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No more Mr Slice Guy: To improve our at-work eating habits, we may have to say no to office cake

It’s a colleague’s birthday. They bring cake to celebrate; that classic, pre-cut vanilla and chocolate checkerboard with caramel decadently swirled on top. We know you’re eyeing it from your desk, drooling a little, thinking ‘Can we just sing already so I can tuck in?’

But that seemingly innocent, spongey delight – formally known in the research world as the OC (which is quite simply ‘office cake’) – has been cited as a contributing factor to obesity and poor oral health as well as potentially increasing eating frequency and energy intake.

Is office cake being ousted? Luckily for us, more research is needed

Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief at the fact that more research needs to be done to find conclusive proof that the joy-inducing office cake negatively impacts your health. What we do know is that in one study conducted among UK office workers, a significant number of participants strongly agreed that the ol’ OC had contributed to weight gain, made it harder to eat healthier at work, and promoted feelings of quite significant guilt after consumption.

But office cake is the first – and least offending – of a long list of potentially detrimental work eating habits

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (say that 10 times fast), believes addressing office ‘cake culture’ is the first step towards a better work-food relationship; introducing low-sugar alternatives (swapping biscuits in meetings for plain nuts) and eliminating high-sugar snacks from vending machines are some healthier alternatives. But what we eat while at work isn’t necessarily the biggest problem or worst habit to bust…it’s what we don’t eat.

Certain research suggests that office workers lose as much as 70% of productivity from bad eating habits such as skipping breakfast, lunch, or both. In England, Scotland, and Wales the loss in productivity from workers skipping breakfast amounts to a combined £8.1 billion. BILLION. And that’s just if you’re skipping breakfast. If workers are skipping breakfast, lunch, and snacks, that figure doubles.

A recent survey of over 3000 office workers in South Africa revealed that 20% skip their lunch breaks, and of those who do take lunch 67% eat while working at their desks. Desk-eating opens up a whole new area of bad habits. It doesn’t just have implications for mindless overeating (you’re focusing on spreadsheets, not sandwiches), but not taking a dedicated no-desk lunch break has been linked to greater fatigue and – once again – lower productivity.

So how do we get our eating habits back on track?

A good place to start is to just stop skipping dem lunches. But this is sometimes easier said than done. The expectation of being seen at your desk – presenteeism – as well as how your work culture supports lunch breaks and healthy foodstuffs all influence getting back on the right track. Organisations often don’t have clearly defined lunch break hours according to The HR Digest, and so workers end up munching when work permits or on the go. So, reclaim your lunch break and make it a habit. Once you’ve got that down, your next step is only having one slice of that delish OC as opposed to two. Baby steps people, baby steps.


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