Dr Meg Arroll is a psychologist and author who specialises in health, particularly the relationship between stress, weight and fatigue. She is the co-author of The Shrinkology Solution, a trailblazing book about the deep-seated principles that subconsciously guide our behaviour when it comes to food.
AS: It’s fascinating to realise how much our eating behaviour is emotionally driven. Given that most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, what do you believe to be the impact of our working life on our eating behaviour?
DrMA: In my experience, work-related stress is one of the biggest factors that our working life can have on our eating behaviours. Long hours, the insidious nature of handheld technology (i.e. never truly being away from ours desks) and a culture that values productivity above health and wellbeing all play a part in the development of maladaptive eating behaviours. Because we do spend so much time at work and also working after hours, whether that take the form of actual work-related tasks or worrying about work, it’s paramount that both individuals and employers address as many of these factors as possible. Much of my 1-2-1 work is with clients in high pressured roles and so a great deal of our time is spent in developing stress management and resilience as many maladaptive eating patterns are a symptom of chronic stress.
AS: Could you share some tips for avoiding work related eating pitfalls?
DrMA: There are some pretty easy things we can do at work to avoid eating pitfalls. For instance, research by Prof Brian Wansink has shown that simply having sweets on display at work encourages people to eat mindlessly. Keeping sweets/biscuits, etc. out of view will substantially limit this type of grazing behaviour. Even storing treats in an opaque container helps to reduce temptation.
Meetings are traditionally associated with a plate of biscuits, which spike blood sugar and can lead to crashes in energy and concentration. But this is just a habit like other type of eating behaviour and can be broken and reformed with a healthier snack. By swapping out the choccy biscuits with nibbles such as nuts, seeds or oat-based flapjacks, we can all keep our blood sugar more even throughout the day.
AS: What would you recommend to employers who would like to help their employees adopt a healthy eating psychology?
DrMA: I would recommend that employers support their employees’ overall wellbeing which will help individuals to eat well. This means tackling work-related stress, making sure employees have time to eat away from their desks and of course include educational programme that empower people to make the best choices possible.
The pressure to join in with after work drinks and/or boozy lunches can be a real struggle for employees. Whilst individuals can set their own personal boundaries, it can be difficult to say ‘no’ to a slice of cake for a colleague’s birthday or pint on a Friday afternoon. Employers can help here by creating a culture of health and wellbeing and offering opportunities for peer support and bonding that aren’t pinned to food and drink.
AS: What are your lunch box favourites?
DrMA: To make lunches quick and easy, and limit the impact of all the alluring food advertising that bombards us at lunchtime, I usually cook a bit extra the night before. This could be a bigger pot of a veg curry or an extra piece of grilled chicken, which I’ll then supplement with salads, pitta breads, etc. This type of planning really helps me to avoid reaching for fast food or shop-bought sandwiches. If I’ve not cooked the night before, for me personally it’s important to make a food choice before I feel starving as I find it much harder to steer away from processed food when my body is screaming for energy. So nipping out mid-morning to pick up something like sushi is a good option or in winter a hearty soup as ready-made salads tend to be far too small to get me through the afternoon.
Want to understand more about what guides our eating behaviour? Order your copy of Dr Meg’s new book:
The Shrinkology Solution, a trailblazing book about the deep-seated principles that subconsciously guide our behaviour when it comes to food. The book offers an in-depth psychological quiz to discover your eating type; presents tailored behavioural and dietary advice to suit the nuances of your eating type; and provides exercise and activity recommendations to enhance your personalised plan.
For more information about The Shrinkology Solution head to www.shrinkology.co.uk and you can follow Shrinkology on Twitter @shrinksolution and Instagram @shrinkologysolution.