Mastering the Paleo lifestyle at home is just step one. What happens when you head off to work? Faced with stress, social pressure and a different environment, many of us lose control when we try to stay Paleo at work.
Good news: if you’re tired of falling into unhealthy habits at the office, there are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to stay Paleo at work.
Even if you love your job, there’s no denying its significant impact on your health. Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours away from home. The stress is greater, and there are plenty of opportunities to stray from a healthy Paleo lifestyle.
Making smart food choices is much easier at home. Without crushing deadlines or coworkers bugging you to join them at unhealthy restaurants, you feel a lot more in control.
Sometimes it can feel like you’re living a double life. At home you’re disciplined and healthy, but when you head to work, it doesn’t take long before you go off the rails. You find yourself snacking on junk food and cheating on your diet – only to feel extra pressure to make up for lost progress at home.
How to Take Control of Your Workday
You can’t stop working, but you can take action to get control and keep things Paleo at work.
It doesn’t take the willpower of a diehard health guru or require becoming an office recluse either. With better preparation and strategies, you can fuel your body at the office with the food it needs to thrive.
These things will help you get started.
1. Prep Paleo Meals
One of the great things about eating Paleo at home is the control. You decide which ingredients to use and how things are prepared. While a restaurant might prepare their dishes with healthy cooking oil, in your own kitchen you get to make those calls without question.
Unfortunately, we lose a lot of that control at work. Most offices will at least have a microwave and a fridge. But full kitchens (and the time needed to prepare a healthy meal from scratch) are rare.
A lot of people just give up. Instead of bringing in food from home, they go out every day or just scrounge whatever treats happen to be in the office. If you’re trying to stay Paleo at work, doing this sets you up to fail before you even start!
Most offices aren’t stuffed to the brim with healthy Paleo foods. They’re loaded with grains, sugars, and processed junk. It would take a ton of luck – or an incredibly health-oriented office – to stick to the program.
Your biggest protection against this is preparation. If you have leftovers from a Paleo meal you made the night before, it’s easy to pack it in a plastic container and bring it to work in an insulated lunch box or cooler. Then it’s just a matter of heating things up in the microwave before enjoying a delicious, healthy meal.
Expect to be short on time and stressed out. What can you do before work to make eating healthy there as easy as possible? The more barriers you can remove, the better your chances of making the right choices.
One easy way is to simply double the recipe of whatever you cook for your dinners at home. Put the leftovers in a portable container so they’re ready to grab and go on your way to work tomorrow.
If you work so many hours that you’re rarely home for dinner – or too exhausted to make it – give batch cooking a try. Pick one day every week or two (Sunday evenings are my personal favorites) to make three or four different dishes. It can be a lot of work, but you don’t have to do it often. Once you divvy up portions into portable containers, you’ll have all the meals you need for work that week.
The only potential downside is boredom; you might get tired of eating the same meal several days in a row. But no one says you have to. If you batch cook multiple dishes, you can change things up – and even freeze portions to have a few weeks later on.
2. Surround Yourself with Healthy Options
Once you have your meals ready to go, it’s just a matter of bringing them in and keeping them fresh. Most of us work in offices, which have refrigerators and break rooms.
An insulated lunch box (or small cooler for longer shifts) will keep your leftovers cool during your morning commute. If you work outdoors in the summer months, this can still work, but you might need to throw in a few extra ice packs to keep food cool throughout the day.
If you’re used to eating out at work, one of the biggest challenges about bringing home-cooked meals is making sure you bring enough food. It’s easy to underestimate how much we’ll eat because we tend to eat more when our minds are occupied on other tasks (1). You’ll get better at this over time. If anything, err on the side of bringing too much food. You can always take extras home with you or share with your coworkers. That’s better than ending up hungry in the afternoon and raiding the vending machine!
It’s smart to bring in healthy snack options that will keep for a long time – even at room temperature. Stuff them in your desk drawer for those moments when you’re feeling cranky and need a quick fix. Some good options include:
- Canned meats and fish (chicken, tuna, salmon, etc.)
- Dark chocolate (for the occasional treat)
- Nut butters
- Paleo energy bars
- Paleo granola
The major goal here is to surround yourself with healthy Paleo options. Give yourself plenty of good options within arm’s reach for whenever you have a craving.
3. Eat for Health and Enjoyment
Conventional nutrition wisdom says that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day.” We’ve heard that for decades now. But is it true?
Despite the endless repetition of mainstream nutritionists and well-meaning parents far and wide, there’s scant scientific evidence that breakfast is more important than any other meal.
Breakfast proponents like to argue that it “revs up the metabolism” and prepares the mind to take on the day. But a study published in The British Journal of Nutrition compared participants who ate three meals a day with those who ate six and found that, as long as calorie and nutrient intake remained the same, so did metabolism (2).
With that said, there’s no particular reason to avoid breakfast either. If you’re hungry in the morning before work, by all means, eat. Focus on getting plenty of protein – something like bacon and eggs – for a steady energy supply and to increase feelings of satiety, instead of a carbohydrate-driven blood sugar spike and crash (3).
This takes some self-experimentation to figure out what works for you. If you’re one of those people who wakes up with zero appetite, you can hold off until lunch. If waiting that long will make you miserable, then don’t. A small, mid-morning Paleo snack might strike the perfect balance.
When you do have a meal at work, try to just eat and do nothing else. If you keep working while you eat, you’re more likely to overeat and enjoy your food less. Do whatever you can to carve out a little window to just sit and enjoy your food – even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes.
Bottom line: Don’t let yourself get too hungry before you eat. If you wait until you’re already ravenous with hunger, on top of the stress that comes with being at work, you’re more likely to make poor nutrition choices (4).
4. Find Like-Minded Coworkers
It happens all the time: You’re having a healthy week, then get derailed after you’re handed a slice of cake from an office birthday.
It’s a lot easier to stay Paleo at home, but navigating these situations at work – with people who aren’t on the same page – takes extra effort.
Do what you can to find like-minded people. If you work in a large enough office, there’s bound to be at least one or two others who are committed to a healthy lifestyle. You can have lunches with them, go on mid-morning walks, or visit restaurants with plenty of Paleo options.
Sometimes coworker lunches veer towards unhealthy restaurants. In those situations, don’t be afraid to stand your ground. If someone questions you about your sack lunches, just give them a quick, honest answer. “I’m trying to eat healthier” is all you need to say.
You can always go to an occasional lunch with coworkers and find a Paleo-friendly option like a burger without the bun, or a hearty veggie dish without the heavy dressing. The good news is that seafood restaurants and steakhouses are pretty well-suited to being Paleo. You might have to swap a side here and there (a side salad instead of fries, for example), but you should be able to wrangle up a healthy meal without too much effort.
5. Write Down What Motivates You
It’s easy to lose yourself in the daily grind of work and forget why you’re doing this whole healthy lifestyle thing in the first place. You’re working your butt off. What’s the big deal if you want some candy after lunch?
Writing down why you want to eat healthier is an easy way to reinforce healthy actions and stay Paleo at work. Choose a time during your work day where you can take five minutes to jot down what that motivates you to make better choices. These can range from the big to the small, for example:
- Being more productive
- Better performance in your sport or fitness activity of choice
- Having more energy for your family
- Living longer
- Saving money (eating home-cooked meals instead of eating out, fewer visits to the doctor, etc.)
You get the idea. Your reasons are your own, but they matter. Write them down somewhere where you can review them no matter where you are. I have a little note saved on my iPhone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and craving something unhealthy, just pull up that list for a fresh spark of motivation.
A lot of the mindless eating we do at work stems from boredom. Chowing down on some chips while we respond to emails is cheap, easy entertainment. So, seek healthier ways to fight the boredom. Even the little things – like getting up every hour to walk around and do some light stretching – can ease stress and refocus your mind on the task at hand.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up for making an occasional bad decision. It happens to the best of us. When we’re chronically fatigued and our cortisol is off the charts, we crave quick sugar fixes – and our willpower to resist them diminishes (5).
Focus on what you can do to prepare for those times. Surround yourself with the right foods. Schedule short breaks to ease the monotony, and always remember your reasons why.
Work Better – and Feel Better Doing It
Work is stressful enough. The last thing you need is to make things harder on yourself by falling into unhealthy nutrition habits. Sugary processed foods offer a quick energy boost, but the effects don’t last. You end up with a giant crash, a loss in productivity, and an increased risk of developing chronic health problems.
Fortunately, there’s another way. You can change the way you approach your work days and take charge of the situation. With just a little planning and the right mindset, you’ll give yourself the fuel you need to work hard – and feel great doing it.
What is the biggest challenge you face in staying healthy and Paleo at work? What is your best tip to eat well at the office? Leave a comment below and share your experience!
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