Taking time to eat during your work day is important, but if you aren't careful, office snacking can be the ultimate culprit for unwanted weight-gain.
"100 extra calories a day can lead to a ten pound weight gain in a year," said Vicki Shanta Retelny, a registered dietitian and food and nutrition expert. "You really want to think about those extra calories that are creeping in. A snack should only be 150 to 200 calories."
Retelny said it's important to eat two healthy snacks during your work day — the first between breakfast and lunch, and the second between lunch and dinner.
"Think of your metabolism as a fire that you stoke throughout the day so you can keep your energy up," she said.
While stress can be a leading cause of unhealthy snacking, Retelny said our stress levels at work will go down when we choose to take care of ourselves.
"In an office environment, productivity goes up when people are eating better," she said. "Nervous eating and mindless eating are habits that can be broken if we just make a few adjustments to our routine."
Here are some of Retelny's tips for creating smart snacking habits at the office:
Pack your own snack.
"The people who don't plan are the people who don't have a purpose," she said. "You are in charge of what you eat and nobody else. I tell people to put it in your bag the night before. Or designate a time, like Sunday nights, when you make snack bags for the entire week. Then it's done."
Know the ingredients.
"Some don't know how to read the labels of their snacks, so I tell people for sodium, if it's over 500 milligrams per serving that's too high. For sugars, you want to keep your (per serving) milligrams under double digits."
"Nuts are full of good fats that sustain your energy," she said. "Nuts are also scientifically proven to help your heart health. Almonds, walnuts or pistachios are great to have around. But be sure to portion them out. 30 pistachios are about 100 calories."
If someone brings in baked goods, Retelny said it's OK to have a taste.
"You can take a small piece but don't go back for seconds," she said. "I often tell people have a little fat, have some butter, have something fried, a little bit to satisfy you. If you only eat an abundance of diet snack foods then you may never be satisfied."
Quench your thirst.
"A lot of people think they're hungry, but in reality, they're dehydrated and they don't know it. So be sure to keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water or herbal teas."
Focus on your food.
"You should not be eating and doing other things at the same time," she said. "Do not eat while driving, while watching television or while you're on the computer. Otherwise you will want more food sooner, or even forget that you ate and want something an hour later."
Change your route.
If there is a co-worker who has candy or cookies out for sharing, Retelny said to try not to walk by their desk.
"Research has shown that you're more likely to eat something that is in your sight, or directly in front of you," she said.
Update your vending machine.
"If you think of most vending machines, what we see are processed foods, or foods that are high in sugar, calories and sodium," she said. "You need to lobby for healthy foods in these machines. Employees need to demand this kind of change. Start a list and let your management know this is important to you."