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Surviving the office Christmas party (with your diet intact)

Are you one of the lucky few who’s having a Christmas party at work this year? Maybe you wish you weren’t: many employers have cancelled company-paid-for events, in the current economic climate, and you might have been hoping that yours would be amongst them.

There’s plenty of advice on how to avoid making an idiot of yourself at the office party (which pretty much boils down to “don’t get hideously drunk”) – but how can you survive the office Christmas party with your diet reasonably intact?

Formal meal: make sensible choices

If the Christmas event at work is a formal meal out, you’ll almost certainly be asked for your food choices well ahead of time. This makes it easy for you to choose the healthier options.

  • Go for a salad or soup as a starter (studies show that eating soup at the start of a meal means you’ll consume fewer calories overall).
  • Choose a fish or vegetable heavy main course, rather than one involving large amounts of meat, cheese and/or cream.
  • Look for fruit-based options for dessert, or something light like meringue, instead of cheesecake, chocolate mousse or Christmas pud.

On the night itself, don’t feel obliged to clear your plate at each course. I find that chatting to my neighbour helps me to slow down my eating speed, and engaging people in conversation outside the workplace is a great way to get to know them better. You might find you’ve got more in common than you thought!

Buffet meal: fill up on proper foods

Buffet spreads nowadays tend to involve at least some vegetables and healthier options like breadsticks, hummous, wholegrain sandwiches etc – rather than just being a spread of crisps (chips to US readers), creamy dips, slices of quiche and so on.

Try to fill up on items that are “proper foods” – by that, I mean ones which would constitute a decent meal. Piling your plate with snacky foods makes it very easy to wolf down a lot of calories without filling up. Go for at least a couple of servings of vegetables, and try to get some lean protein too – if you just eat carbs, you’ll be hungry again well before the end of the night.

The main advantage to buffets from a dieting perspective is that you can choose whatever foods you want without anyone commenting on what you aren’t eating: trickier at a sit-down meal. And from the point of view of enjoying your work party, buffets are nice because you can circulate and chat to lots of different people – you won’t get stuck next to the office bore for a full three courses.

Go easy on the alcohol

My first response to office parties is often “ooh, free booze!” but this is not the healthiest way to approach such events…

Try to focus on the social aspects of the party – celebrating the year’s achievements alongside your colleagues, and having the chance to chat and enjoy yourself outside work. By all means indulge in the alcohol, but remember that it contains calories: about 100 in a small glass of wine, and over 200 in a pint of beer. Spirits and “lite” mixers are your best option, if available.

Alcohol also weakens your willpower and resolve, and makes you hungrier: not a great combination! Be particularly wary of snacking on salty foods like nuts, as these will make you thirstier and more likely to down that drink too fast.

Enjoy your office party! For more tips about dieting during December, make sure you’re getting free RSS updates – or just pop your email address in the box on the top right.

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Write down what you eat

As regular readers of The Office Diet will know, I’m a big advocate of food diaries – keeping a record of what you eat.

Something I’ve been thinking about over the past week is this post from You On A Diet: Lose Weight By Logging. Whenever I’ve successfully dieted, I’ve done it by writing down what I eat, and the calories. However, as I’m sure many of you will have found, weighing foods and working out calories can be a pain – especially when you’re busy.

Plus, if your goal is to eat more healthily – not necessarily to lose weight – then tracking calories is often unnecessary, and can lead you to concentrate too much on a number than on getting a balanced diet.

Just log what you eat … and lose weight?

You On A Diet explained that:

It started with a group of researchers who were going to conduct a study on a new diet plan. The first instruction they gave the participants was to keep a detailed food journal. The point was to gather information in order to have a good idea of what people were eating on their usual routine, then see what was going to have to change. But the subjects came back in two weeks and surprised the team: they had already lost weight!

I can definitely echo this in my own experience: writing things down invariably makes me think twice about having a second cookie or an unnecessary snack. I don’t need to make any efforts to deliberately restrict my food intake, and I certainly don’t go hungry – but I do find myself making more sensible choices.

For the past week, I’ve been logging everything I eat, with some vague health goals in mind (“eating at least five fruit and veg a day” , “drinking less alcohol” and “cutting down on sugar”). I found that:

  • I ate about the same amount, but made healthier choices. Rather than having a small sandwich and some chocolate at lunch time, I’d have a larger sandwich and skip the chocolate!
  • On days when I was out or busy, I made the effort to eat enough fruit and veg.
  • My chocoholic tendencies were noticeably diminished!

I’ve lost about half a pound, too, which is pretty good for me (I’m five foot two, and well within my “healthy” weight range, so I don’t tend to lose weight easily.)

Do try this at home

If you’ve been avoiding keeping a food diary because you can’t cope with all the faff of weighing things, counting calories and guesstimating restaurant meals – just keep a very simple log. Write down everything you eat, with portion sizes like “2 thick slices of bread” or “a small side salad”, rather than getting obsessive about grams and calories. You’ll almost certainly find that keeping the log vastly reduces your snacking urges, and helps you to concentrate on healthy choices.

It might also help to set specific goals or targets. Some great ones are:

  • Five fruit and veg each day
  • Six glasses of water per day
  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Cutting down on sugary snacks
  • Only having certain foods (for me, chocolate!) on certain days

Check out one of my early posts on The Office Diet where you can download several different types of food diary template – the “Food and mood” one is particularly useful if you’re an emotional eater, as you can jot down notes on how you were feeling during the day.

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Fruit and veg challenge

I don’t need to tell you that you should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. But lots of us don’t manage to meet that target – and those of us who do could be aiming even higher

In Britain last year:

58% of 2,627 people surveyed last year had eaten at least five portions the day beforehand.
This was an increase from a year earlier when 55% hit the target.
BBC news

Why Five-a-Day?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) set the fruit & veg target at 400g total per day – five 80g portions – because that was the level found to be a good predictor of health. People eating 400g or more of fruit & veg per day were at significantly less risk of “chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity”. In developing countries especially, this level of fruit & veg consumption is enough for “prevention and alleviation of several micronutrient deficiencies”.

Overall, it is estimated that up to 2.7 million lives could potentially be saved each year if fruit and vegetable consumption were sufficiently increased.
WHO – Promoting Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Around the World

It’s a minimum, not a goal

One thing that a lot of people miss is that five-a-day is the MINIMUM target. The WHO says that:

5 a day is as an international programme designed to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, with the specific goal of encouraging all women, children and men to consume at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

(Note the “at least” in the last line there…)

If you’re eating five-a-day, every day, try increasing your intake to seven. Some countries actively recommend seven – or even nine – portions of fruit and vegetables a day to their citizens. Fruit & veg are low cal and packed with nutrients, so they’re absolutely great foods for dieters.

The UK’s Eatwell plate (which shows a balanced diet) suggests:

Fruit and veg should make up about a third of the food you eat each day. And it’s also important to eat a variety. … aim for at least five portions a day.

Challenge yourself

How many portions of fruit and veg did you eat yesterday? If it was five, well done on meeting the target – now aim for six today! If you don’t regularly meet the five-a-day (and be honest with yourself here), then make it your main dietary goal for next week to hit that target every single day.

Want more tips on eating healthily, and great ways to reach (or exceed) that five-a-day target? Get free updates from The Office Diet straight to your RSS reader, or get email updates by putting your email address in the box on the top right.

(Image above by Natalie Maynor)

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Eat breakfast at work

If you find yourself skipping breakfast because you’re too rushed or not hungry enough first thing, why not eat the first meal of the day at work?

You might have to be a little sensitive to your office culture and customs here: I’ve worked in places where communal milk was bought for cereal, and places where eating breakfast at my desk would probably have raised some eyebrows (and some mutterings). Not everyone wants to hear you crunching and slurping your cereal, so if you work in close proximity to others, you might prefer to eat in the office break room or kitchen.

Cereal

Cereal is probably the easiest breakfast to grab at work – you’ll want to keep:

  • A bottle of milk in the fridge (get skimmed, or semi-skimmed)
  • A box of cereal in your desk drawer

Most cereal boxes aren’t exactly shaped to fit into a small space, so you might want to decant your cereal into an airtight Tupperware container. This also has the advantage of keeping it fresh for longer.

Depending on how well equipped your work kitchen is, you might need to buy yourself a cheap bowl and spoon, too.

Toast or crumpets

Even if your kitchen doesn’t have a toaster, you could pick up a basic one for about £5 (try Woolworths or the Sainsbury’s Basic / Tesco Value ranges – they’ve got plenty aimed at students at the moment). Keep a loaf of bread or a packet of crumpets in your desk drawer, and a pot of low-fat spread in the fridge.

One word of warning – when you’re making breakfast, don’t get distracted by checking your email. The smell of burnt toast is unlikely to endear you to your colleagues.

‘Emergency’ breakfasts

You might not plan to regularly eat at work, but it’s still worth keeping a few long life items in your desk, for those inevitable days when the alarm doesn’t go off and the bus is late…

Mini, single-serving cereal boxes are a good option, along with long-life milk. You could also keep a box of breakfast bars on hand. Ideally, of course, you’ll have a few healthy snacks stashed away which could serve as an emergency breakfast.

On the clock

If you can, I’d suggest getting into the office ten minutes early in order to eat breakfast – otherwise, even if you’re working while eating, you may face some grumblings from colleagues or even your boss that you’re eating breakfast on company time.

Alternatively, knock ten minutes off your lunch break (and I hope you’re taking your full lunch hour at the moment).

Although eating breakfast at work isn’t practical for everyone, most of us can work out a way to manage it. If you’re finding yourself too rushed to eat at home in the morning, why not give it a go?

Don’t miss out on any posts from The Office Diet – get free updates by RSS or by email (enter your email address on the top right).

(Image above by Bitter Girl )

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Fill your plate

Today, I wanted to give you three little words that might help you to diet effectively: “Fill your plate”. If you’re thinking this is the last advice that you’d expect to see on a healthy-eating blog, then read on…

Have you ever been to a restaurant where they put your dessert in the centre of a giant white plate, with a chocolate or fruit sauce dribbled artistically over the mostly-blank china? It looks pretty – but if you’re anything like me, you might look at the size of your dessert and think hmm … is that all I get?

But if you had the same piece of sticky fudge chocolate cake in a café, on a much smaller plate, it’d probably look like a big serving.

Use a smaller plate

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but when you’re dieting, it helps to use a smaller plate. Study after study has shown that when eating from smaller plates or bowls, people are satisfied with less. If your plate looks full, you convince yourself that you’ve got a lot of food there.

Try eating a sandwich off a side plate, not a dinner plate. Pour your cereal into a smaller bowl.

Fill half your plate with vegetables

One easy way to make sure you’re getting enough fruit and veg is to fill half your pltae with vegetables at lunch and dinner. That might mean having salad and a sandwich for lunch, then chicken, potatoes and two or three different types of cooked veggies for dinner.

I wouldn’t advocate filling half your cereal bowl with carrots, but how about having a couple of pieces of fruit at breakfast time?

Don’t eat too little

The third reason I want to say “fill your plate” today is to encourage you not to try to starve yourself. In today’s rushed, instant-results world, we often wish that weight-loss could happen overnight. The reality, though, is that if you lose weight slowly, you’re much more likely to keep it off.

So don’t be afraid to fill your plate – and your stomach. Choose low-fat, high-fibre options that will fill you up without too many calories. Make sure you’re eating at least 1,100 calories per day.

The link to the free Dieting Basics ebook sample on Friday was broken for all the people receiving updates via email – my sincere apologies! If you click this link to the Dieting Basics sample, it should work (send hate mail to ali@theofficediet.com if it doesn’t…)

(Image above by sonicwalker)

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Ways to improve your diet at the weekend

It’s easy to reach 5pm on Friday, breath a long sigh of relief, and switch straight into “weekend mode” – which often means forgetting about pesky little details like healthy eating plans. And when it’s the weekend, we’re around friends and family, and want to enjoy ourselves, which can sometimes mean eating all the wrong things.

If your weekend typically (or all too often) consists of: post-work drinks, and post-drinks greasy junk food, on a Friday; a late hung-over sausage-bacon-fried-bread brunch on Saturday; a big meal out Saturday evening; a traditional roast with all the trimmings on Sunday … you’re not doing your diet any favours.

So how can you improve your diet at the weekend without becoming a miserable hermit, nibbling on ryvitas whilst everyone else is tucking into a family meal?

Eat more fruit and vegetables

If you’re managing to get five-a-day at the weekends, good for you – but you could still eat more! (And if you’re not regularly hitting that five-a-day, make it your next goal.) Eating more fruit and vegetables is an easy way to make your weekend healthier. It might mean:

  • Having a salad or soup as a starter when you’re out
  • Making a big fruit salad or fruit platter for breakfast at the weekend
  • Enjoying in-season fruit for dessert, instead of cake or ice-cream
  • Cooking twice as much veg – and half as many potatoes – for Sunday lunch

Keep up with your food diary

Sometimes, when I’m keeping a food diary, Monday – Friday is filled in perfectly … then there’s a bit of a gap! If you find yourself snacking unhealthily or eating too much at meal times at the weekend, try writing down everything you eat this Saturady and Sunday. It’s a great way to keep yourself accountable and to see exactly what you’re putting in your mouth.

Try to eat regularly

It’s easy to end up grazing on food at the weekend – if you’re out shopping or visiting local attractions on Saturday or Sunday, regular meals might be abandoned in favour of a succession of snacks. The problem with this sort of eating is that it tends to involve all the worst types of foods – chips, chocolate, ice-creams, doughnuts, pastries ….

If you’re going to be out most of the day, plan to eat lunch at a sensible time, and order a meal (ideally containing protein to keep you full for longer, and some veg) rather than a few snacks. You might also want to take some cereal bars or fruit out with you for the day, so that you have something healthy to munch on if hunger does strike.

When you’re at home, don’t let the day revolve around your next snack! Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, and keep busy in between so that you don’t find yourself constantly raiding the fridge.

Make healthy meals for the whole family

Weekends are a great chance for busy working couples and families to find time to enjoy a meal together. But if your favourite weekend meals are things like plates of nachos, big bowls of creamy pasta, or curries from the nearest Indian take-away – followed by huge ice-cream sundaes or stodgy puddings – you might want to make some changes. Don’t feel guilty about shifting the family away from their usual choices: you want them to be healthy, too. Of course, you don’t need to cut out everything which is a bit “naughty” – just make a few changes.

How about:

  • Ditching nachos in favour of a few tortilla chips and salsa, followed by prawn tortilla wraps and crudites.
  • Swapping a creamy pasta sauce for a tomato-based one. Try my Pasta with tomato, turkey rasher & veg sauce for a kid-friendly recipe, or Pasta with prawns, olives and vegetable sauce for adults and teens who’ll eat prawns (that’s shrimp to our US readers) and olives.
  • Buying a supermarket curry pack to cook at home, instead of getting a take-away. Yes, it’s better to cook curry from scratch – but that can be more of a hassle than you want on a Friday night. The supermarket versions can be quite high-calorie, but not so bad as take-aways.
  • Having sorbet or frozen yoghurt for dessert, instead of your usual ice-cream. For a really fun option (though this requires some fore-planning) layer different coloured jellies and fruit pieces in sundae glasses and top with a blob of low-fat squirty cream when serving.
  • Making a light sponge cake with jam and icing sugar, rather than a gooey chocolate fudge cake or a cheesecake. Again, it’s not perfect – but it’ll slash the calories to about a third!

(Image above from Flickr by the food pornographer.)

Have a great, healthy-eating-friendly weekend – and head back to The Office Diet on Monday for some thoughts on the Ideal Dieting Office … if you don’t want to miss out, make sure you add The Office Diet to your RSS reader now, or get every post straight to your email for free (fill in your email address on the top right).

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