5 workplace booby traps and how to avoid them

5 workplace booby traps

A few weeks ago, a client admitted that one of her biggest struggles was temptation in the workplace. This surprised me, because people normally deviate from their habits over the weekend and having a fixed routine in the workplace actually made it easier to adhere to a healthy eating pattern.  But not in her case, “It’s like a minefield” she said.

While I don’t have a typical office job, I have worked in that type of setting before and do remember encountering some of the booby traps my client mentioned. And considering that the average Canadian spends 36.4 hours per week in the workplace, I felt it best to reveal these pitfalls and share some strategies of attack.

5 workplace booby traps and how to avoid them

1. The platter

You know this platter. Normally served during meetings or conference breaks, sits in the middle of the table, distracting you. It’s a constant battle of “should I or shouldn’t I?”

When you think about it, the board-meeting platter should overflow with focus foods, foods that will keep you sharp and productive. Unfortunately, this platter usually consists of danish, muffins, juice and the like.

What you can do:

  • Come prepared: You should always come prepared for your meeting…snacks and all. This means either fuelling up with a snack before the meeting, thus withstanding any temptation, or bringing easy-to-eat foods in with you. (Read: Avoid snacks in noisy wrappers.)
  • Suggest a platter switch-up:  healthy platters with fruit, yogurt or tea  make excellent midmorning snacks. Don’t be shy to suggest the switch-up to the person in charge, others will be grateful.

2. The office takeout

Whether it’s “pizza friday” or the takeout for your overtime shift, these situations can put you to the test.

What you can do:

  • BYOL: You can avoid this altogether by brining your own lunch, a practice you should adopt for every day of the week. (If you’re needing inspiration, check out the Lunch Bag series)
  • Group-order: Since it can feel like an undertaking to place a separate order just for you, why not gather like-minded coworkers and group-order some healthier options? If only for a side salad or greens, this will bring you some much-needed vegetable action.

3. The celebratory cake

Every so often, your afternoon is interrupted for an office gathering, highlighting a coworker’s birthday, retirement or other event. And then you’re faced with the celebratory cake.

What you can do:

  • Say thanks, but no thanks. There’s no need to feel pressured into indulging, especially if you truly don’t want to. It’s OK to politely refuse, feelings will not be hurt. But just to be on the safe side, you can always treat that coworker to a coffee on your next lunch break.
  • If you’re the one being celebrated, take the cake! The portion you choose to enjoy, is to your discretion. You can choose to chuck it once you get back to your desk or just enjoy the treat. We’ve talked treat strategy before, but in case you’ve forgotten the 3 P’s, click for a refresher.

4. The desk candy

Every office has one: the candy bowl. This is especially problematic if the bowl is sitting on the  desk adjacent to yours.

What you can do:

  • Out of sight, out of mind: Brian Wansink conducted a study in 2002 involving secretaries, testing their consumption of Hershey’s kisses when placed in a clear bowl versus an opaque bowl. When the secretaries were given the transparent bowl, they dipped their hands into it 71% more often than those with the opaque bowls. What does this mean? Make it less visible, and the temptation will fade.
  • Make a health food bowl: In case you can’t convince your cubicle neighbour to forgo their desk candy, follow suit by filling your own bowl with crudité or fresh fruit. You’ll soon forget about the other.

5.  The friday lunch

In the workplace, Fridays are cause for celebration and many head out for a celebratory resto-lunch.

What you can do:

  • Follow the half-plate rule. While I won’t go into the details of healthy strategies while dining out, the most obvious strategy would be making sure that half your plate is composed of non-starchy vegetables. As a result, many menu options will require you to ask for a swap, and order a side salad or vegetables.

 Have you ever encountered any of these booby traps? Is your workplace a healthy eating minefield?


Photo credit: World of good


Painter, James E., Brian Wansink, and Julie B. Hieggelke (2002), “How Visibility and Convenience Influence Candy Consumption,” Appetite, 38:3 (June), 237-238.

4 Responses to 5 workplace booby traps and how to avoid them

  1. Great post! I especially like “The celebratory cake.” I usually say no because I find I can’t truly enjoy it standing & talking to co-workers, and it’s usually the fake frosting slab cake – not worth it. That being said, you wouldn’t believe the scrutiny one gets when saying “no thank you” to office cake. It’s followed by questions or even peer pressure: oh come on, one piece won’t hurt. I find it so irritating – why can’t people just mind their own business when it comes to other’s food choices, or support others for making healthy choices instead of criticizing?

    • So true. We underestimate how peer pressure or our social surrounding affect our eating choices. Just need to stick to your guns!

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