How is your relationship with food in work?

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How is your relationship with food at work?

This month many employers are putting plans in place to manage the transition of employees back into the workplace. It’s also Eating Disorder Awareness week (Feb 28th – Mar 6th) and as you navigate blended working conditions we remind you in this month’s blog about the What, Where and How of building a better relationship with food in work.

A healthy relationship with food is important for health, and can be described as a variety of foods in a flexible and spontaneous way. For many, a healthy relationship with food can be a struggle, especially given the influences of stress, boredom, anxiety or lack of sleep we are all emotional eaters on some level. As we are all individuals, this can be different for all of us, however it should mean, that what we eat doesn’t interfere with our life or how we live. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) aptly suggests that wellness programmes that support mental and physical health should not be focused on weight or weight loss as it may be triggering for some.(1) Therefore its essential as we change our routine going back to the office, that we encourage a healthy way of life and use messaging that supports people to maintain a constructive relationship with food.

WHAT WE EAT

As you return to the office, we invite you to consider what you eat when at work. Or if you are an employer, consider what food facilities you provide for your employees. Here are some small steps that can be taken to help support a better relationship with food:

  • Avoid removing a whole food group. Adding a healthier option to your plate is of more benefit, than for example removing all carbohydrates, which can in the longer-term have a significant impact on health.(2)
  • If reaching for a snack, try the healthier snack options like having fruit, nuts or seeds at your desk to help keep your energy consistent through the day.
  • Make a habit of looking at your lunch plate – is there colour and variety? If not, what vegetables or fruit could be added to bring more colour and nutrients to your meal.

All in all, it may mean being more organised and bringing food to work, or as an employer, seeking to have healthier options available for staff. Additionally, as individuals we should be encouraged to listen to our body, and eating when we are hungry and stopping when full!

 

WHEN WE EAT

The working day can be challenging – early starts, having all day or lunch time meetings, needing to run an errand at lunch time etc, all make it challenging to keep a routine around our mealtimes. Research shows that meal frequency and the timing of meals have an impact our health.(3) Therefore, during work you should attempt to:

  • Make time to have breakfast. Research suggests that having breakfast is associated with a healthy weight, reduced cardiovascular risk and enhanced cognitive function.(4) This may mean having it before you leave home or taking time to have it at work, before you start your day.
  • Try to avoid cutting out entire meals as this can lead to cravings and fatigue. So even while working, aim to have your main meals each day. If at work, plan so that you can have those while there. Consider bringing in leftovers from dinner the previous evening for lunch.
  • Keep regular meal times during work, allowing a sense of rhythm and listening to your body for hunger cues. As a workplace, that could mean no meetings at lunch time, allowing everyone time to get away from their desks/places of work to eat.

 

Our appetites and energy levels follow the circadian rhythms. This natural body clock regulates our waking and sleeping, so aligning your mealtimes to your sleep pattern could be helpful. Remember, there will be some days where we are hungrier than others, just by the nature of what we are doing and the energy we are using!

 

HOW WE EAT

Here we invite you to consider how you eat during your working day. Many of us eat on the go and just grab something to stave off the hunger pains while we continue working.

Here are some small steps that we can take in how we eat to help a healthy relationship with food:

  • Allow time to eat, it’s important that your body has the fuel to maintain your energy levels, otherwise fatigue and poor food choices are made. We need time to eat to sustain our body for the remainder of the working day or we may not be as productive as we could be.
  • Eating mindfully and being present allows you to tune into how you are feeling and noticing when you are full. We tend to chew more and this way it’s easier to digest food, leaving you more satisfied and less likely to overeat.(5)
  • Sit and have a chat. How many of us eat standing up, while we multitask? Sitting upright allows movement of food into our stomachs and starts digestion. Engaging in conversation with those we work with, slows down the speed at which we eat, meaning we can eat more mindfully.

 

What can you do as an Employer to support?

As an employer it’s important that we encourage all staff to stop and take their breaks. Providing them with the time to move away from their desks for breaks, the opportunity and space to engage with co-workers. The benefits could be a more engaged, energised and productive staff for the rest of their day.

In Ireland, it is estimated that 188,895 people will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives, it’s a complex mental illness that needs the appropriate professional treatment (6). If you feel that you or someone you work with needs help, seek help from a GP immediately.

Useful Resources:

  • Body Whys The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, https://www.bodywhys.ie/
  • National Eating Disorders Recovery Centre, https://nedrc.ie/
  • National Eating Disorders Disorders Association, non profit, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
  • Intuitive Eating, https://intuitiveeating.org

References:

  1. Nationaleatingdisorders.org. 2022. EATING DISORDERS IN THE WORKPLACE. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/nedaw18/workplace_guide_web_UPDATE.pdf> [Accessed 22 February 2022].
  2. Oh R, Gilani B, Uppaluri KR. Low Carbohydrate Diet. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing, Treasure Island (FL); 2021. PMID: 30725769.
  3. Paoli, A., Tinsley, G., Bianco, A. and Moro, T., 2019. The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting. Nutrients, 11(4), p.719.
  4. Gaal, S., Kerr, M., Ward, M., McNulty, H. and Livingstone, M., 2018. Breakfast Consumption in the UK: Patterns, Nutrient Intake and Diet Quality. A Study from the International Breakfast Research Initiative Group. Nutrients, 10(8), p.999.
  5. Hollis, J., 2018. The effect of mastication on food intake, satiety and body weight. Physiology & Behavior, 193, pp.242-245.
  6. McNamara, D., Potter, A., Wakefield, D., Daly, R., Marriott, D., Rennoldson, D., Rice, A. and McDonald, D., 2021. Reflections on Eating Disorder Experiences in Ireland. BODYWHYS I HEALTH SERVICE EXECUTIVE I NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY.