The November, 2004, issue of Health listed some interesting numbers in their “vital stats” back page. Someone must have studied the consumption of chocolate kisses based on proximity. They report office workers will eat an average 8.6 kisses per day when the candy is left out on their desks, 5.7 per day when left in their desk drawer, and 3 kisses per day when placed 6 feet from their desks. Proximity rules.
Does that sound like an obvious set of statistics? Yeah, it probably is, but if you extrapolate the extra calories out, from no kisses in the office at all to 8.6 kisses per day, five days per week, you’re talking about an office worker who could gain as much as 20 pounds of weight by the end of that work year.
When food is very convenient, in our path, we will eat it whether we need it, are hungry for it, or not. We are programmed to seek out, find, and consume calories. Wired. Many of us eat in a distracted way, without thought we work hand-to-mouth, inhaling far more calories than we really need.
Many of us eat in an addictive way. Some of us would have eaten more of those kisses than others in that experiment when the suggestion of availability bumps up against the chemistry and psychology of chocoholism. Some of us might skew the results of the experiment by eating all of the kisses issued to the researcher, the ones on my desk, on your desk, in anybody’s desk drawers. Some of us will tackle the researcher to the ground and rifle through their pockets until we have found and consumed every last kiss.
My son-in-law just left the house in search for something sweet to eat. Poor guy, the lack of snack food under my roof is unsettling for him. His skinny self likes to have a snack or two every day, and can completely manage the amount of sweet food he eats. I cannot. If there are sweets in my house, I can’t really concentrate until they have been consumed, can’t relax until they are gone again. Proximity rules.
I can and will do some work on my inability to concentrate when chips or ice cream are under my roof, just as soon as I can find the time. This will come after I’ve mastered knitting and Spanish. After reorganizing my spice drawer and garage. Yup, I’ll definitely go in for the therapy I need. For sure.
Meantime, though, our most effective strategy for keeping weight off is to keep these things out of our house, or at least off of our most traveled paths. And now that the season is open on sweets and salty snacks, I’m ready to focus, yet again, on ways I can keep extra calories out of sight, out of mind. Here are things I’ve learned to do.
Take a notebook and take a walk through the house to note where food is stored, how easily reached and convenient the fruits and veggies are compared with the reach and sight-lines for the low-nutrient, high-calorie snacks. Reorganize your food storage to make the healthier foods more available: pre-washed veggies and nuts in serving portions, stored in small reusable containers, low-fat cheeses sliced in 1-oz. servings waiting in a baggie. Pitch or place low-value (high calorie, low nutrient, low fiber) foods well out of reach and behind doors, in baskets, out of sight. Keep a full fruit bowl in the middle of your kitchen.
The optimum avoidance plan is eliminating low-value foods from your house, but that can be pretty hard around the holidays or wherever calorie needy people dwell. So try storing the treats in opaque containers and placing the containers well out of reach, or even in some room other than the kitchen. The basement? The garage? A freezer in your neighbor’s house? Get them out when the time is right for treats, and place them close to the folks who will eat them and farther from you. Have someone nearby when it’s time to wrap them up and store them again.
Teach your kids to put the snack foods and desserts away when they are finished with them. Explain how this will help keep your whole family healthy.
Get help. Maybe there’s someone in your family who doesn’t have as hard a time limiting these foods as you do. Ask them to handle the foods, store them, tuck them away. No reason you should have to handle foods that make you weak, actually. Delegate!
Don’t bake. A radical idea, isn’t it? You can assign this work too. Hand your family recipes over to someone else in the family, or ask a local artisan bakery to make up a batch or two for you and store it in a plastic container you provide. It might not feel quite as authentic to you, and might be an expensive option, but if it keeps you from eating one batch of frosted sugar cookies all by yourself while offering the next batch to family, it’ll probably be worth it.
Don’t bake at all. Last year I didn’t bake and didn’t buy and didn’t give food as gifts, but ended up with just as many treats in my house as if I had. I saved myself thousands of calories from the consumption of unbaked dough. Nobody died. Nobody starved. Nobody lost their sense of cultural identity (you can’t diminish a Czech’s sense of cultural identity very easily, it turns out). I wasn’t dropped from my family. I’m not sure I could get away with that every year without revolt, but for one year, when I was feeling especially vulnerable, it worked out pretty well.
Buddy up. If you hate the idea of not baking or cooking, then buddy up when cooking with someone who completely understands your difficulty with food. Have a healthy, high-protein meal before you begin and healthy snacks to nibble on while the batches bake. Keep your buddy on hand for the entire baking process, from mixing ingredients to storing the stuff away and cleaning up. Your buddy’s job is to keep you from over-sampling the treats, eating the dough and frosting and chocolate chips.
Bake the things that don’t particularly appeal to you, and then throw a cookie swap. Wrap your cookies while the guests are still there, storing them in plastic tubs. Seal the tubs with duct tape if you have to. Hand them off for storing out of sight or off-site.
If your identity is kind of wrapped up in the food you make, consider building a new holiday identity for yourself. Learn to make stuff, not food. In the time it takes you to bake batches of cookies or candies, you can make pretty origami tree ornaments, handmade post holiday thank you notes, decorate batches of wrapping paper, make groovy holiday gift tags, consumable, non-edible hostess and buddy gifts. You might actually burn a few calories crafting instead of baking.
Burn a few more calories. Truth is, no matter how careful we are, we’re bound to suck up some extra calories this season. All of these efforts will help us keep the food out of our path and the extra calories lower. But if we punch up our exercise routines a bit, we can manage both the extra calories and holiday stress. Add more minutes, another set of reps, an extra mile, one more class.
And ask your coworkers to keep their kisses off your desk. (Maybe even off of theirs too.)