid of the bagels seems a good place to start.

Please follow and like us: