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How to Stop Eating Free Office Food

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Apr 19 2016

Here’s what they won’t tell you about IDEO, or for that matter any company where you might happen to work: It will make you fat.

If you’re not careful, that is. If you have tendencies toward indulgence. If you’re running on four hours' sleep thanks to an incredibly wakeful baby who recently exited your womb and moved into your house. If you like food.

It’s not that the food is unhealthy, it’s that it’s so plentiful. A nicely stocked office fridge and pantry is one thing; day after day of roasted brussels sprouts, kale and beet quinoa, and lemon chicken thighs left over from catered meetings is another. Not to mention the green tea Kit Kats brought back from research trips to Japan, the home-baked butter biscuits whipped up by well-meaning office mates, the bottomless bins of chocolate-covered almonds and cheddar bunnies taunting you behind those cabinet doors. All right, maybe the food’s not the healthiest.

I needed a plan, a tool of some kind to wield wooden-cross-style in the face of so much vampiric deliciousness.

For most people the food at my workplace is a dream come true, but for me it quickly becomes a nightmare of unchecked indulgence. When I came back from maternity leave, I knew I needed help. I needed a plan, a tool of some kind to wield wooden-cross-style in the face of so much vampiric deliciousness. I found that tool in my iPhone camera and a Tumblr feed.

I Didn’t Eat This is a blog of all the food at IDEO I’ve managed not to eat.

I didn’t eat this piece of soft apple cinnamon donut that is so small it probably wouldn’t even count.

Photographing treats gave me a different way to consume them. I still got to have my moment with that cookie. While framing it up on my phone, I could savor its delectableness and availability—its sultry, loose, wanton availability, just sitting there on that napkin all alone—but then, instead of popping it in my mouth, I'd just hit a button and move on. I’d leave satisfied, yet the cookie would remain. One of my coworkers remarked that when I snapped a pic, I was capturing the cookie’s soul.

Sharing the blog became important, too. Word got around the office that I was using I Didn’t Eat This as tool for behavior change. The accountability helped. With every post, someone would joke that they had, in fact, eaten it—all the spiced carrot cake with orange-scented frosting that somebody brought from home—and I told them that was great. The blog wasn’t about shame or guilt. It celebrated food. And it celebrated my growing ability to say no to it. 

One of my coworkers remarked that when I snapped a pic, I was capturing the cookie’s soul.

I didn’t eat this pesto and mozzarella sandwich with some kind of flaky pastry crust bread from a catering company that just dropped it and other food off for free because they want our business.

And, amazingly, it started to work. I replaced one behavior with another and the pounds began to drop. True, my new habit kept the cupcakes out of my piehole, but its real power was that it made me mindful. I now experienced a moment of choice — of personal agency — when I spied something yummy in the kitchen. Did I want to eat that yumminess or take its picture? Taste the food or just toast to it?

I didn’t eat this Nutella that is there every day all day on the shelf in the cabinet.

I’m now about eleven months into this experiment and I wish I could say that sticky brioche french toast bites no longer hold my mind prisoner, but nothing is ever that easy. I will say, though, that the moments of agency build on one another. It feels good to be in control. Soon after I started the blog, I found myself dusting off the old food-tracker app, drinking more water, and eventually working out. 

It’s rare that I stick with any behavior for more than a few months at a time, but whenever one slips out of reach, another is there to rise and take its place, like an endless supply of chocolate-covered almonds. Or another slice of spiced carrot cake with orange-scented frosting. Or a cheddar-cheese arepa with chipotle aioli, all cozied up in a handy to-go wrapper.

Maybe I better go free up some space on my iPhone.

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