Last week I joined forces with the Mental Health Charity, Bath Mind as we made ourselves at home at the Good Day Cafe in Bath and looked at how our working day influences our food choices, how food plays a part in our stress levels and what our coping strategies look like. Workplace health is gaining momentum and so it should with 60% of our food choices made at work.

Despite what we may think from the outside, everyone has coping strategies but past experiences, interests and even genetics will shape what these become. There’s a difference between a short term pick me up and a deeper connection with food that sees us use it as a crux. Often when we use food in this way it is accompanied by a dialogue in our heads of unhelpful commentary. We berate ourselves and vow to do better but in this vow use the same tactics to try and succeed again. My will power will be stronger, I must not give in. No one offer me a biscuit… ever…..again.

But if we do use food as a coping strategy we have to therefore consider what other coping strategies we have available to us. What else could help to empty the ‘stress’ bucket to enable us to cope better? This doesn’t mean food can’t play a part in bringing us joy and comfort, but if it has a hold of us in a way that ultimately makes us feel bad that’s what we’ve got to fix.

Do you rely on will power? It’s not really real you know, in fact the more we exercise the will power muscle, the more exhausted it becomes. We only have a certain pool of ‘will power’ which we have to use for all tasks in life and with so much playing a part in how we end up eating the way we do, we have to get smarter and get designing.

If we were to apply the notion of design power to our food choices at work what would this look like? Questions to ask yourself?

  1. How many of my food choices are influenced by my diary, my colleagues or my desire to fit in with the tribe?
  2. Am I being proactive or reactive when I make food choices at work?
  3. Is there one simple change today I could make that would have a positive impact on my well-being simply by designing things better?
  4. Can I replace one habit with another slightly healthier one? Substituting, rather than simply eliminating is more effective.
  5. Can I add more visual cues or prompts to facilitate a healthy behaviour as 95% of my thinking around food is so subconscious?
  6. Can I create an if-then plan to make me more likely to succeed?
  7. Does my desk environment depress or inspire me? Are there breadcrumbs in my keyboard and is there any way I can avoid keyboard dining so often?

Yes work matters, but so does life and we can handle both so much better when we’re fuelling ourselves properly and finding ways to empty our stress bucket. Think about how you could change just one thing to make the best choice, the easy choice.

As a workplace health specialist I focus on both the behaviour science as well as the nuts and bolts of nutrition. Simply knowing stuff about food isn’t enough to translate it into real change for people that actually makes a difference to their health, well-being and resilience at work. If you would like to know more about the workplace health initiatives and seminars I run, I’d love to hear from you.

My work takes me into Bath, Bristol, London and anywhere off the M4 basically!