23 Do’s and Don’ts to Prevent Packing on the Pounds at Work

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Tips that will help you avoid overeating at work, from Karen R. Koenig, author of Nice Girls Finish Fat

How does being overly nice at work make me pack on the pounds?
I bet if you think a bit on this question, you’ll come up with an answer. Picture yourself at work and stressed out of your mind with reports and deadlines, your boss looking over your shoulder, and not enough hours in the day to get everything done. Now picture yourself getting hungry or lunchtime arriving. Do you chuck all the pressure and take your salad or sandwich outside or go to the lounge to eat in peace and quiet, perhaps with your favorite CD or book? Do you spend half your lunch break enjoying eating and the rest taking a pleasant stroll or chatting with a treasured colleague? Of course not. You either gobble food while you’re working or forgo it altogether.

When you’re bursting with stress because you’ve taken on too much and can’t set limits or have to do every piece of work perfectly, you set yourself up for abusing food and your body. If you eat while you’re working, you probably inhale the food and feel unsatisfied when you’re done, or overeat and feel stuffed. If you postpone feeding hunger, you create a situation in which it continues to grow and grow until you’re ready to eat the hair off your arm. And just what kind of food choices are you going to make when you’re starving? Poor ones. And how are you going to eat those poor choices? In an unconscious feeding frenzy. Catch my drift?

Another way that work causes eating malfunctions is due to the underlying feelings of anger, resentment, helplessness, and powerlessness when you’re unhappy there (even when it’s your own doing!). When you’re nursing one long grievance against your boss, coworkers, or the system in which you work, you’re always on edge and frustrated. Feeling undervalued, taken advantage of, and put upon does not make for healthy, pleasurable eating moments. Instead of stewing and chewing, you could ask to see your boss about lightening your load. But, honestly, isn’t it more likely that on the way to her office you’ll get sidelined by the snack machine and end up snarfing down a couple of packages of Tostitos instead?

No More Nice Girl Manifesto at Work


  • Think long and hard before responding to requests and demands.
  • Ask others for help when you need it without worrying what they’ll think of you.
  • Enjoy your achievements and successes and take credit for them
  • Stop feeling guilty when you say no
  • Risk not getting approval if you need to confront or challenge someone.
  • Find outside people to help you establish a realistic perspective of your work attitude and behavior.
  • Change jobs or careers if yours is too stressful.
  • Recognize that it’s not your job to solve everyone’s problems at work.
  • Acknowledge that you’re allowed to be imperfect and make mistakes.
  • Realize that you’ll have to make changes slowly to see where they will lead you.
  • Seek self-approval over other approval.
  • Let everyone be responsible for herself or himself.
  • Take all your vacation time and stay home when you’re sick or exhausted.


  • Automatically say yes because you think it’s expected of you.
  • Let someone else take credit for a job you’ve done.
  • Refuse help when you need it or wait until you’re in over your head to keep you from drowning.
  • Keep doing more and more in the hopes of getting attention and recognition.
  • Be afraid of speaking your mind appropriately.
  • Let guilt or fear of feeling it dictate what you choose to do or not do.
  • Allow yourself to be constantly stressed and believe you can’t do anything about it.
  • Imagine that you’re indispensable because you’re not and neither is anyone else in your workplace.
  • Automatically pick up someone’s slack because you don’t want him or her to get into trouble.
  • Lose sleep over work or let it take over your life.

Real-life tips for de-nicing at work
A word here about consequences of changing behavior at work versus with friends or family. Because you’re paid for what you do, you do have to be a wee bit cautious about how you approach de-nicing yourself. Your employers are not like your friends or family — if your brother doesn’t speak to you for a year, so what; if you lose a friend, you’ll find another. But the consequences of changing behavior at work are generally more serious. I don’t want you to lose your job. If you decide on your own that it’s too stressful or doesn’t bring out your best qualities, well, good for you. Move on. But until you make the decision that you’re out of there, take change slowly.

Try on new behavior gradually; talk to a friendly boss or supervisor about how best to go about standing up for yourself. Let people know that you’re trying to be more up front and solicit feedback from people you trust. Go slowly and take baby steps. Find someone outside your job to use as a support, a person who doesn’t have a stake in how things go at work or in you acting one way over another. Give yourself time to change and notice how you feel about you: If you’re feeling better and better about yourself and have more pride and confidence, you’re moving in the right direction, no matter what anyone else says.

Sometimes when you assert yourself at work, people will start to treat you differently. You’ll notice some being cold and standoffish and others showing you more respect, including not violating your personal boundaries. It may take them a while if they have a stake in you being Ms. Nice, but give them time to get used to the new you and see how the dust settles.

To do today
If it will stress you out, refuse a request at work.

Karen R. Koenig, the author of Nice Girls Finish Fat: Put Yourself First and Change Your Eating Forever (Copyright © 2009 by Karen R. Koenig), is a cognitive-behavioral therapist and author of three books on eating and weight. A national speaker, she regularly teaches workshops on eating to groups around the country. She lives in Sarasota, Florida.



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