The 6 Worst Meal Mistakes You're Making at Work

For many, their workdays are a well-oiled machine—except when it comes to food. While you may wake up right with your alarm, plan all your meetings to fit perfectly in your schedule and have a system that allows you to hit every deadline, food can often be the messiest part of the day. Often, those meals and snacks are eaten on the fly, mindlessly and without a plan.

What you choose to eat every day while at the office can have consequences on both your health and your weight—rushing through a vending-machine breakfast or forgetting to stop for lunch is not doing your health goals any favors. In between checking your email and chatting by the water cooler, take some time to educate yourself the most common mistakes people make when eating at work, and discover easy solutions to get your eating habits back on the right track.

Mistake #1: Not planning meals and snacks

Many people head to work and the last thing on their mind is food. However, when those hunger pangs hit, they tend to run to the closest location that serves food. Oftentimes, that can end up being fast food or a quick-fix that is neither filling nor healthy.

Fix It: According to Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., owner of the blog Better Is the New Perfect, "Eating a nourishing, balanced lunch at work is key to preventing an energy slump in the afternoon, and it sets you up to eat better at night because you are not ravenous." Ward suggests bringing lunch to work. "Shop on the weekend for ingredients for lunches that you will look forward to [eating] when hunger strikes. Bringing your lunch is cheaper than buying a sad lunch from the company cafe or opting for expensive, high-calorie takeout fare."

Mistake #2: Skipping (or skimping) breakfast

While people rarely forget their cell phones at home as they rush out the door in the morning, breakfast is another story. Whether you skip or skimp on breakfast in the morning, the habit can leave your tummy grumbling at your desk and make it tough to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Research shows that skipping breakfast can also lead to overeating during your next meal.

Fix It: "It's no secret that powering up with a balanced breakfast is vital for all-day energy and weight management," says Sarah Chapel, R.D., C.D.E., a health educator with Henry Ford Allegiant Health. Chapel explains that breakfast does not have to be complicated. She recommends easy options that can be made quickly, such as a scrambled egg on whole-grain toast; a whole-wheat tortilla topped with nut butter, banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon; or oatmeal topped with chopped nuts, berries and milk. If you find that you're not hungry in the morning, Chapel recommends cutting back on your evening snack and having dinner a little earlier.

Mistake #3: Working through lunch

Many busy employees work straight through lunch without pausing to eat or drink anything, which can quickly backfire. "If you wait until you're over-hungry to eat, it's difficult to craft a nutritious, balanced meal," explains Chelsey Amer, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Chelsey Amer Nutrition

Fix It: It is important to take a break from work and set aside the time to eat. If you tend to get lost in your work and forget to eat, Amer recommends setting an alarm to remind yourself to get up from your desk, stretch, get a cup of water and check-in with your mid-day hunger. It is a great way to remind yourself to take time to fuel your body so you can perform your best for the rest of your day.

Mistake #4: Eating lunch at your desk

Eating lunch at your desk is a big no-no. According to Meridan Zerner, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian at the Cooper Clinic in Texas, "Many professionals eat lunch at their desk while continuing to work without taking any kind of physical, mental or renewal break. This sets the stage for distracted eating where we may overeat, eat quickly and get less satisfaction out the food."

Fix It: Zerner recommends making a commitment to spend at least 10 minutes (preferably more) away from screens and the stressors to slow down and mindfully enjoy your meal. If this is not something you are used to doing, give it a whirl and see how you feel after a few days.

Mistake #5: Break room snacking

How often have you peeked into the break room to check out if anyone left homemade cookies, leftover candy or other treats? According to Colleen Christensen, R.D.N., owner of Colleen Christensen Nutrition, "A lot of people see treats in the break room and automatically feel pulled to eat them because they are there." This mindless sort of snacking can lead to consumption of extra, unnecessary calories, though, and if done regularly, may cause weight gain.

Fix It: Christensen says that before going in the break room, do a quick check-in with your hunger level and evaluate if you truly want food. She recommends asking yourself, "Is the cake, donut or cookie stale? Would you rather pick up a freshly baked one on the way home?" If you decide you truly do want to eat the food, then you should do so mindfully without any guilt.

Mistake #6: Bringing leftover sweets to the office

After the holidays, many people like to get rid of their leftover goodies by bringing them to the community work kitchen. Although this may seem like you are doing a good deed, in reality, it doesn't make much sense. According to Joan Salge Blake, Ed.D., R.D.N., a nutrition professor at Boston University and host of the health and wellness podcast, SpotOn!, "You are now surrounded by [your treats] all day long, rather than just in your home!"

Lisa Andrews, M.Ed., R.D., owner of Sound Bites Nutrition, agrees and warns that, without a lot of self-control, you will end up eating these junk foods when you are really not hungry. "Part of this may be peer pressure, or [just be] related to boredom or stress at work."

Fix It: Salge Blake recommends nipping the problem in the bud from the get-go by serving guests individual desserts over the holidays or at a gathering so there are no leftovers to bring to the office. "Rather than serving a large cake for dessert, order or bake the exact amount of cupcakes for your guests," she shares.

If extra portions can't be avoided, Andrews recommends planning ahead by packing some healthy snacks that you like and will eat instead of your leftover treats when you're at work. To satisfy your sweet tooth, Andrews recommends cocoa-dusted nuts, which are lower in sugar than leftover chocolate-covered almonds. Another way to avoid tempting leftovers is to avoid the location where all the treats are stored. If that is the break room, for example, avoid passing by it for a few days until the goodies have been consumed by others.