How to Stop Mindless Snacking at Work

Navigating the Spectrum: Mindless Eating vs. Distracted Eating in the Context of Mental Health pic

Written By:


Ryann Nicole

When you google, “How do I stop mindless snacking at work?” you’ll likely come across advice like packing your own meals ahead of time, not keeping snacks in your office, and avoiding the break room. Yikes. To me, these tips suggest, “You can’t control yourself, so remove temptations.” This approach reinforces the belief that food is the problem, completely ignoring the real issue: why you feel like you can’t control yourself around food in the first place.

Sure, keeping snacks out of your office, packing your meals, and avoiding the break room can be useful short-term solutions, but they’re just band-aids. They don’t address the root cause. What happens when someone leaves snacks in your office, you don’t have time to pack lunch, or avoiding the break room isn’t an option? You’re back to square one. From my experience navigating my own obsession with snacks and coaching others on how to heal their relationship with food, I’ve learned that reaching for food without hunger goes much deeper.

In this blog, I’ll offer you realistic and practical strategies that go beyond the usual “just don’t buy the food” advice. Learn how to stop snacking at work without feeling like you need to white-knuckle it through every encounter with snacks.

Why Mindless Snackiness at Work Happens

For many, figuring out how to stop snacking at work starts with looking at how strict their diet is, but it can go even deeper. Our eating habits are about more than just keeping snacks “out of sight and out of mind.” Often, the urge to eat when we’re not hungry is connected to our emotions, even if we don’t realize it. [1] 

Here are some common reasons why you might feel the need to snack at work and what you can do to stop:

Stress at Work

Stress often dictates our food choices at work. With hectic schedules, looming project deadlines, and the weight of expectations, it’s tempting to reach for office snacks, especially when they’re readily available. When stress kicks in, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that ramps up your appetite and triggers cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods. [2] These snacks offer a quick energy boost and comfort, making them irresistible during overwhelming moments.

Picture this: You’re facing a looming project deadline, working long hours under mounting pressure. Stress and anxiety creep in, and every trip past the break room feels like a battle against the allure of cookies and chips. Even if you packed a nutritious lunch, the stress may push you towards the cookies and chips for a quick mood lift.

Snacking as Procrastination

Projects can leave us feeling vulnerable as our work is subjected to scrutiny—from bosses, readers, or clients. Vulnerability, though not inherently negative, is challenging to navigate. And what better distraction from vulnerability than snacking?

Consider this scenario: You’re tasked with a significant presentation, feeling jittery about your boss’s reaction. Despite lacking hunger, the nerves prompt you to seek solace in snacks. Similarly, while drafting a report, anxiety about client feedback may drive you to reach for snacks as a means of comfort.

Restrictions at Home Fuel Office Temptations

Think of yourself like a toddler going to Target and seeing all the toys they don’t have. What happens? They want ALL OF THEM, even though they already have plenty of toys at home. Why is that? As humans, we always want what we don’t have. The same goes for you with food. If you don’t allow yourself to have snacks at home, then the special office snacks will constantly tempt you.

For instance, if you avoid buying chips for your home due to health concerns, you’ll find yourself drawn to them in the office break room. The mentality of “I can’t have this at home, so I might as well have it now” becomes a familiar tug-of-war.

Fear of Food Waste

In many workplaces, free food is a common perk; whether it’s a birthday celebration or snacks in the breakroom. This abundance can trigger a fear of wasting food and money. Studies have shown that those who struggle with food waste are much more likely to eat past fullness to ensure there is no waste. [4] 

What if we flipped the fear of wasting money around? Instead of seeing it as “throwing away $10,” what if it was “investing $10 in my health by listening to my hunger and fullness?” Think about how much money you’ve spent trying to overcome food struggles or lose weight. Yes, it’s natural to hesitate over spending a few dollars on “free food” at the office. But what if, instead, you saw it as investing in yourself and your well-being?

Not Giving Yourself A Lunch Break

Skipping your lunch break and snacking all day instead can actually lead to more snacking. When you don’t take a proper break to eat a meal, your body doesn’t get the chance to feel full and satisfied. This can make you feel hungrier later on, causing you to reach for more snacks throughout the day.

For example, let’s say you skip lunch because you’re busy at work. By mid-afternoon, you’re feeling really hungry because you haven’t had a proper meal. So, you start snacking on chips and cookies to curb your hunger. But because these snacks don’t fill you up like a real meal would, you end up eating even more snacks later on to try to feel satisfied.

Eating At Your Desk

I understand, you’re busy and it’s hard to step away. But guess what? You can spare just 10 minutes to have lunch away from your desk. You can. Here’s the deal: eating at your desk while working might seem fine, but it can make you eat more. When you’re not fully focused on your food, your body doesn’t realize how much you’ve eaten. [5]

Have you ever finished reading something and thought, “I have no idea what I just read”? When your mind is elsewhere, even though you’re going through the motions (like eating, reading, or driving), it can feel like it didn’t really happen.

How to Stop Mindless Snacking at Work

Now that you understand the main reasons why mindless snacking at work happens (and notice none of them were that you’re just weak or lack willpower), let’s discuss some practical solutions for making empowered decisions about what to eat while you’re at work.

Please hear me out: this isn’t about labeling snacking at work as bad or wrong. Sometimes, you simply want to snack at your desk, and that’s okay. However, if this starts to feel like a habit or something you can’t control, it’s time to address it! Here’s what you can do:

Step One: Start Your Day With A Filling Breakfast

Having a hearty breakfast fuels your day and helps stabilize your energy levels. This means you won’t be constantly thinking about food right after you start working.

Step Two: Bring A Lunch You Actually Like

It’s important to pack a lunch that you genuinely enjoy. If you’re not excited about what you brought, you’ll be more tempted by office snacks. So, make sure your lunch is both healthy and tasty!

Step Three: Give Yourself Breaks for Lunch and Snacks

Take breaks away from your desk to eat your lunch and snacks. This helps you focus on your food and separates eating from work, which can reduce mindless snacking.

Step Four: Add Stress Relievers Into Your Day

Work can be stressful, but you can intentionally add in small stress-relief activities throughout your day. Take a deep breath, listen to calming music, or step outside for a moment. These little breaks can make a big difference.

Step Five: Keep Fun Snacks at Home

Having fun snacks available at home means they won’t feel as special or tempting at work. Knowing you can have them whenever you want takes away the compulsive feeling around them.

By tackling mindless snacking, you’ll not only feel better physically at work but also improve your focus and productivity by separating work from eating. Plus, addressing the emotional triggers behind snacking builds a deeper connection with your body, which is pretty amazing!

The Goal Is Freedom of Choice with Office Snacks

All of this to say, it’s not about labeling office snacks as “bad” or deeming it wrong to eat at your desk. Instead, it’s about you being in control—you make the choice! There’s no right or wrong, no good or bad. It’s about recognizing that regardless of the snacks available at the office, you are and will be okay!

10 Things To Add To Your Coping Box 

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An emotional coping box, also known as a self-soothe or comfort box, is a personalized collection of items that can help individuals cope with difficult emotions, stress, or challenging situations. It’s a tangible and accessible resource that provides comfort and distraction during moments of distress. Here are 10 things you can consider adding to your emotional coping box:

Comfort Objects

Include items that bring you comfort, such as a soft blanket, stuffed animal, or cozy socks. These tactile objects can provide a sense of security and grounding.

Positive Affirmations

Write down or print out affirmations and positive quotes that resonate with you. Reading these affirmations can help shift your mindset and promote self-compassion.

Sensory Items

Incorporate items that engage your senses, such as scented candles, essential oils, or stress-relief lotion. Pleasant scents can have a calming effect.

Fidget Toys or Stress Balls

Include small items like stress balls, fidget spinners, or textured toys. These can serve as a physical outlet for nervous energy and help redirect focus.

Journal and Pen

Keep a journal or notebook to write down your thoughts, feelings, and reflections. Journaling can be a therapeutic way to express and process emotions.

Photographs or Mementos

Include pictures of loved ones, happy memories, or items that hold sentimental value. Visual reminders of positive experiences can bring comfort and perspective.

Guided Relaxation or Meditation Resources

Include a small audio player or device with pre-loaded guided relaxation or meditation sessions. These can help you practice mindfulness and manage stress.

Playlist of Uplifting Music

Create a playlist of music that brings you joy or relaxation. Music has the power to influence mood, and having a go-to playlist can be a quick mood booster.

List of Coping Strategies

Write down a list of healthy coping strategies that work for you. This could include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or simple activities that bring you a sense of peace.

Remember, the contents of your emotional coping box should be tailored to your preferences and needs. Regularly review and update the items to ensure they remain effective for you over time. The goal is to have a readily available toolkit that supports your emotional well-being during challenging moments.

Ryann Nicole

Licensed Therapist, Certified Nutritionist, and Virtual Wellness Coach

Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

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Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.