Job-related Weight Gain: Battling the Bulge at Work

Image for visceral fat article It is a mantra you could repeat in your sleep: eat less, make healthier choices, and get more exercise. But let’s face it—you are busy, and even though you have sworn a thousand times that you will lose the 10 pounds you have gained since you started your job, between the doughnuts at every meeting, the vending machine down the hall, and the long hours at the office, it feels like the deck is stacked against you. Here are some tips to help you regain control of your nutrition and your weight.

In general, the culprits behind weight gain at work are no different than those that trigger weight gain anywhere else. These include:

  • Not planning ahead
  • Too much food or the wrong foods
  • Too little exercise or physical activity

Plan Ahead

A major component of success is preparation. Advance planning can keep you focused and in control. Plan the next day the night before. Prepare meals ahead of time so you can grab them on the go. When you grocery shop, pick up small portions and buy healthy snacks or cereal to keep in your desk. If you have a refrigerator at work, use it to store foods like low-fat milk, yogurt, fruit, or salad dressing.

Too Much Food or the Wrong Foods

Grabbing fast food for lunch, or skipping it entirely is a dietary no-no when it comes to your weight loss plan. But a busy lifestyle does not have to mean an unhealthy diet. Here are some tips to help:

  • Eat breakfast. You may have more energy in the morning, be able to resist that donut at the meeting, and you won't be starving by lunchtime.
  • Buy fresh produce and carry it with you so you always have a healthy snack on hand.
  • Use non- or low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, or milk.
  • Salad dressings are notoriously high in fat and calories. Try using just 1 tablespoon of dressing on your lunchtime salad.
  • When you buy meat to make your lunch for work, choose the leanest cuts.
  • When eating in a fast food restaurant or cafeteria, try ordering a lean roast beef or grilled chicken sandwich, and no super-sizing. Maybe skip the french fries and chips. Also, order items without cheese, and omit or go light on the mayonnaise.
  • Drink more water. If you drink water before a meal, it will make you feel more full.

There are other things you can do to maintain control over your waistline at work. Space meals out more evenly so you eat every 3-4 hours. Think before you act. Instead of a candy bar boost in the afternoon, substitute it with:

  • Microwave light popcorn
  • Whole wheat crackers with peanut butter
  • Fresh fruit, plain or with reduced-fat cheese
  • Non- or low-fat yogurt
  • Carrot and pepper strips with a low-fat dressing or bean spread
  • Mixed nuts and dried fruit
  • A fresh fruit yogurt smoothie

Too Little Exercise or Physical Activity

You already know exercise is good for you, but it can be hard to find time given the demands at work and home. However, it can be done. Here are a few ways to work exercise into your workday:

  • Park a little farther away from the office than you actually need to. Use the same trick when keeping appointments or running errands. A little extra walking every day can make a big difference.
  • If you are tied to your desk because of your phone, get a headset or use your cell phone. This will allow you to walk around as you talk. But be courteous. Make sure you do not disrupt your coworkers’ activities.
  • Have meetings on the run. Discuss business during an afternoon or noontime walk, run, or jog.
  • Hand-deliver a message or document instead of using email or the phone. These few steps can help you add in more physical activity by the end of the day.
  • If you have a sedentary job, take a break every hour or 2 to get up, move around, or stretch.
  • If your office has or is near a gym, use it! Make it easy by keeping workout clothes and an extra towel at the office.
  • Take a short walk around the block or up a few flights of stairs. Exercise helps improve blood flow to your brain, which can help you think.
  • Tell your boss and your coworkers what you are doing. Don’t just disappear to go for a run or walk while at work. They will likely support your physical activity breaks when they see your improved energy level and productivity. Some of your coworkers might even join you!


American Heart Association
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


Canada's Food Guide
Public Health Agency of Canada


Nutrition Info About Beverages. Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated February 3, 2014. Accessed January 5, 2017.
Get moving: Easy tips to get active. American Heart Association website: Available at:
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Updated July 26, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2017.
Healthy eating at work. Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety website. Available at: Updated September 3, 2008. Accessed January 5, 2017.
Lallukka T, Laaksonen M, et al. Psychosocial working conditions and weight gain among employees. Int J Obes. 2005;29:909-915.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 1/7/2015

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