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Monthly Archives: March 2008
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Are your colleagues a good or bad influence on your health?

If you’ve worked in several different jobs, you may have noticed interesting patterns. One place of work might have a constantly topped-up cookie jar. In a different office, perhaps everyone gets together on Fridays for a pub meal. And in a third, you might find a trend towards snacking on fruit or eating salads at lunch time.

It’s unlikely that the HR department is particularly prone to employing people with an love of carrot sticks in one company, or a tendency to bring in cake in another. Rather, we tend to match our eating habits to the people around us – and for many of us, the people we spend most time around are our colleagues.

“Everyone loves pizza” – Coping with fattening team lunches

What can you do if your regular team lunch involves someone nipping down to the nearest pizzeria? My advice would be to simply join in! Sitting there with a wholemeal sandwich and an apple will feel awkward, make other people uncomfortable, and is hardly conductive to team bonding. And demanding that “We should order something healthy for a change” is unlikely to go down well with whippet-thin colleagues who can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

Limit the damage by making sure you have a healthy breakfast and some fruit mid-morning, so that you’re not ravenous by lunch-time, and by planning a lighter evening meal.

“It’s Friday so it’s pub time!” – Is that weekly lunch out setting back your diet?

Does everyone in your office troops to the pub on Fridays for lunch, to celebrate the weekend being just a few hours away? If you tend to end up eating far more than you need (and perhaps indulging in a sneaky glass of wine or pint of beer too), you might find it best to limit these trips.

I find that disappearing to the gym is a good excuse not to look like a spoilsport. Alternatively, plead work pressures (“You guys go to the pub, someone’s got to stay and cover the phones”). But do try to go along once or twice a month – especially if you rarely sit down to eat with your colleagues. It can be a good chance to chat, and there’s no rule saying you can’t be friends with your workmates.

“I’ve brought in some chocolates…” – Enjoying occasional treats without letting them become an everyday office indulgence

Many workplaces have an established pattern of bringing in treats. In my experience, one of the best health-wise is having a tin of cookies which people take it in turns to top-up as it runs low. This might seem counter-intuitive, but having sweet treats around constantly means that people are able to “take them or leave them”.

Commonly, though, colleagues will bring in treats on birthdays, or on return from vacation. This often leads to a mass feeding frenzy, as everyone in the office wants their share of the goodies. And you’ll not be Mister Popular if you insist on bringing in a fruit basket when it’s your turn…

If such treats are a fairly infrequent occurrence (perhaps a couple of times a month), go ahead and indulge, even if you’re on a diet. A single cupcake isn’t going to ruin your week. Just make sure you don’t fall into the “It’s free food and I want my fair share” mindset…

If it seems as though it’s someone’s birthday every other day, or if it’s the summer and people are constantly returning from abroad laden with exotic chocolates, you may need to ration yourself to only having one of these treats every week. Read my advice on how to refuse a cookie if you’re worried about hurting a co-worker’s feelings.

“Who’s coming for a walk?” – Have a positive influence on your colleagues

All of the above may sound a little negative, and I wanted to end by demonstrating how co-workers and an office environment conductive to healthy eating can have a very positive effect.

At one small company where I worked whilst a student, the office consisted mainly of enviably slim women. There was occasional cake on people’s birthdays, but not on a day-to-day basis. We had a well-equipped kitchen, and a break room where people ate together. There was a strong encouragement from senior members of staff for people to “take their full lunch break” and usually at least half the employees would go out for a walk together at lunch-time, through the grassy area around the buildings (we were based on a large business park.)

I noticed that people frequently brought salads in for lunch – especially the male employees (something which I’ve not seen happening in other places of work). One larger lady who was new to the company started a diet, and met with encouragement and support. To me, this was strong evidence that healthy living habits can spread between colleagues.

If you feel your office could have a healthier environment, why not invite colleagues out for a walk, or suggest sitting down for a proper lunch break together rather than grabbing a sandwich at your desk?

(Image of pizza above by Slice)

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I never have enough money

Money worries often cause sleepless nights – leading to over-eating, being too tired to exercise, and a vicious circle of feeling unable to cope. Most of us would like a bit more cash, but if you’ve realised that you “constantly feel anxious because I never have enough money”, make a firm decision now to do something about it.

Work out the figures: incomings and outgoings

If, like many people, you end the month broke and “can’t work out where the money goes”, it’s time to sit down with a calculator or spreadsheet and add up your incomings and outgoings. The more precise you can be, the better, but even getting a rough idea will help.

Record your income on a monthly basis (and your partner’s, if appropriate), then list all your regular outgoings, again, per month – rent or mortgage, bills, travel, groceries, magazine subscriptions and so on. Are the bills are higher than you thought (especially if you’ve been throwing away envelopes unopened)? Are you surprised what’s costing you the most?

Obviously, your income needs to match or exceed your spending. If your regular monthly outgoings don’t seem too bad, take a closer look at what you’re spending on a day-to-day basis…

Keep a spending diary

If you’ve been recording your food intake in a diary, you’ll probably have noticed how the simple act of writing down everything you eat makes you consider whether you really needed that mid-afternoon slab of chocolate cake.

A similar principle applies to money. Write down everything you buy, every day, for at least a week, and record how much it cost. That daily latte on the way to work could easily be costing you £10-£15 a week. A sandwich and packet of crisps every lunchtime might be another £15-£20. Perhaps that weekly night out with mates is clocking up well over £50 in drinks, food, transport and entrance fees to clubs.

(If, like me, you find it hard to keep track of your spending in the pub, count how much money’s in your wallet at the start of the evening, pay for everything in cash, then see what’s left at the end of the night.)

Identify areas where you could save money

Examine any expenditure which made you think “I spend how much on that?!” If you shop several times a week for fresh food, your total grocery bill could be higher than you realised: try having some meat-free meals, and buy anything with a long shelf life (rice, pasta, tinned foods) in bulk.

Having some money in a savings account will make you feel much more secure. Identify at least £100 that you can cut back on spending each month (taking a packed lunch to work every day could save a large chunk of that), and put that money into a separate bank account as soon as you receive your salary.

Get advice or help if you need it

If you’re in debt – maxed out on your credit card, unable to face opening envelopes, feeling sick when you think about your finances – then get some advice. For those in the UK, your Citizen’s Advice Bureau or local churches are good sources of help. Sometimes just admitting and accepting the situation you’re in, and talking to someone about it, can help you cope.

Websites with money-saving tips

There is a wealth of great advice online to help you spend less and save more, or to give you a better understanding of finance. You might like some of these:

  • Dumb Little Man has lots of great advice, including career tips and money-saving ideas.
  • Free Money Finance contains thousands of articles, covering everything from saving pennies on your groceries to becoming a millionaire.
  • There are loads of sites for discount codes (which often appear in magazines or special promotions) — check before shopping to see if there’s any you can use for free. Try Discount Codes and Voucher Heaven if you’re in the UK.

(Image of coins by Jeff Belmonte)

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Keep up a healthy diet at a conference

Many of us manage a healthy diet while in the office, only to see this fall apart completely when out for the day at a conference. I’ve written before about how to cope with buffet lunches, but there are other challenges to be negotiated… Long hours of travelling, free food and sitting in stuffy meeting rooms can add up to a disastrous day for your healthy living efforts.

So what can you do to minimise the damage?

Eat a good breakfast

Unless the conference is very nearby, it’s likely that you’ll be setting off from home earlier than you’d usually go to work. If you struggle to find time for breakfast normally, it’s tempting to stumble out of the door in a sleepy daze and grab a doughnut or other sugar-fix en route.

If you really can’t face having something to eat before setting out, take a couple of pieces of fruit, along with a cereal bar, some mixed fruit and nuts or a few rice cakes. (Or try some of these suggestions for breakfast on the run.) Starting the day as you mean to go on will put you in a good frame of mind for the conference itself.

Get your five-a-day

Fruit and vegetables are not plentiful at conferences. Mid-morning snacks tend to be biscuits rather than apples, and most buffet lunches revolve around sandwiches and fat-laden finger food, rather than salads. I suggested having fruit for breakfast (above) to help towards the five-a-day target. At lunch, try to fill half your plate with fruit or veggies – you’ll often find pieces of tomato, lettuce, carrot sticks or cucumber slices adorning the sandwich trays, which other delegates tend to ignore.

Drink plenty of water

Do you come out of conferences with a headache? If you normally have six-eight glasses of water a day, you’ll probably be dehydrated. Venues are good at supplying tea and coffee, but it can be an effort to get plain water. If there is a water jug or machine, fill up a glass and keep it in front of you to sip during conference sessions. Drink another glass at each break – have tea or coffee as well, if you want it, but drink the water first.

Most events will be perfectly happy for you to bring a bottle of water with you; keep it easily to hand in a bag or on the table in front of you. Don’t forget the journey home, either – refill your bottle or buy a new one.

Plan a healthy dinner

There’s nothing worse than flopping in through the front door at nine pm, tired, grumpy and starving hungry. If you’ve not got anything easy and quick for dinner, you’ll end up grabbing something high on the comfort factor and high in refined carbs – chips, cookies, white bread, or similar.
This is where some preparation pays off. Make sure you have something in the fridge which you can just heat up – a portion of left-over pasta from the previous day, or even a supermarket ready meal. If you’re going to be really late back, buy something on the way home. A salad is a good option, or – if you’re not sick of them after the buffet lunch – almost every shop does a low-fat range of sandwiches.

If you’re peckish when you get in but can’t face a full meal, have something filling, low-fat and high in fibre and wholegrain carbs: porridge or cereal are good options, or brown toast with baked beans.

The key, then, to surviving frequent meetings and conferences with your waistline intact is to plan ahead: have a healthy breakfast and dinner sorted out beforehand, and make sure you get as much fruit, veg and water as possible during the day.

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Recipes for using up excess Easter chocolate

I came across this great article in the Guardian full of ideas of what to do with excess Easter chocolate. This year we got given surprisingly little (we instead received cash donations towards a weekend away, which was much more welcome!) but in previous years, I’ve melted down leftover Easter eggs for chocolate biscuit cake topping…

If that doesn’t give you enough ideas, try these:

  • WLR chocolate recipes
  • Cadbury’s recipes
  • Chocablock recipes
  • And if, even after getting busy in the kitchen, you still have an Easter egg mountain in your house, put all the unopened ones somewhere well out of reach

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    I don’t like my job

    Most of us have occasional moments when we’d rather like to go home and curl up under the duvet. Maybe it’s when your boss dumps yet another huge “urgent” task on your desk, or when you get the tenth furious phone call from a customer, in a single afternoon. The occasional bad day is almost inevitable, however much you generally love your work.

    But if you’re constantly saying (though perhaps not out loud at work) “I feel fed-up because I don’t like my job”, don’t just put up with it. You’ll find yourself getting more and more miserable, and suffering ill health such as backaches brought on by stress, sleepless nights worrying about work, or mild depression from feeling trapped.

    Don’t keep quiet – talk to your line manager about problems at work

    If you dislike your job, don’t force a cheerful smile and try to pretend that everything’s fine. Have a quiet word with your line manager or boss – there may be a scheduled way to do this easily (such as an annual performance development review), or you may need to find a moment where you can have a quick chat.

    Let them know two or three things about your job which you dislike most, and also suggest a couple of ways they could improve it for you. For example, if you’re finding lots of your work boring, ask if there’s some way to do fewer of the tedious tasks and explain that you’d like more of a challenge.

    Avoid colleagues who discourage or irritate you

    Hopefully, all your co-workers are lovely, considerate, cheerful people who you’d choose to surround yourself with even if you didn’t just happen to work with them. Sadly, most of us find that there’ll be one or two individuals in the office who we just can’t manage to get along with.

    It might be the office moaner, who drags everyone’s spirits down, or the office clown who is amusing at first but then begins to grate on your nerves. Don’t feel guilty that you’re not naturally inclined to be friends with everyone at work – be polite to all your colleagues, but try to avoid the people who make you secretly grit your teeth.

    Sometimes, things might be more serious. If you’re being bullied or harassed, talk to your line manager or HR department – there will be company policies against this sort of behaviour (which you probably all signed when joining the company.)

    Ask for more challenging work if you’re getting bored

    There are some undeniable attractions to a relatively boring job; it’s probably not stressful, you don’t go home feeling mentally wrung out, and you can stick headphones in and ignore the rest of the world, without the distraction impinging on your work.

    However, if you’re beginning to feel that your career is going nowhere, or that you’re already on the top rung of a very short ladder, it might be time to find something more challenging. Sitting around twiddling your thumbs all day is also a prime cause of office-cookie-tin delving…

    Talk to whoever assigns you work: maybe the head of your team, your line manager or your boss (depending on the size of your organisation). Explain that you’d like a bit more of a challenge, and suggest what aspects of your job you’d like to learn more about.

    Consider whether it’s time to move to a new career path

    Perhaps you’ve tried, and failed, to improve your job by talking to senior people at work – and the only option is to move on. Don’t start by scouring the “situations vacant” ads in your local paper and applying for anything half-way suitable. Take the opportunity to think about what you really want from your life: you have to make a living somehow, so why not do so in a job that you love?

    There are loads of great books and sites which can help you with this.

    What Colour Is Your Parachute? is a classic for a reason. It’s breezily written in a very accessible style, and full of concrete, practical advice – but also takes you through the process of considering your values and interests.

    10 reasons why you should never get a job (Steve Pavlina) is an article that may completely change the way you think about work, careers and job hunting.

    Guerilla Job Hunting is an amusing, slightly different, take on the world of job-hunting. Worth a read if you’re trying to break into a difficult industry.

    Dumb Little Man is a blog I read regularly, with a rather eclectic set of tips and advice, lots of which are orientated around career and work. Particularly relevant to this article is their recent post: Dealing With Careers You Simply Hate

    Don’t struggle along in a job which you don’t like – find a way to change it.

    (Image above by Xdjio)

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    Health, diet and fitness articles for weekend reading

    I am heading to Worthing for the long Easter weekend (with the Boyfriend in tow), so there won’t be any updates on The Office Diet until next Tuesday. I’ve also been blogging quite a bit elsewhere, and some of those articles may be of interest to you.

    With that in mind, here’s some of my favourite diet, fitness and health related articles to keep you busy over the weekend:

    Popular articles from The Office Diet’s archives

    These are some of the most popular posts from the last few weeks on The Office Diet; if you missed them first time round, check them out now:

    Articles by Ali posted elsewhere

    You might find these slightly different in tone from other articles on The Office Diet, as I tailor my style to the blog I’m writing for. (If you run a diet, health or fitness related blog and would be interested in a guest post from me, do drop me an email to ali@theofficediet.com)

    Have a wonderful Easter, and don’t worry about your diet for the next four days — enjoy yourself, enjoy your food, and check back in on Tuesday for the next post in the Healthy Mind series.

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