It's really hard to resist free food in the office

  • Offices are hotspots for emotional eating because employees are often stressed, says Susan Albers, a nutritionist who has written books on mindful eating.
  • When food is free and within reach, it's "a double whammy that's extremely hard to resist," says Julie Devinsky, a clinical dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
  • Everything is kind of working against your efforts to resist food when someone brings it to work, says Traci Mann, a professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota.
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Free food, someone in the office says.

It's nearby. It looks decent. And it's free, so of course you might as well eat it. Then you wonder why you even bothered with that lukewarm piece of soggy pizza. So much for that diet.

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Indulging in food is a common office trap that nutritionists say is easy to fall into. An unscientific Twitter poll found 81 percent of people either sprint as fast as they can or take a look when they hear there's free food.

"It's a behavioral thing because when things are within reach and free, it's a double whammy that's extremely hard to resist," said Julie Devinsky, a clinical dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Sharing brownies with your colleagues isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can be frustrating if you're trying to stick to a diet. Everything is kind of working against your efforts to resist food when someone brings it to work, said Traci Mann, a professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota.

Offices are hotspots for emotional eating because employees are often stressed, said Susan Albers, a nutritionist who has written several books on mindful eating. A 2012 Finnish study found women who said they were burnt out at work were more likely to have a habit of emotional eating.

Another problem can be where food is placed in offices, Albers said. If it's nearby, it's hard to ignore.

Sometimes it can feel like a perk for working hard or an excuse to take a break or procrastinate, Albers said. Office eating tends to be social, too.

It's also easier to convince yourself that you're not cheating your diet because you're not actually buying cake or cookies, Devinsky said. But in reality, you are.

"Part of it is getting people to understand that free office food does not mean free calories, and if you didn't buy cake today that doesn't mean you didn't eat cake today," Devinsky said.

There are some things you can do to make it easier.

Put food on a side table instead of the one you're sitting around in a meeting. A study published in February found 70 percent of people ate M&Ms when they were close to them compared with 58 percent of people ate them when they were far away.

"The longer it's visible and accessible, the more times you have to resist over and over," Mann said. "It's not like you say 'no' when you're first offered and that's it. You say 'no' when first offered so you've now resisted one time, but if it's sitting there in front of you in a meeting you have to go through that a whole lot more times."

When there's free food, ask yourself if you're even hungry and why you're even eating, Devinsky said. Does it even look good? Or are you just considering it because you're not paying for it?

You should keep healthy snacks at your desk so when you're tempted you have an alternative, Albers said. That way you can still eat and socialize, just with some almonds instead of cookies.

If you're the one bringing treats, you could even bring in a fruit tray. You might not think your colleagues will like it, but they could actually thank you.