You know how the process works. At the simplest level, losing weight requires eating fewer calories than you burn. (I know: Losing weight can be more complicated --and some people make it way more complicated -- but for the vast majority of people, that's how you lose weight.)
Shoot. Even a schlub like me can lose 10 pounds in 30 days.
But losing weight -- or just not gaining weight -- is really hard to do when your office is making you fat.
According to research conducted by the CDC, the average person consumes nearly 1,300 calories a week from the food and drinks they get at the office. At least most of it is free; over 70% of office calories come from free food, either provided by the workplace or brought in by colleagues. But you know what that stuff tends to be: Researchers found that office food tended to be high in empty calories, with plenty of solid fats and added sugars.
So why do people eat so much office food?
The problem is poor choice architecture.
Office food is available. Office food is free. Other people are eating office food. You have to exercise a high degree of willpower to avoid office food; in most cases you have to make a conscious choice not to eat it.
Do the math and that's a major problem. Since the average person needs to burn around 3,500 calories to lose one pound, eating 1,300 calories of office food a week -- over and above what you normally eat, since few of us plan to make free cookies and chips our lunch -- means every three weeks you could gain a pound.
Or have to work that much harder to lose weight, if that's what you're trying to do. Eek.
Let's fix that. Start by using the power of choice architecture for good. Create an environment that makes it easier to eat healthy.
Start taking a few simple steps, and put a few simple things in place, and you'll need less willpower and determination. You'll actually eat healthier without even trying.
1. Hide the unhealthy stuff.
Tons of studies have shown that we snack on what we see. If the potato chips are tucked away on the top shelf and bananas are sitting in a bowl right on the counter... I'm almost certain to eat a banana.
Make it hard to reach for the unhealthy stuff and supremely easy to grab a healthy option.
Do the same thing in the refrigerator. Put less healthy leftovers in aluminum foil or colored containers, and store the healthy stuff in plastic wrap or clear containers. What you see is what you tend to eat.
2. Wherever you can, eliminate choices altogether.
Say you want to drink more water and less soda. Great: Keep two or three water bottles on your desk. When you're thirsty, you won't have to get up and make a decision between water or soda -- you can just grab a bottle of water.
The same is true for snacks. I keep a bowl of apples on my desk. That makes snacking a no-brainer, and willpower isn't necessary.
I always keep protein bars and water bottles in my car; that way, if I'm out and around and happen to get hungry, I don't need to decide whether or not I'll stop for fast food.
I just grab a bar.
3. Never eat from the package.
Portion control starts with knowing the size of the portion, and when you eat directly from the container, how can you know? You can't -- and you overeat.
I definitely do that with ice cream. I can fill a (really small) bowl with ice cream and be happy when I'm done... but if I eat directly from the container, I can go through at least half of a half-gallon of ice cream in no time. (Actually, the best way for me to control my ice cream portions is to ensure we never have ice cream in the house; ice cream is definitely my food Achilles' heel.)
If you're going to have crackers, chips, cookies, ice cream -- anything that you want to make sure you don't overeat -- always take the portion you want to eat out of the container and put it on a plate or in a bowl.
Then, eat slowly. Why not savor what you eat? You'll enjoy it more -- and you'll be less likely to eat more simply for the taste.
And while we're at it, here are a few ways to better control your meal habits:
4. Eat four or five almonds fifteen minutes before every meal.
I'm sure there's science behind this, but here's what I know: I'm always less hungry, and therefore eat less, when I eat four or five almonds 15 minutes before a meal.
Plus, a little healthy fat is good for you.
5. Drink a glass of water just before every meal.
Drinking more water is good for you. Plus, you'll partly fill your stomach and will feel full faster. We tend to eat for taste, which means we eat past the point of feeling full--and that's one reason we put on weight.
6. Use short, wide glasses when you want to drink more, and tall, skinny glasses when you want to drink less.
As Darya Rose says on Summer Tomato, "Height makes things look larger than width, even when the volumes are the same."
Use a tall glass and you'll think you're drinking more... and will naturally drink less. Use a short, wide glass and you'll think you're drinking less... and will naturally drink more.
7. Use smaller plates.
The same principle applies. A full plate feels like a full meal, so the bigger the plate, the less you think you're eating.
According to research by Dr. Brian Wansink, people who used a 10-inch diameter plate instead of a 12-inch diameter plate ate less food with no effect on their perceived fullness or satisfaction.
And you can too.
But where your plates are concerned, don't stop there...
8. Use plates that contrast with the color of your food.
Wansink also found that the color of your plate makes a difference. On average, changing the color of the plate so it contrasted with the food (think red sauce pasta on a white plate) reduced how much people served themselves by 21 per cent. If the plate was the same or a similar color, study participants tended to serve themselves 30 percent more food.
These results occur without conscious thought. Again: Choice architecture.
Now let's work on simple ways to make healthy eating choices when you're not sitting at the table:
And then stack the odds even more in your favor:
Exercise right after you wake up and before you eat breakfast and you can actually consume more calories and not gain weight, which should mean you will lose weight if you keep your food intake steady.
Whatever you do, make sure it's what you decide is best for you.
Not what poor choice architecture makes it really easy to do.
Like snagging a little office food every day.