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Sound Bites

With a new book and hefty portions of user-friendly research, Mindless Eating guru Brian Wansink offers practical tips for stress-free slimming.


Desktop Dining

An excerpt from Slim by Design ponders the perils of workplace cuisine

By Brian Wansink

Lots of us squirrel away food in our desks. If there’s ever an emergency need to hibernate in our office for the winter, we want to be prepared.

Just for fun, we conducted a snack-food desk audit of 122 office workers to see how well stocked the average desk is. People would pull out granola bars, gum, a half-full container of Tic Tacs, ketchup packets, and errant M&Ms mingled in with the paper clips. The average office worker had 476 calories’ worth of food in their desk within arm’s reach. One person had more than 3,000 calories—bags of Cheetos, Oh Henry! candy bars, wasabi packets, an opened granola bar in a zip-top bag, sugar-free Certs, and five cans of pop-top tuna fish. Three thousand calories and sugar-free Certs? Perhaps for the tuna fish. Another desk had packets of six-year-old Northwest Airlines peanuts, two warm beers, and a piece of birthday cake. Nothing gets you over a late-morning carbo craving like stale birthday cake and a warm beer.

William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

But how harmful can eating a few calories at your desk really be? One thing we know is that people who had candy in or on their desk reported weighing 15.4 pounds more than those who didn’t. A forty-five-minute lunchtime workout can be undone in three minutes by an Oh Henry! bar and vintage collectible airline peanuts.

Yet while most people snack at their desk, there are others who eat their whole lunch there. We usually tell ourselves that we work through our lunches because we’re overwhelmed with work, we need to catch up on e-mail, or because we want that gold star for being seen as a dedicated worker bee.

Really—do we honestly think we’re decreasing our work stress or improving company efficiency by working during lunch? Probably not. Really—do we honestly think we’re impressing our boss or our coworkers with our worker-bee “I’m skipping lunch” efforts? Probably not. Many of us are just too lazy to ask someone else to go to lunch. So what we do is grind away and feel a tad either martyr-like or resentful. We don’t realize it, but we don’t leave our desk because we don’t think there’s anything better to do.

A nice solution would be if our company offered us something more interesting to do during lunch than update our Facebook page and watch YouTube videos of skateboarding dogs. Companies could offer a brown-bag presentation series, a Pilates class, a made-over break room that doesn’t look like an air-raid shelter from the Cold War, or even a lunchroom that offers foods in colors other than white and brown. These would be the first steps in a new kind of corporate wellness program: one that gets us to move a little more and eat a little better without really trying. One that’s focused on the majority of us, who are already in pretty decent shape.

From the book SLIM BY DESIGN: MINDLESS EATING SOLUTIONS FOR EVERYDAY LIFE by Brian Wansink, PhD. Copyright © 2014 by Brian Wansink, PhD. William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.