THE BLOG
01/22/2014 03:00 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2014

Battlefield Work: Navigating the Diet Minefields of Your Office

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When I first embarked on my lifestyle change, I thought trips to the grocery store would be the most difficult of all. I was sure that aisle upon aisle of sugar-filled kryptonite would be my downfall.

But you know what? The place that proved to be the most challenging was entirely surprising -- work. On my first day back in the office after the holidays, I walked into one of the kitchens in my building to find a table piled high with sweet treats -- the things people could clearly no longer have in their house but instead had decided to foist upon unsuspecting coworkers. The company where I work also happens to offer free, unlimited soda. Gem-colored cans glinted and gleamed from inside of refrigerated cases, attempting to lure me away from the lemon-flavored water I've begun carrying around like a security blanket. I won't lie, turning away from double chocolate-chip brownie bites was difficult. In fact, I'm sure that if anyone had taken a photo of me at that exact moment, my facial expression would've indicated that I was looking at a long-lost boyfriend and not a dessert item.

Though the holidays have long since passed, my job continues to provide myriad distractions from my route to a healthier life -- a cafeteria with every conceivable form of delicious, subsidized, portion control-free food, donuts at meetings, vending machines that serve as sirens during the dreaded 2-to-5 p.m. slog towards freedom.

Part of my workaround? Preparation. I have assembled a go-to snack kit that satisfies my cravings but keeps me on track:

  • Around mid-morning, I have a small Fuji apple with a tablespoon of almond butter
  • At lunch, I usually have a salad of some kind -- either arugula with protein from the previous night's dinner, or quinoa salad with sliced almonds and roasted vegetables. In the past, I used to rationalize that I could have an enormous lunch, washed down with a Coke, so long as I didn't have a big dinner. This was usually unsuccessful, and I ate a huge dinner, too.
  • Around mid-afternoon, I either have a handful of almonds, or some sort of fruit -- this past week, I stumbled upon some really delicious strawberries, and sliced those up for a nice, relatively healthy hit of sugar.
  • Like newly minted former smokers and their electronic cigarettes, I miss the feel of a Coke can in my hand, but not the wasted 140 calories on brown, carbonated water. I have replaced my afternoon Coke with a can of Lemon Lime Talking Rain... I get the same carbonated water, with zero calories and a bonus dose of hydration.
  • Sometimes, I just really, really need chocolate. And when that happens, I have a half pint of one-percent chocolate milk -- lightly sweet, enough chocolate, and a bit of protein, which keeps the likelihood of a sugar crash at bay.

Much like the rest of life, however, not everything can be controlled, but you still have to respond to unexpected situations in a reasonable manner. Last week brought the first challenge to my carefully regimented lifestyle -- I woke up late, forgot to pack a lunch, and was then invited to eat lunch with some friends. When I walked into the cafeteria, I became overwhelmed with choices -- burgers and fries, pizza, AN ICE CREAM BAR. I thought about all the options, remembered how groggy I felt after eating huge, heavy lunches filled with fried food, and made a beeline for the salad bar.

On the surface, the reward seems simple enough to understand -- a nice, big salad is far healthier than calorie and fat-filled chicken strips and fries. As I walked back to my building from the cafeteria, I thought about how, more than anything else, my goal for this whole change was to teach myself to make the right choices in what I eat. I haven't felt sluggish after lunch, and with the right ingredients, a salad can actually be filling and doesn't have to feel like a form of punishment. I am two weeks in, and by no means are the choices a reflex, or really easy (I mean, these particular chicken strips are really good), but rather than feeling like I've been relegated to life as a bunny, I am learning to appreciate and understand the full impact of everything I consume.