Have you found yourself asking the question, "Why am I gaining weight?" If you suspect your job is conspiring to make you gain unwanted pounds, you may be right. A new survey shows that “work weight” does exist, and a good percentage of people are suffering from it.
A 2019 survey of 2,000 employed American adults, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Jenny Craig, found that a staggering 90% of respondents have gained weight while working an office job — and they blame that very job for playing a role. In fact, more than 65% of people polled agree that their job is the No. 1 reason they struggle with their weight.
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Unfortunately, the amount of work weight that people are gaining is not insignificant: The poll found that the average U.S. adult has gained 12 pounds while working at their desk job. What’s more, stress is a major driver: More than two-thirds of respondents say the pressures of work have contributed to their weight gain, with a large percentage of people admitting that they tend to eat more unhealthy foods when they experience stress at the office.
Also playing a role is the fact that so many workplaces are replete with unhealthy foods and practices, such as those all-too-irresistible birthday cakes and after-hours traditions of happy hours and other social activities. Thirty-five percent of respondents cited birthday celebrations (with cake, of course!) as a cause of their weight gain, while half admitted to feeling pressure to attend after-work happy hours for fear of missing out on networking or team bonding.
This trend is affecting not only our waistlines, but our general health as well, with 64% of respondents saying they have noted a decline in their health and fitness levels since working in an office environment.
“As Americans spend so much time in the workplace, that environment plays a large role in people’s lives,” says Monty Sharma, CEO of Jenny Craig. “Work-related stress, and factors such as social pressure and the prevalence of unhealthy food, are not only contributing to weight gain, but impacting our overall health.”
Yet despite the challenges, there are ways to circumvent the weight gain that is so common in today’s workplace. Let’s take a look at the steps you can take to help avoid work weight.
How to stay healthy at work
Nearly seven out of ten of the OnePoll respondents say they practice unhealthy habits at work, such as snacking at their desk, sitting at their desk all day or eating out for lunch. (Workplace habits aren’t the only issue, however; respondents also cite eating too much takeout or fast food after work, and being too tired to exercise as other issues that are driving their weight gain.) Here are six ways to help sidestep those issues.
1. Bring healthy meals and snacks to the office
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After a long day at the office, the last thing you probably want to do is prepare and pack healthy food for the next workday. But doing so can go a long way toward staving off unwanted pounds by helping you avoid takeout and other restaurant meals, which have been implicated as a likely factor in our nation’s obesity epidemic.1 This is likely due, at least in part, to the fact that people tend to consume 200 more calories per day when they eat either restaurant or fast-food meals, compared to those prepared at home. Meals eaten out also tend to contain more cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium, researchers have found.2
But don’t think that a sandwich and chips are the only options for your work meals and snacks: Try low-fat cottage cheese with tomatoes, hummus with celery, nonfat Greek yogurt with fruit, apple slices with a small amount of nut butter, tuna on salad, or vegetable soup — the options are almost endless.
And if you’re like one of the one-third of respondents who cited that they are too tired or busy to prepare healthy meals to bring to the office, there are other nutritious, ready-made options like those offered from Jenny Craig that can take the guesswork and meal prep out of the equation.
How much does Jenny Craig cost? The average cost of an entire day's worth of food on Jenny Craig is under $25.
As Jenny Craig’s Sharma says: “We help those looking to improve their health through weight loss with personalized, one-on-one support to build healthy habits and delicious, ready-made food that is nutritionally balanced. And for those who don’t live near or have time to go into a Jenny Craig center, we offer our proven program over the phone with our food shipped directly to your door, eliminating many Americans’ struggles to find the time and energy they need to prepare healthy options on their own.”
2. Take advantage of work-sponsored exercise options
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A full 43% of respondents said that having access to a gym or work-sponsored workouts would help them avoid work weight. If your employer offers such incentives, take advantage of them! If not, try to schedule time before or after work to get in some all-important exercise.
Or make a commitment to walk during your lunch break: It’s not just great for physical fitness, but it can also help improve your mood; help prevent or manage several health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes; and help make your bones and muscles stronger, the Mayo Clinic reports.4
3. Look into the possibility of a flexible work schedule or work-at-home days
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Approximately 40% of respondents stated that having a more flexible work schedule or the ability to work remotely would help keep them from gaining weight. If you, too, believe that these factors could help you, ask your boss if you can work an earlier or later schedule, or if it’s possible to work a couple of days a week from home. Then commit to using at least some of that time to work out or prepare healthy meals for the week.
Also, schedule time to do some all-important stress-relief activities; chronic stress makes losing weight more difficult by slowing metabolism and making it harder for your body to break down fat, research shows.5 And stress can be bad for your health in general.
If you’re not able to create a flexible schedule, resist the temptation to work unreasonably long hours so you have more time and energy to devote to your health, and to create a healthy work-life balance. And if you believe that working more hours will make you more productive, you may want to reconsider: According to the Harvard Business Review6, long hours don’t seem to equate to more work being accomplished.
4. Got the option to use a standing desk? Go for it!
While 34% of respondents said that having alternative desk options, such as standing desks, would help them avoid work weight, Harvard Health7 reports that using a standing desk burns only a small number of calories over sitting (88 calories per hour vs. 80). Using such a desk does bring other potential benefits, however, including a reduced risk of shoulder and back pain and, on days when more time is spent standing, a faster return to normal blood-sugar levels after meals. Other potential benefits, according to Harvard, are assumed based on the fact that long periods of sitting are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers.7
If your employer doesn’t offer the option of using a standing desk, the experts at Harvard suggest that you can achieve the same effect by simply elevating your computer on top of a traditional desk (a stack of heavy, stable books may do the job) and then standing and working in front of it.
5. Ask to have healthy, premade meals made available
Having access to healthy, premade meals at work was cited as the No. 1 way that respondents could help prevent unwanted weight gain. If you’re already packing your own healthy meals for the office, great! If not, and your job site has a cafeteria or other meal options, why not request that healthier options be made available? It’ll make it easier for you to reach for healthy alternatives if they’re easily accessible.
It’s imperative that employers get on board with their employees’ health goals, Sharma notes.
“With so many Americans pointing to their job as a factor in their struggle with weight,” he says, “it is more critical than ever for companies to be aware that their employees need healthier conditions and should provide access to healthy, pre-made meals.”
6. Got a long commute? Do what you can to work around it
Approximately one-quarter of respondents cited having a shorter commute as a way to help them alleviate weight gain. Barring moving closer to the office, there’s not much you can do to alleviate the stress and time involved with daily travel to work. However, you may be able to lessen the effects by committing to exercising during your workday. Or, if you take the train or bus, try walking or biking to and from the station, or parking farther away and walking to the depot. Even small bouts of activity can add up in a big way.
While weight gain might be a common outcropping of today’s workplace, that doesn’t mean it’s automatic. By using these tips, making a commitment to your own health and wellness, and striving to maintain a healthy work-life balance, you can help keep work weight at bay.
Are you struggling with “work weight”? Jenny Craig can help with over 100 freshly prepared, simply frozen, ready-made meals. Get started on the path to better health today.
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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