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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Your work environment has a big impact on the way you eat. How to create the ideal environment for worksite eating.

The next time you sit down to eat at your worksite, take a moment to notice your environment. Is the lighting harsh, or gentle? What is the noise level around you like? Is the table cluttered or clear? Are you even sitting at a table at all?

As we teach our Weight Talk® program participants, our environment can have a big impact on the way we eat. A recent research study modified a major fast-food chain’s dining room to include a “back” section that had a more relaxed environment – indirect lighting, paintings on the walls, soft music playing, and the tables even had white tablecloths with lit candles on them. The usual dining room had the standard furniture and d├ęcor you might expect at a fast food restaurant- with bright fluorescent lights and loud music playing.  Customers were randomly assigned to sit in one of the two rooms. The people assigned to the new “relaxed” section ended up eating more slowly, consuming less calories, and even rated their food as more tasty than those who ate in the traditional dining area.

A few years ago, I was on a meditation retreat where we practiced mindful eating. For one week, every meal I ate was done in a calm, quite environment where we were encouraged to take the time to really pay attention to the whole eating experience. I was amazed at the impact this had on my eating habits! Like the people in the study, I found myself eating much more slowly than I usually do. I was enjoying my food immensely, even when it was something as simple as a humble bowl of oatmeal. I also realized that I was leaving food on my plate because I was feeling satisfied before I had eaten everything I had served myself.

When  trying to make healthy choices in what to eat, it’s good to get all the support we can. Our eating environment can either support our goals or potentially be a hidden barrier. Why not take some time to make sure your worksite environment is supportive of all the hard work your employees are doing by creating a more relaxing environment in which to enjoy their food? Consider talking to your leadership team about piping in soothing music and changing the lighting in the break room or cafeteria. Educate your employees on the importance of mindful eating, and encourage them to leave their desks at meal times. And of course, make sure to allow them ample time for lunch breaks during the work day.

Help them get in the practice of mindful eating by sharing with them a few tips they can try at home:
  • Always try to sit down at a table to eat. Try to avoid eating on the run or snacking in front of the fridge (or the computer screen).
  • Before you sit down to eat, take a moment to clear any clutter that may be on the table.
  • Set a place for yourself, even if you are eating alone.
  • Use tableware and utensils that appeal to you. Try to avoid eating directly out of boxes and storage containers.
  • Take a moment to adjust the lighting so it feels pleasant to you. Consider lighting a candle.
  • Consider playing some soft, relaxing music while you eat.
  • Try to minimize multitasking while eating. Shut off the TV and put away the phone. Take some time to really pay attention to the eating experience.
Dr. Samara Serotkin is a licensed clinical psychologist and holds a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She completed her doctoral dissertation on the association between creativity and self-actualization and continues to have an interest in the positive effects creativity can have on people’s self-growth. Dr. Serotkin has been a practicing therapist for over 10 years and has worked with clients in a wide variety of settings, from outpatient therapy to working in a psychiatric hospital.

Related Information:
  1. When You Eat Affects Weight Loss/Gain Study Finds
  2. Living Longer and Staying Younger through Eating
  3. Yogurt Eaters Have Better Diets, Study Finds