Returning to the office? Five ways to stay healthy

Going back into the office, even if for only a couple of days a week, can feel like a big adjustment – your whole routine has to change and you’ll almost definitely have to get up earlier.

Working from home has definitely had its perks, like saving money on coffee and lunches out, being able to eat healthy lunches made from scratch and fitting in a home workout instead of commuting.

Although returning to the office will have its challenges, it’s a great opportunity to create a new routine that works better for you than before. Read: having more energy and feeling happier with your body.

To put new habits into place that are sustainable, Kimberley Neve, a Registered Associate Nutritionist shares her top five tips for staying healthy in an office job.

1) Plan ahead

You probably knew this one was coming, but it’s absolutely vital to plan for your days at work. This can include batch cooking one day a week, or buying in the foods you need for easy snack and lunch options. Make sure you have a water bottle for your desk (or at least a mug) and keep your fridge food in a bag that you can label. There’s really nothing worse than someone ‘accidentally’ stealing your snack!

You should also plan your morning so that you get some kind of movement too. Can you convert some of your commute by walking an extra part? Or could you cycle in? You might have to bite the bullet and set your alarm a little earlier, even just to fit in some morning stretches, but you’ll feel the benefit of morning movement for the whole day.

2) Healthy snacking

The real trick to keeping your energy levels up at work is balanced snacking. The best combinations for snacks are a carbohydrate source with a protein source. Good examples are: apple and peanut butter, dried fruit and nuts, vegetable crudités or crackers with hummus or cream cheese, or even a small ‘second breakfast’ like overnight oats with fruit and nuts.

The important part is to keep snacks to set times rather than grazing all day, and manage the portion sizes so that they are sensible, especially with the carbohydrate.

For instance, two-three crackers, one piece of toast or a small handful of nuts. With balanced snacks at set times between meals, you should avoid feeling over-hungry at lunch or after work, which could make you more likely to make unhealthy choices for those meals.

3) Healthy lunches

If you tend to grab your lunch from somewhere near the office, you don’t have to opt for salads all the time to be healthy! If you do go for salad, make sure it’s interesting and not just leaves.

The best ones combine vegetables or salad leaves with a good source of protein, such as a chicken breast or tofu, and a whole grain carbohydrate, such as rice, bread or pasta, or other grains like quinoa and couscous. If the salad does not look filling enough, try combining it with a soup or toasty to keep you satisfied for longer.

For sandwiches, the advice is similar: go for high protein and high fibre with vegetables, salad or hummus inside and wholemeal bread. We tend to get more ‘sides’ with a sandwich too – be it because of the £3 Meal Deal or just because it’s what we’re used to from our school lunchboxes.

If that’s you, be aware of what you choose: hungry you might be likely to opt for the crisps or biscuit, but opting for fruit and yoghurts where you can will make a difference. This will be easier if you have had a balanced breakfast and snack earlier in the day to manage hunger levels.

4) Hydration

Staying fresh and energised means drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day. That can be water, sugar-free squash, teas, coffees or juices. It can also come from foods with high water content, such as cucumber and watermelon.

With tea and coffee, despite caffeine being a mild diuretic (meaning more urine is produced), the overall effect is to hydrate you because of how much liquid you consume in one cup or mug. 

Juice is best as a once-a-day option, as the recommended daily amount is 150ml. Be aware that this is much smaller than most juice bottle portions in the shop! The reason for this is that fruit juices, even when freshly squeezed, contain a high sugar content without you feeling like you’ve consumed much. Drinking a lot can lead to excess calorie intake without the satisfaction of having had an indulgent meal or snack.

5) Movement

Note: this is movement, not exercise. Whereas exercise makes up about 5% of our energy expenditure (how many calories we use), Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT, makes up about 15%. This NEAT is essentially movement: walking around, washing up, gardening, fiddling with your pen. The more you move each day, the more energy you’ll use, which can be helpful if you’re finding it difficult to fit in a workout.

More importantly, being sedentary is associated with a higher risk of medical issues, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, colon cancer and osteoporosis, as well as psychological issues such as depression and anxiety.

The answer? Move as much and as regularly as possible. Prioritise time every hour to refill your water bottle, grab another tea or go for a short walk around the block. Just stretching will feel good too and your eyes will appreciate a break from the screen.

It’s common for people to worry about what others in the office think of them for taking a break; however, this is often a reflection of your own concerns, and not theirs.

If you judge someone for taking a coffee break, try taking a different perspective. Are they really lazy, or are they giving themselves an energy boost? Do ten minutes really make a difference when you consider how long you spend in the office, and the increased risk of negative consequences that come with being sedentary for long periods of time?

Now is a perfect time to set an example for both yourself and others – set up a new routine that makes you feel happy and healthy, rather than tired and tense.

For healthy snack ideas for the office, sign up to Kimberley’s Quick Bite newsletter here and get your FREE Guide to Healthy Snacking.

Photo by Nielsen Ramon