The workplace can be a minefield for people trying to shed pounds. Co-workers can unknowingly torpedo weight loss efforts. The seemingly endless office celebrations and corporate events provide a steady stream of sugary indulgence that can sabotage the most strident dieter’s efforts. Deskside chats can tempt the most health-conscious employee into mindlessly reaching into the ubiquitous desktop candy jar, spurring weight gain.

Wansink, Painter & Lee (2006) found that secretaries given chocolates in clear jars reached for a sweet treat 71% more often than those given candies in an opaque vessel. As long as the clear dish was visible, the secretary ate 77 more calories a day, which could tack on 5 extra pounds each year (Wansink 2006c). Simply hiding the jar or placing it in a less convenient location quelled temptation. Desktop jars enticed the typical secretary into eating nine chocolates a day, or an extra 225 calories; however, stashing the jar in a desk drawer lowered the daily chocolate intake to six, and moving the jar a mere 6 feet away reduced intake to just four candies per day (Painter, Wansink & Hieggelke 2002).

The candy jar is one example of a dietary grenade; another is the “office feeder,” the co-worker who regularly deposits banana bread in the break room or leaves cookies next to the coffeepot. Simply seeing, smelling or thinking of food triggers hunger (Wansink 2006c). The good news is what is true for sweets is true for healthier foods as well. Openly displaying nutritious foods can encourage healthier workplace snacking.

While coffee breaks and corporate parties can foster camaraderie, they entice mindless eating. Here are a few tips for taming workplace temptation:

  • Put a lid on goodies. Covering them with foil or a lid will curb mindless munching (Wansink 2006c).
  • View the veggies: Leave these uncovered to promote healthier grazing.
  • When dining with a co-worker, split large portions.
  • Socialize and celebrate without food.
  • Limit happy-hour drinks/alcohol.
  • Avoid desktop dining.
  • Limit the “office feeder” influence.
  • Set an example: bring in healthier snacks like fresh fruit, replace the candy with dried fruit or nuts.
  • Support co-workers who are trying to lose weight.