Since most of us need to earn money to live, the majority of us most likely experience some form of workplace activity. Many jobs are potentially stressful in a variety of ways. Job stress is estimated to cost companies approximately $80 billion annually with eighty-nine percent of adults reporting experiences of “high levels of stress”, citing their jobs as major contributors to their stress. At the same time, experiences in the workplace can be a way of connecting and contributing to the larger world. If we are able to see our work in this way, difficult situations can become more tolerable and the workplace can become a place of contribution and connection.
When stress is experienced in the workplace, there is often a tendency to cope with this stress in the same way we cope with unwanted feelings, thoughts or experiences in other areas of our lives: by eating mindlessly. The lure of something to eat or drink, usually sugary or rich and having empty calories, can be overwhelming. Often the options for a snack or meal in the workplace are loaded with calories and fat grams, offering weight gain as a result rather than healthy nourishment.
It has been said that stress is our perception of lacking the resources, externally or internally, to meet a situation in life and cope with it effectively. Looking closely at this definition of stress, we see that it is our perception of the situation and our perception of resources or lack of resources that determines how we view what we call “stress”. In other words, we have the power to interpret a situation and therefore respond, rather than react mindlessly. Work stress can be greatly reduced simply by an intentional commitment to cultivate calmness and awareness in the area of work and by letting mindfulness and mindful eating guide our actions and responses.
Bringing mindfulness into workplace experience can improve the quality of life ‘on the job’ regardless of what the job entails. Work can become a vehicle for purposeful learning and growth. Obstacles can then become challenges and opportunities, frustrations a chance to practice patience and the behavior of others an opportunity to be assertive and communicate effectively. When work is looked at mindfully, it becomes clear that we bring our inner resources to our workday and to our choices at work, giving us the opportunity to be in greater balance with our work life. Eating mindfully can become our path through work challenges and difficult situations on the job.
To change mindless eating habits, we must become more aware of automatic behaviors around eating, of thoughts and feelings and of the social customs associated with food and eating. Eating is a highly emotionally charged social and cultural activity. Our relationship to food has been conditioned and reinforced over our entire lifetime. Eating means different things to different people yet all of us have emotional associations with particular types of food, with eating certain amounts of food and with eating in particular places and at particular times and with particular people. These associations with food can be part of our sense of identity and wellbeing. Changing our eating habits can be one of the most difficult changes we make. Mindfulness can become our ally and by looking with awareness at how and why we behave, we are able to begin changing our eating habits for the better.
The best place to begin is by not making any changes at all but by paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, to what you are eating at work and how it affects you. Try observing what you food looks like and how it tastes as you are eating it. The next time you reach for a snack at work or take time for lunch, mindfully look at what’s on your plate or in your hand. What is the texture? Look at the colors, the shapes of the foods. How does the food smell? How do you feel as you look at it? How does it taste? How do you feel after eating it? Notice how you feel an hour or two after eating. Is your energy level high or low? How does your digestive tract feel? What do you think about what you ate and how do you feel about it?
The following are a few suggestions for practicing mindful eating in the workplace:
1. Be sure you are hungry
2. Mindfully choose what to eat
3. Eat with all five senses
4. Eat “as if” the whole world is watching
5. Enjoy a meal or a snack with as little distraction as possible
6. Remember craving is a thought
7. Keep a few nutritional snacks and wholesome items on hand at your desk
8. Commit every day to eating mindfully at work
Paying attention to how you eat at work is important for health and wellness and is the first step toward transforming behavior. Listening to your body and becoming aware of the activity of the mind in relationship to food can help greatly to make and maintain healthy changes in your diet. The more mindfulness you bring to a situation, the more you will be in touch with your food and how it affects you. You will naturally be more aware of desires for food and be able to recognize these desires as thoughts and feelings – not something to necessarily act on immediately. Mindfulness assists us in learning to eat mindfully at work and in our lives on a daily basis as well.