By Lou Walker

Lou Walker is a workplace health and wellbeing consultant. She conducted the office cake research as part of her MSc in Obesity & Weight Management at the University of Chester. The research is currently under peer review but a summary report is available for free download from www.louwalker.com.

January is a great time to embrace healthy new eating habits and after Christmas indulgence, motivation is often high. Hooray! It’s going to be great!

But it’s hard to keep those resolutions going, especially when the rest of the world seems determined to lure us back to sugar and convenient, fast food that’s available everywhere. Including at work. Even when we know the links between sugar, excess weight and cancers, when our workplace is just as full of tempting treats as the high street, it is extra hard to resist the sweet stuff.

We spend around half our waking hours at work so our workplace influences our health. How can we make it easier to be healthy at work and support colleagues to achieve our healthy resolutions?

We could start a conversation about office cake – cakes and confectionery brought in for colleagues to share.

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My research surveyed 940 UK office workers and found cake was available for almost all respondents at least once or twice a week, with three quarters saying it was displayed in the main working area.   However, while 31% found office cake led to weight gain and 37% said it made it hard to eat healthily at work, 81% said it brings people together and 83% said it cheers people up.  How do we balance these counter positions? Is there a way to retain office cake’s social benefits while reducing the health consequences?  The good news is that the research findings suggest there is a way.

Almost all (95%) those surveyed thought the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less. This suggests that while many of us enjoy a cake and a break from work to socialise, almost all of us would be happy doing so much less often that is currently the case. And – be honest – is that day-long spread of cakes on the desk for people to help themselves to really be very sociable? Wouldn’t it be more fun to choose a time once a week, say, to celebrate birthdays and catch up with colleagues?

If we don’t want office cake as often as we’re actually having it, why is it so common? Probably because we are sociable beings. We see our colleagues eat it and we don’t want to spoil anyone else’s enjoyment or risk being branded a spoilsport. So we say nothing and the cake continues. And we probably have a slice or two.

So if there was a conversation about cake, perhaps we would discover many of us feel the same about having less cake around.  This could lead to a healthier workplace that makes it easier to stick to healthy eating habits. It doesn’t mean no cake ever. It means deciding with colleagues how often to have it and being able to look forward to it. It would make cake special again.

Have a think about it. No… have a conversation about it! We have nothing to lose but the weight. And we all have our health to gain!

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Suggestions for starting a conversation about cake

  • Mention or share this blog or my TEDx talk about the research with your close colleagues, your immediate team perhaps. Ask what they think.
  • How often would work for you and your colleagues to have cake? What will you do if there are three birthdays in one week? What alternatives would work to thank or recognise someone? What about people bringing edible gifts back from trips abroad?
  • Store cakes out of sight (and out of mind) until cake time, then no one has to rely on willpower to resist them.
  • Offer an alternative (fruit was the most popular alternative to cake in the survey but discuss others. Cheese? Nuts?)
  • Enjoy the cake while socialising with colleagues. Savour it.
  • Then put the cakes away, take them home, decide what to do with any left overs – but don’t leave them lying around to tempt anyone.