How to Avoid Weight Gain While Working a Desk Job

Four Parts:Choosing Healthy Meals and SnacksAdding Physical ActivitySetting Up for Long-Term SuccessDefining Your Goals

Office workers, especially those with a desk job, spend most of the day sitting down working at a computer. It can be very easy to gain weight in an environment where you're expected to sit still for anywhere from 8-9 hours a day. Here are some steps you can use to avoid gaining weight while working a desk job, and perhaps lose some weight you've already gained.

Part 1
Choosing Healthy Meals and Snacks

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    Pack your lunches. Packing lunches is a great start to beat office weight gain. It's so easy to fall into the habit of getting take out, cafeteria food or going to restaurants with friends. But many times those foods are much high in calories and fat. You can control those factors when you pack your own healthy meal.
    • Always make sure to pack lunches that have lean protein and fruits or vegetables. The combination of these foods will keep you satisfied throughout your long work day.
    • Make packing your lunches fun. Purchase a new lunch box and small tupperware for convenient packaging.
    • Quicken your morning routine and pack your lunch at night. Whether it's leftovers or a salad, if your lunch is packed at night and ready to go in the morning, you're more likely to bring it with you to work.
    • Healthy packed lunch options can include: spinach salad with grilled chicken, vegetables and vinaigrette dressing; 2 lettuce wraps with deli meat and sliced cheese and a small piece of fruit; whole wheat wrap with slice vegetables, avocado and hummus with a small piece of fruit; or homemade chili with shredded cheese, diced onions and avocado.
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    Choose healthy restaurant options. Whether it's a company meeting or someone's birthday, you'll probably eat out a few times for lunch. Try to stick to healthier options when you're eating out. Remember, restaurant food generally is higher in calories.
    • If you do eat in a restaurant or cafeteria, look for smaller portions. Do they offer half a sandwich with a salad or cup of soup? Is there a salad bar?
    • Split an entree with a friend. This will automatically cut your portion in half and limit the calories you consume. This is also a good idea if you're in the mood for something more indulgent.
    • Ask your server to box up half your entree before it arrives. If it's out of sight, it'll be out of mind.
    • Research the restaurant and menu prior to arriving. This will help you determine what healthy options are available. Arriving prepared will help keep you from falling for the temptations of specials and help to keep you on track with your healthy eating plan.
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    Ditch large or carbohydrate rich meals. Big meals or ones that are high in carbohydrates like pasta or pizza, can make you feel tired, foggy and groggy - like a "food coma" - in the afternoon. This can trigger more snacking afterwards for a needed jolt of energy.
    • Avoid the afternoon slump by skipping these larger meals and sticking to your healthier packed lunch.
    • Still feeling tired after lunch? Take a quick walk to wake you up! This will revitalize your brain without the extra snack calories.
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    Snack healthy. You will need a snack once in a while, especially if you work long hours or there's more than 4-5 hours between any two of your meals. If you can't rely on healthy vending machine choices, pack your own snacks. That way, you won't be tempted by sugary treats!
    • Snacks should always contain protein and a fruit or vegetable. This power team gives you the needed energy and fuel to keep you going through your busy day.[1]
    • Snacks should also be "snack" sized, not a mini meal. Stick will pre-portioned snacks or give yourself a calorie limit like 200 calories per snack.
    • Healthy snack options include things like: carrots and hummus, a low-fat cheese stick and an apple, celery sticks with peanut butter or low-fat yogurt with fruit.
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    Skip the candy bowl. Candy bowls, vending machines and break rooms can be loaded with tempting sweets and other high calorie treats. Skip those options and stick to your packed lunch and snacks.
    • If it's hard to keep your hand out of your co-worker's candy jar, avoid walking by their desk or take a different route to your destination.
    • Don't look into the vending machine. Even with the best intentions, sometimes even glancing at that candy bar might be too tempting to resist. Don't tease yourself and stick to your plan.
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    Drink 64 ounces of water daily. A minimum of eight glasses or 64 oz of clear, sugar-free liquids like water, iced tea or no-calorie flavored waters will help you maintain a healthy diet and body. Often, dehydration feels like hunger and tempts you to snack or eat more than you should.[2]
    • Monitor the volume of liquids you consume by purchasing a labeled water bottle. This will help you achieve your water goal throughout the day.
    • Even mild dehydration has side effects. Many times, dehydration can cause afternoon fatigue and grogginess.[3] Prevent this by sipping all day long.
    • Stay away from sodas and sugary drinks. They're very tempting, and can help you stay awake while working away, but they are full of empty calories in the form of sugar. If you still need the caffeine, consider coffee or tea with skim milk and limited sweetener.
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    Remove temptations from your desk. Spend some time going through your desk, cubby or locker and remove any treats or tempting foods you may have hidden away. Once all the candy, chips and crackers are gone, you can replace those items with healthier snacks.
    • Stock up your desk drawer or locker with healthy, shelf-stable snack foods. Low-calorie protein bars, sturdy fruits like apples or portion-controlled bags of nuts are good options to have on hand.
    • Make a list of healthy snacks you want to have for the week. Then, each weekend, you can shop and prepare your healthy snacks and bring your week's worth each Monday morning.

Part 2
Adding Physical Activity

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    Move every 60-90 minutes. There are a variety of side effects associated with sitting too long—anything from weight gain and back problems to loss of muscle mass and softening of your bones.[4] To prevent these health conditions, move around every hour. Don't let yourself get caught too long at your desk without moving.
    • Set a timer on your phone or computer to help remind you to move.
    • Drink lots and lots of water. The more water you drink, the more often you'll be up using the restroom.
    • Give yourself a goal to get up and move at least 5-8 times a day and keep track of your progress each week.
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    Count your steps. Pedometers and fitness bands are a popular ways to monitor how much you step and move throughout the day. Aiming for at least 10,000 steps or about five miles a day may help you lose or maintain your weight and help keep you in shape.[5]
    • Find ways to walk more throughout your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away, get up to deliver a message instead of emailing it or walk to a bathroom further away from your desk.
    • Download a free app on your phone, purchase an affordable pedometer or indulge with a fitness watch or band for a fun way to track your daily steps.
    • 10,000 steps should be your ultimate goal each day. If you're not there yet, creep up on the ultimate goal by setting mini-goals over time. For example, increase your steps by 200, 500, or 1,000 each day until you have met and surpassed the ultimate goal on an ongoing basis.
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    Take an exercise break. You don't need a gym or running shoes to put a little exercise in your day. Try chair exercises and other small exercises you can do comfortably at your desk. Spend 10-15 minutes on your lunch break doing doing these activities to help break the routine of sitting habit and limit the unhealthy effects of sitting so long. There are many sites online that offer ideas for exercising in your chair. Do a quick online search for some good ideas. [6]
    • Review your schedule the day before and see if you can fit in just a few minutes of exercise - 10 minutes before a meeting or a 20 minutes during some down time. Schedule it so you remember!
    • De-stress after a long meeting with a quick yoga routine. It requires little to no equipment and you won't need to worry about getting too sweaty.
    • Try standing as you type or send emails. Standing is better for your posture and helps engage more muscle groups than sitting.
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    Add light cardio to your day. Take a few minutes daily to increase your heart rate and raise your breathing to a faster pace. Quick cardio moves can help burn calories through your day. In addition, these little sessions can help bring you out of an afternoon slump!
    • Take walks at lunchtime or before or after work. Get out and walk around the building, or the block. Get some natural sunlight if weather permits. If the weather is crummy, visit the nearest stairwell for a workout.
    • Run in place at your desk or do a few knee raises or jumping jacks to get your heart rate up.
    • Swap out your desk for a standing or treadmill desk to keep you moving while you work. Or change out your desk chair for a fitness stability ball to help strength core muscles.
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    Perform strength training exercises. If you don't have time for a gym trip, add some simple weight lifting exercises to your week. Just 2-3 days a week is a good goal. Strength training helps build muscle, burn calories and keeps you fit!
    • Consider buying a small set of weights for bicep curls, lateral raises or shoulder presses. Or find office furniture to help do some isometric activities like wall push-ups, tricep dips from a stable chair or sitting leg raises.
    • "Use loading time to keep fit." If you want to, exercise while waiting for things on the computer to load. Do a couple of squats, bicep curls or stretches.
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    Purchase a treadmill or standing desk. This is a great option for more activity at work. You can either walk or stand as you do work!
    • Set a goal for yourself each day. For example, walk 2,000 steps every hour or stand for 1 hour before sitting for 30 mins.
    • Ask your office manager or HR department if they'd split the cost with you since these desks can be a little expensive.

Part 3
Setting Up for Long-Term Success

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    Find a support group. No matter what health goal you have, having a support group in place is key for long-term success. Whether it's your spouse, family, friends or co-workers, a support group are your cheerleaders that will motivate and encourage through your progress.
    • If friends and family don't jump on your healthy weight loss bandwagon, think about finding an online support group or a local group to meet up with. Email new friends that share your long-term goals.
    • You can even sign up for diet programs like Weight Watchers just to go to their weekly support group meetings. You'll meet plenty of other dieters on the same mission.
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    Create a club at work. You're probably not the only one in your office that's interested in getting healthier. Find some like-minded co-workers and make a club or group that's focused on weight loss. They'll be a great support but can also help improve the overall office environment. If everyone is trying to eat healthier, there may be less sweet treats hanging around.
    • Get competitive with your co-workers. See who can get the most steps or pack their lunches the most days in a row! A little friendly competition or a fun prize is always a good motivator.
    • Your new group can also be great way to get out of the office for a quick lunch break walk. Everyone needs a few minutes away from their desk! Take advantage of this and bring your group outside for a walk.
    • Swap healthy recipes and meal ideas with your group. Recipe ruts can lead you right back to old habits of eating out. Creating a recipe swap with your weight loss group can help keep things spiced up in the kitchen.
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    Set up accountability measures. It's easy to write up some goals, but it can be difficult to put your new lifestyle changes into practice. Finding ways to stay accountable and measure your progress is essential to long-term success. That means weighing yourself regularly, counting your daily steps, measuring your blood sugar or keeping a food journal (no matter what you eat).
    • Consider what you need for your accountability. Maybe you need to purchase a scale or download a food journal app on your phone. Make sure you have these items in place prior to starting your lifestyle changes.
    • Telling a friend or family member about your goals is another great method of staying accountable. Knowing that other people are aware of your goals and are aware of your actions can help keep you on track.
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    Make changes to your life outside the office. Even with better eating and snack habits at work, weight gain can come from habits outside of your office as well. Spend some time evaluating your behaviors at home. Do you eat large portions at dinner? Do you typically get take out or fast food? Do you eat dessert or snacks after dinner? These habits can sabotage the good work you're doing at your office.
    • Take some time and write out some habits you have at home that might be preventing you from losing weight or attributing to weight gain. Add these to your lifestyle changes at work to make sure you have a well-rounded plan of action.
    • Apply the same healthy eating habits to your meals and snacks at home. Focus on protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains as much as possible. Also, make sure your portions are appropriate.
    • Try to fit in additional physical activity outside of work. Spend a couple days of the week doing some cardio and 1-2 days on strength training. Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week.[7]

Part 4
Defining Your Goals

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    Calculate your healthy weight. Look up your BMI using a chart like this one. A BMI that's over 25 means you're overweight and may suggest that some weight loss could be beneficial.
    • Using that same chart, find the weight for your height that would put you into a healthy BMI category for 19-24.9. Subtract that healthy weight from your current weight to see about how much weight you should lose.
    • Speak to your doctor about your weight and weight loss plan to make sure it's a healthy and safe option for you.
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    Set weight loss goals. First set your ultimate weight loss goal, like 10 or 25 pounds. Then set smaller goals along the way. For example, you might want to lose 20 pounds in the next 3 months and you're going to lose 1-2 pounds each week.
    • Make sure to set safe, realistic weight loss goals. Weight loss of more than 1-2 pounds per week is generally not safe, healthy or sustainable long-term.[8]
    • Invest in a home scale so you can accurately weigh yourself each week.
    • Make a chart or record where you can record your progress. This will help you stay on track and motivate you as you go along.
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    Set lifestyle goals. Aside from weight loss, what other health-related goals do you have? Maybe you'd like to drink less soda, exercise more often or eat more fruits and vegetables? Generally, some characteristics about your lifestyle will change in order to lose weight. So goals like these will not only help you lose weight, but also improve your over health.
    • Write out each of your goals ensuring they are very specific, realistic and have a time limit. For example, "I'm going to exercise 3 days a week for 45 minutes for the next 3 months."
    • Choose one goal at a time. If you try to change multiple things in your life all at one time, it can be difficult, overwhelming and frustrating. Stick to 1 or 2 changes every week or so for long-term success.
    • Keep a journal to log your successes and challenges. Write about how easy or difficult some of these changes are.


  • Buy a fun water bottle with pictures or sayings, to inspire yourself to drink water. Do not fill it with anything other than water; make it special. Your water bottle also cuts down on your use of disposable cups.
  • Find alternate routes through your office building so you can add steps every day - like a bathroom father away.
  • Suck on ice cubes during hot weather. Doing so helps to cool you and stops you reaching for candies and soft drinks.
  • Try fruit, mints, gum or sugar free hard candies to satisfy your sweet cravings.

Things You'll Need

  • Water bottle
  • Pedometer/pedometer phone app
  • Healthy snacks
  • Lunch box and tupperware

Article Info

Categories: Diet & Lifestyle