Why Is Eating Healthy at the Office So Awkward?

Why Do Coworkers Give Me a Hard Time for Eating Healthy?
by Sarah Woehler
January 22, 2016
Eating healthy can be a challenge in any environment but especially at the office, where we not only spend most of our time but where there are constant temptations.
Leftover Halloween candy in the break room, someone’s birthday cake, or the dazzling array of sweet and salty treats in the vending machine during your 3 PM slump. Game on. 

We're all too familiar with the office junk food traps and pitfalls. But while there are countless articles about how to avoid the temptations, they rarely mention the biggest stress of all: coworkers insisting you indulge with them and having to defend your dietary choices. It’s a strange type of peer pressure—and it makes you feel like you're the black sheep of the office for seemingly insignificant reasons, like eating vegetables.

Working in the food biz, free treats are ubiquitous. In addition to the typical birthday parties and working lunches dotting the calendar each month, food vendors often offer promotional samplings at my office. (Yes, it's especially tempting when it happens to be the newest frozen custard flavor). Then there are the scrumptious goodies leftover from photo shoots and taste-testings—the newest concoctions from the test kitchen—where your opinion matters so you need to participate in order to provide an accurate review.

Unsurprisingly, the people I work with are incredibly passionate about food, so much so that healthy eating can sometimes be considered a bit uncool.

Because I personally toe the ever-so-fine line of being both passionate about all food and caring about being healthy, I've developed some strategies for dealing with the awkward backlash I get if I refuse a slice of birthday cake or opt to sneak in a workout in lieu of partaking in Pizza Friday.  
You don’t owe anyone an apology or explanation.

MISERY LOVES COMPANY

Call it whatever you like: strength in numbers, groupthink, team mentality, "misery loves company." It's all the same, and it's true: as human beings, we love doing things together. When it comes to the office, that often means afternoon vending machine breaks.

The point is, being aware of the group dynamic allows you to prepare for the backlash you may receive for breaking from it. No one wants to appear like the odd woman out because she’s choosing crudité over corn chips, but by simply taking active note of this tendency, you can develop strategies for dealing with it.

Just remember: the more you carve your own path the easier—and more rewarding—that path is. Leading the way to healthy eating may pave the way for healthy eating trends in your office, but also don't cling to those expectations. This is about your own perspective, not everyone else’s.

IT'S OKAY TO JUST SAY NO

When someone offers you something, and you don't want it, just say no. People get caught up in this all the time, worried that they're going to offend a coworker for not eating a donut with them. The fact is, no one really cares—or at least they shouldn’t.

If they do, they'll get over it and/or get used to it. You don’t owe anyone an apology or explanation. When I started saying no, it was hard—I have a sweet tooth and my coworkers know I have a sweet tooth. But once I was real with them, bluntly stating, "Listen, if I start it's hard to stop," or some version therein, they chuckled and understood. Now that I'm armed with my "Just Say No" script—and coworkers have gotten used to it—it's become nearly effortless.
Shifting my perspective from defensive to open made me feel less judged and more proud of my healthy lifestyle.

KILL THEM WITH KINDNESS

For some reason, people always ask me if I'm a vegetarian (I'm not). I used to be taken aback by it because I thought it was obvious that I was all about the occasional salad topped with chicken or hamburger. To the outsider, though, assuming I follow a plant-based diet seems logical because I tend to err on the side of healthy eating, which consists of eating a lot of pure foods (i.e., plants).

At my last job, I got a lot of questions about the food I ate. I pride myself on being someone who doesn't really limit anything in my diet, and that's true of animal-based foods as well. I used to feel defensive toward the questioning because I felt like I shouldn’t have to explain such personal decisions. But then I reframed my perspective—I began assuming my coworkers' questions were coming from a place of genuine curiosity. From then on, instead of feeling flustered and embarrassed, I used the opportunity to provide useful information.

Shifting my perspective from defensive to inclusive made me feel less judged and more proud of my healthy lifestyle—and, more importantly, it allowed me to play a part in helping those who may be struggling with developing their own healthy habits.

Discussing topics of interest with your coworkers, regardless of whether it's graphic design or nutritional health, strengthens your connection. The key is to recognize and counteract the personal baggage you bring to seemingly loaded conversations. Hopefully, people will sense your open approach and let down some walls of their own. 

Healthy eating doesn't have to be awkward—it can be an incredibly rewarding lifestyle at the office. By using these strategies, you can spend less energy on fighting off temptation, and rechannel that willpower into job productivity—a win for your waistline and your work! 

Do you feel this pressure at your workplace? What are your strategies for healthy eating? Comment below.