How Co-workers Can Affect Your Diet

By: Allana Mortell

A typical American spends about 15% of his or her lifetime working in an office. How exactly all those hours are spent completely vary by individual but food, diets and consumption certainly come into play at some point or another. In a work environment, food is often used as camaraderie. Whether it's a new promotion, celebrating a birthday or just enjoying casual cupcake Friday- the amount of food, especially unhealthy, brought into the workplace to be enjoyed amongst co-workers can significantly affect health and diets of all parties involved. Furthermore, a recent study by Survey Sampling International found out just how much co-workers are affecting and even sabotaging workplace diets of their colleagues.

A January 2012 survey of 325 individuals who have dieted or are dieting found that 29% of workers believed their colleagues was consistently damaging their healthy eating regimes. Fifty-three percent said co-workers pressure them to eat foods not on their diet, 40% said colleagues cook and serve them food not on their diet, 35% encountered jokes made about their diet and 31% said co-workers order them restaurant food not on their diet.

Tricia Leahey, the lead author of the study, emphasized how significant those social contacts can be, "While peers' encouragement helps, dieting failures or negative attitudes among colleagues can discourage people from sticking to their own healthy eating plans," she said. On the flip side, attitudes and behavior of co-workers can affect dieting in a positive way, when applied directly to a teamwork aspect. A recent study from Obesity journal found that among 3,330 participants in a team based weight-loss competition, including many teams of co-workers, those who reported having positive influence from teammates lost a larger percentage of body weight and fat than others.

Having reinforcement of any kind, whether it is positive or negative has clearly been linked to keeping up or crashing on diets in the workplace. However, it is not always a team effort. A four-week study of 40 secretaries found that when candy was visible in a clear, covered dish, participants are 2.5 pieces of chocolate on top of the 3.1. candies they would have eaten, if the chocolates had been in an opaque container instead. Furthermore, moving the candy dish closer added another 2.1 candies a day to their total intake.

Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and human behavior at Cornell said, "The proximity and visibility of a food can consistently increase an adults consumption." If you can reach that candy jar, you know what may end up happening, "Even for a person with the greatest resolve, every time they look at a candy dish they say 'Do I want that Hershey's Kiss, or don't I?' At the 24th time, maybe I'm kind of hungry, and I just got this terrible email, and my boss is complaining .... And gradually, my resolve is worn down," Wansink adds.

Though it is understandably difficult to continually keep up with diets while in the workplace, advocates suggest playing up that normal snack routine and avoid mindless eating. Steer clear of the extra calories in unhealthy munchies that you end up stashing in your desk drawer. Instead, stick to bringing foods to work that should already fit into your normal food regime, like fruits, vegetables, grains, yogurt and so forth. And when it comes to dealing with colleagues trying to mess up that diet of yours, avoid them too. If you recognize a pattern, change it, because they definitely shouldn't be the ones dictating your, key word- your, diet.

Photo: ellajphillips

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