the joy of strength training


September 16th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Dieting at work

Gluten free cupcakesI often talk to clients and friends about the difficulties of maintaining a good diet in the workplace.

Is it acceptable to break open the tupperware box and start eating chicken during a board meeting?

Can you have a protein shake when everyone else is having coffee and cake?

Can you refuse to go to the team lunch because they are eating forbidden foods?

I know of people who pretend to have allergies or illnesses that prevent them eating certain foods, so that they have a socially acceptable excuse to give to colleagues.

Others just end up hardly eating at work at all, to avoid awkward situations and hostile comments.

One friend of mine found it so difficult to eat properly at work that he decided not to do it. He had a large breakfast at home in the morning and a large dinner at home in the evening, eating the majority of his daily calories at these times. Therefore during the day he could get away with minimal food intake.

This is a possible solution for someone trying to lose fat (it’s a version of intermittent fasting), although not so good for those wanting to put on muscle. However, it is a pity that it comes to this at all.

I empathise with all of these problems as, before I was a personal trainer, I worked in a variety of corporate environments and went through it all myself.

There’s no single answer, everyone needs to find their own solution.

The first thing is to make sure that this situation does not put you off. Understand that you are not alone; practically everyone who tries to clean up their diet has ‘challenging’ encounters in the workplace!

If your colleagues have a problem with what you are eating, that is their problem not yours. It is a pity that they take it out on you, but often the truth is that you are succeeding where they are not, and they resent it.

Try not to take umbrage or make the situation worse, since you’ve got to work with these people. Reassure yourself with the fact that you are pursuing your goals and seeing results.

At first people will ask why you’re doing it, but eventually after the hard work pays off, they will ask how you did it!

Preparation is key

Take your own food in to work so that you have complete control over what you eat. Take in your snacks and your lunch, and store some spares at work if you can, so you are never without a healthy option.

Have a back up

Scout out places where you can buy something in line with your diet for the days when you just haven’t had a chance to prepare your food. If you are going low carb, supermarkets are a good option: you can generally get cooked meat and salad.

Be inventive

Set an example by bringing in healthier options (yoghurt, fruit) as well as the obligatory cake for birthdays etc. If you like cooking, experiment with low sugar/gluten free cooking. You’ll find good stuff if you search for ‘paleo recipes’ online.

You don’t even have to tell people they are ‘paleo’ cakes, just bring them in and see what the reaction is!

Get an expert to help

Why not invite a nutrition expert in to give a talk? People will often accept what an outside expert says more easily than their peers. We have plenty of experts at

If all else fails…

If real food is too awkward to consume, make use of shakes – you can get an entire meal in a homemade shake, just make sure you have enough protein, carbohydrate and fat.

What cunning methods have you found to eat well at work? Have you been in any awkward situations and how did you deal with them? Do share your experiences in the comments!

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  • 1

    Fab post! I used to work in the games industry, which is an absolute dietary nightmare zone.

    I tried bringing assorted healthier option treats in alongside the obligatory cakes. By far the most popular option seemed to be when set out a bowl of cherries or strawberries. Somehow those seemed to register as a treat for people instead of setting off the “healthy” alarms!

    Rhiarti on September 16th, 2012
  • 2

    Excellent tip! I’ve noticed the lure of strawberries, now that you mention it.

    gubernatrix on September 16th, 2012
  • 3

    Good post. It still bothers me when I get comments on my food, despite the fact that my colleagues should know the way I eat by now. I try not to react aggressively but it definitely tests my patience sometimes. It’s sad to hear about that guy who resorted to not eating at work.

    In some ways I think it’s worse for women, especially strong ones. It seems to be more acceptable for guys who lift to drink shakes etc. during work, but less so for a muscly woman (who probably already threatens the delicate male egos in the office!).

    I think you’re right about the jealousy thing too, especially from other women. Although I guess it must be annoying to watch as I put cream in my coffee, have cheese with lunch, dark chocolate in the afternoon and still stay lean! Most people struggle so much with their weight and still place so much trust in conventional wisdom that they can’t get their head around such different approaches to nutrition.

    Fi on September 17th, 2012
  • 4

    Hi Fi,
    Yes, I’ve definitely had my patience tested to the limit – and often have let myself get into stupid reductionist arguments on the topic.
    On the plus side, for everyone who was negative/defensive about it, there was someone who was interested and intrigued to find out more. So it wasn’t all bad!

    gubernatrix on September 17th, 2012
  • 5

    not commented for a long time, but i do follow the website and have done so for a long time.
    personally because i have read a lot on the subject of nutrition online and via books for about 6 years now i actually open discussions on the subject.
    i genuinely do have an issue with wheat, as do all of my maternal family at the very least.
    however when “why don’t you eat sugar?” gets brought up i talk about NAFLD, insulin and leptin effects, weight loss, propensity to form cancerous growths etc etc
    it helps that i remember things well and clearly and can describe things in layman terms.
    you can get into some interesting discussions, but i genuinely enjoy discussions like this.
    plus so many people are struggling with obesity and general ill health, if i only help a handful it’ll be worth it.
    a friend who was pre-diabetic lost 5 inches off her hips in 3 weeks from going to a simple low carb diet combined with strength training 🙂

    eddie on September 17th, 2012
  • 6

    Hello Eddie,
    You are lucky you are able to have those conversations – it can be difficult when you know what point you want to make but don’t necessarily have all the facts off the top of your head!
    I think people need to pick their moments: not everyone wants to hear what is good for them!
    I have someone close to me who doesn’t want to hear me go on with my ‘helpful’ diet suggestions; but over time she has made small changes and the information has sunk in. I believe that eventually she will ‘get there’ but without me nagging!
    Many of my clients have similar stories, often involving family members who won’t listen! Generally it is best to back off, set an example, and support them if they do want to make changes.

    gubernatrix on September 18th, 2012
  • 7

    I have to admit to doing the fasting at work option, far from ideal, but at the time I couldn’t deal with all the criticism.

    Richard on September 19th, 2012
  • 8

    This is a possible solution for someone trying to lose fat (it’s a version of intermittent fasting), although not so good for those wanting to put on muscle. However, it is a pity that it comes to this at all.

    This comment is wrong! as long as this person gets his required nutrients over these 2 meals i does not matter if they are building or losing weight, Gone are the days of eating 6 meals a day as its a myth!

    shaz on February 2nd, 2013
  • 9

    I’m afraid I don’t go along with that. There’s more to it than overall calories in and out.

    Your body needs to spend as much time as possible in a rebuilding or anabolic state. Much of this is hormonal. When you don’t eat regularly, the following things happen:
    – testosterone production goes down
    – thyroid down-regulates (it is stimulated by eating)
    – insulin is not stimulated, which is needed for muscle building because it pushes nutrients into cells

    All of the above contributes to a catabolic or breakdown state.

    Our friend who can’t eat during the day is spending hours and hours in a catabolic state, which most people can’t get away with when trying to build muscle. It’s also not that good for losing fat either, if you don’t have much muscle mass to start off with.

    Certain mesomorphic indiviudals might be able to get away with it, but then there are always genetic freaks who can get away with anything.

    There’s also the issue of how much protein we can properly absorb and utilise in one sitting. If you spread out your protein intake over many smaller meals, you can absorb more (depending on the efficacy of your digestive system).

    So to conclude, overall calories play a role but the hormonal cascade we get from eating (and what we eat is important too) makes a big difference in body composition and energy partitioning.

    gubernatrix on February 5th, 2013
  • 10

    I really like the honesty of this post – as well as the helpful tips.

    As an ardent follower of the eat-every-3-hours-or-thou-shalt-shrink approach, I used to bring all my food with me and dash to the restroom to down it during break. And you know what – that’s not a way to live! It only suggests that you have something to hide, while you should actually feel proud of yourself for taking care of your body.

    Some people will never get it, others might take heed, still others will smirk behind your back. The thing is not to try and change people but just learn to live with it and do what you feel is the right thing.

    Ellie on June 9th, 2013
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