Saturday, July 9, 2011

Healthy eating at work and on the go

This post was originally going to be a simple comment over at Jessica's blog, after her post about taking care of yourself, but it grew too long and I felt it was sort of rude to just dump an almost-essay in someone's comments. So I turned it into a "real" post, expanding it to a reasl essay and adding more tips for the general population.

If you've got blood sugar issues, or just feel better when you eat every few hours, you need to keep a lot of snacks on hand and find the time to snack frequently. This can be a challenge no matter your life situation, but even more daunting when you're at work. You can start your day on a great note, but lunch schedules, rules about food, meetings, extended days can all take a toll on our so-called plans. Also, when you're on the go, be it after work running errands or on the weekend while volunteering or road-tripping, it can be tough to make sure you've got the right fuel in you.

[I've been told I have insulin resistance, but all of my test results are fine, I've never had to do the challenge with the drinks, so I try to watch my starchy carb intake and eat small meals/snacks throughout the day. My anxiety is also kept at bay with frequent food in take. Strange.]

Healthy eating isn't just about what you put in your mouth. It's about making time to eat, eating good food, and avoiding traps.

Making time to eat at work

I'm fortunate that I don't have a set lunch time and that there are no rules about food in my office. So I eat what I want, when I want, where I want. 95% of the time I bring food from home and eat at my desk. Obviously I don't bring in anything stinky since we don't have a closed off lunch area and I don't want to gross out my coworkers. I know, I should really take a lunch break but the lunch table is 10 steps from my desk, people don't care if you're eating and they have a question, and I'd much rather prefer to go out and run errands or stay in to read blogs, check email, go on Facebook for my breaks.

If you have a set time or can only eat in a break room, it's harder to make that time for yourself. Hopefully you can get on a schedule that works for you and your body, and if you have to eat away from your desk, remember to GO to lunch. You'll be doing yourself a huge favor. I used to skip lunch a lot and would pay for it later. Sometimes I still forget to eat, I just get absorbed in a project and think "after I've coded this" or "let me insert 3 more images, then I'll go heat up my lunch." Then it's 2:30 and I wonder why I feel horrible.

Eating good food, no matter where you are

Often times, people are daunted by eating healthy in general, but especially at work. You might hear "I always go out with my coworkers" or "the cafeteria is soooo good" or "Subway is cheap and fast!"

For me, I don't have the coworker peer pressure of going out--most people in my office bring from home. There's no cafeteria. There are places to get food, but since you have to drive everywhere, by the time you run out, order, wait, come back, you'll have to end up eating at your desk since we only get a half hour for lunch. Some work places will be harder to break the habit...but if you have to get take out, there are healthy options in almost every place. Yes, even at the Chinese restaurant! A simple search of "eating healthy while dining out" will give you over 3 million hits. And you can do it right before you head out with your coworkers to the new place up the street.

Lunch can get boring, which can lead us back into temptation of junk food and not-so-great lunches. For years, I ate turkey and cheese with mustard on wheat bread. Then I got SICK of turkey. Couldn't even look at it without feeling nauseous kind of sick. C kept buying it, I wouldn't eat it and it went bad. I've started back up, alternating with things like tuna salad, lean roast beef, and leftovers. Plus salads and soups.

My newest favorite sandwich, which is only five points on Weight Watchers is something out of Victorian England: a Sandwich Thin (3 pts), two wedges of Laughing Cow cheese (1 pt each)--the other day I used garlic & herb, and slices of cucumber. Delicious, satisfying and fun, since it was so different. The rest of the cucumber I ate on the side. [We have many since they are finally coming in...]

Then there's the matter of storage. Luckily, my office only has about 45 people in it and we have a full sized fridge in our kitchenette. Obviously tons of food won't fit (unlike some of my coworkers who have gone grocery shopping at lunch) but I can always stash a yogurt, cheese, some fruit & veggies, hummus, etc. Recently at work, I've had Greek yogurt (more protein & less sugar than regular), nectarines, apples, baby carrots, raw sugar snap peas, hummus, pre-packaged cheddar cheese cuts. Plus anything I bring from home.

If you've also got a fridge at work, great! Use it to its fullest extent, but please be mindful of your coworkers--make sure you don't take up too much room, throw out old food, and be neat. If you don't have access to a fridge, you can still eat healthy. The climate of each workplace is vastly different, but some produce can be left out if you don't have a fridge or if there isn't much space--apples are good, tomatoes are as well. I've even left out a peach or nectarine for a day or two to ripen.

Additionally, get an insulated bag and some of those freezable packs and you're ready to go. I bought mine at Walmart, years ago for less than $10. It's so big, I can put a 6 pack in there. I don't use mine very often, since my ride is a half hour and I make my lunch right before I leave. I figure the car ride won't make anything spoil. On days where I have appointments prior to work, and going straight in from there, I pack my bag and don't have to worry about my salad wilting in a hot car.

Speaking of my car, I find that I need to keep snacks in there, in case I have a dip in my blood sugar. Snacks can also help you stay on track, if you're attempting to eat healthy or lose weight. Ever try to find a suitable snack while at a gas station? Even the packages of nuts aren't that great for you, especially if a bag contains 3 servings. It's so easy to wolf down the entire thing, and you've just consumed 500+ calories! Which brings me to another point...

Avoiding traps
My last job, working in a bookstore with an in-store cafe was DANGEROUS. A cookie or a scone was always a stairwell away. Then I came to my current company, where I got used to not having food around. I had to go out, even for a soda. Four years went by, then we got a vending machine. For a long time, I avoided it, but one day I caved. And then caved again. It was SO easy, and I always had change. I've managed to break the habit again, but it's always there...

Solution: having snacks at your desk or nearby, and definitely in your car, as I mentioned above. Besides what I keep in our fridge at work, I also always have a can of soup in my desk, in case my lunch ends up terrible, or I forgot it at home, or have to work late and am starving. I think I also have some oatmeal packets and a Special K bar or two.

It's tough when you want to eat healthy and/or "whole foods" as possible, but you are on the go. Carrying fresh fruit is a challenge! My go-to fruits have been apples or bananas, since bananas are wrapped already and apples are a bit more durable than other fruits. Summer time is when all of the easy damaged fruits are in season--berries, peaches, nectarines--I've managed to wrap them up in wads of paper towels, and they've been unscathed but that can be wasteful. Sometimes, I'll use a clean, dry dishcloth to protect the fruit. Baby carrots are good for a purse or bag, as well.

In the cooler months, I was keeping Special K bars or cereal bars in my car, but now that it's summer, things melt. My summer snack will be raisins and unsalted peanut, portioned out into baggies. I made some today; it felt like I was creating party favors! There's 2 tablespoons of raisins and 3 tablespoons of peanuts in there, for 6 points. That's almost what some of my sandwiches are, but if I need it, they are there in the car for me.

I keep mentioning Special K bars; no, I am not being paid for this endorsement. They have been a life saver for me. Only 90 calories, portable, individually wrapped. There are better options out there, but with more calories; maybe something by Kashi with a bit more protein? Those are stashable, too. I avoid them only because I have an almond sensitivity and they really like using almonds. I used to like eating them...

I hope my tips and tricks are useful to you! Remember, as I said in the beginning, healthy eating isn't just about what you put in your mouth. It's about making time to eat, eating good food, and avoiding traps. No matter what your reason is for wanting to be healthier, it can be done with a little planning ahead and preparation.

Good luck!


  1. Great advice! Thanks for all the practical tips!

  2. Hopefully I wasn't dumbing it down TOO much; I wanted to make it more generalized, for anyone coming across this post. I figured you knew a lot of it already :)

  3. great ideas! One of my favorite sandwiches (better if bread is toasted) is cream cheese with roasted red peppers YYUUUUUUMMMMM


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