It takes a colossal feat of willpower to pass on fresh bagels in the morning team meeting or holiday cupcakes made by a cube-mate. Most of us will crack under the pressure (and delicious scent) of free office treats at some point in the day, leaving us with a hefty side of empty calories. In fact, a recent study shows that your average office employee eats a whopping 1,300 extra calories at work each week—mostly from free food at catered meetings, birthday celebrations, and the like.
The study, which analyzed the diets of more than 5,000 people, found that nearly a quarter of office workers dig into food available in meetings and parties at least once a week—and that the average person racked up an extra 1,300 calories a week in doing so.
The study also found that those 1,300 calories typically came from foods high in sugar, sodium, and fat. Yikes.
“This study isn’t surprising to me,” says Seattle-based Ginger Hultin, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Candy bowls, donuts in the break room, and constant birthday party celebrations with cake and desserts are things my clients often struggle with.”
“Work can be a stressful environment and this study highlights a trend of mindless eating in the workplace,” she says. More often than not, we’re picking up these extra calories because they’re there, not because we’re hungry. Or, because we feel social pressure to join in on the splurges of our co-workers.
If the thought of 1,300 extra calories a week isn’t enough to make you rethink those frosted donuts, consider this: All that office snacking adds up to 70,000 extra calories a year—a recipe for weight gain in the long run. “We know that being overweight or obese is linked to serious health conditions, which is why these numbers are so scary,” says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D.
If you’ve been mixing work with salt-, sugar-, and fat-laden pleasure and want to cut back, ask yourself whether you’re truly hungry the next time you’re in a standoff with office treats, suggests Rizzo. And, when they’re available, opt for heartier spread options like yogurt, cheese sticks, nuts, or hard-boiled eggs, so you score some filling protein.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of goodies every once in a while, Rizzo says. If you’re making heart eyes at a pastry from your favorite bakery, have a taste! The key is to be mindful about what you’re choosing to indulge in, and not to go overboard.