Is your job making you fat?

Takeaway lattes, catered meetings and celebratory cakes are a few of the workplace temptations that can spell disaster for your weight.
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If you have an office job, it’s not only the sedentary nature of your job that sabotages weight loss. Distractedly having lunch at your desk, regular birthday cakes for colleagues, and bottomless cups of coffee are also potential fat traps.

“If you want to lose weight, or avoid gaining weight, plan for the situations you may face at work,” says Dr George Blair-West, a Queensland-based psychiatrist and author of Weight Loss for Food Lovers.

“For example, there may be times when you decide not to be around for an office celebration if you find it too difficult to say no to the food on offer,” he says.

Here, we look at common office weight traps, and how to avoid them.

Being desk-bound

In 2011, researchers at Louisiana State University found today’s average office worker burns 502 to 586 fewer kilojoules per day than an office worker 50 years ago. This equates to a 15kg weight gain by retirement time.

Technology is blamed for the increased amount of time we spend sitting down. “Some people now use standing desks so they can do more work on their feet,” says Natasha Meerding, a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. “Moving from your desk is important, not just for burning kilojoules, but to prevent back and muscle pain, too.”


Could you walk to speak to your workmate instead of emailing or phoning them? Sitting down burns about 20kJ an hour. Walking burns 600kJ an hour.

Birthdays and celebrations

You might be faced with an office birthday cake on an almost weekly basis. Meerding suggests going along to the celebration – it gets you up and away from your desk for a while – but when offered a piece of cake ask yourself, ‘Am I really hungry and do I really want this?’


“If you do want it, have a small piece and eat it with awareness. But say ‘I’m not hungry at the moment’ if you don’t want it,” she says. Get yourself a drink instead so you can still enjoy something with your colleagues.

Eating at your desk

Cornell University’s Dr Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, found people who were distracted by a movie while eating popcorn ate 45 per cent more popcorn.

“At our desk we answer emails and read reports and so eat more, but we may not feel satisfied because we haven’t savoured that food,” says Meerding. “And then we might reach for something else to eat.”


Eat away from your desk and focus on enjoying your lunch and recognising when you start to feel full.

The afternoon slump

If you eat a big lunch you’ll get an energy dip in the afternoon as your blood glucose levels gradually drop. Avoid this by having a lighter lunch of foods that slowly release energy.

“Even going for a little walk can lift us,” says Meerding. Research at the University of Georgia found that a 20-minute walk cuts feelings of fatigue by as much as 65 per cent. “People forget to drink water and this also depletes energy levels. Most offices have air conditioning and heating, adding to our dehydration,” says Meerding.


Have a smaller lunch of low-GI foods such as wholegrain breads, salad, low-fat cheese, fish or lean meats. If you need a mid-afternoon snack good options are reduced-fat yoghurt, vegetable sticks with some low-fat dip or fresh fruit.

Keep a bottle of water on your desk to remind yourself to drink, too.

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