Dealing with the snack table
March 7, 2018 4:18 AM   Subscribe

We have a snack table at work, refilled regularly with sweets. I would like to avoid it, but find this difficult. Help!

I work in a small area of a somewhat larger (but not huge) office. There are around 10 people in my area. One of them, with apparent support of others, has set up a snack table. This snack table is regularly refilled with junk food (cookies, brownies, donuts, chocolate) though the group does also occasionally put out fruit.

I do not see the snack table from my desk, but I see it every time I leave my desk for any reason (bathroom, break room, lunch, etc).

Others often discuss the snack table and its contents. The person who seems to have started it/be in charge of it regularly urges people to eat the food on it.

I do not want to eat this junk, but I like junk food and so I am very tempted by it and either give in and eat it or spend a ridiculous amount of energy thinking about how much I want to eat it/trying hard to avoid it.

I eat reasonably well at home and bring my own healthy food to work, and as I mentioned they do have fruit there - but the reality is that the junk is more temping. In general I do ok if I simply don't have junk food in my presence - but this is essentially in my face much of the day.

There is at least one other person who doesn't like it, but he has managed to avoid it and seems disinclined to say anything. I do occasionally hear other people say omg this is so unhealthy but I can't tell if they actually don't like it or are just bonding over how we all eat too much junk food.

What suggestions or strategies do you have to deal with this kind of situation? "Just don't eat it" is great in theory but it's not working in reality - I'd like some tips as to how to just not eat it. Also: I have so far assumed that I cannot ask that it be changed, but if you think that is a reasonable request, how would you have that conversation?
posted by 2 cats in the yard to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Could the items be moved to a snack cupboard or snack filing cabinet drawer?
posted by nathaole at 4:26 AM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Possibly related to the "can I ask that this be changed" part of the question: I am in a different dept than all these people and do not work directly with any of them. I have a casual but I think reasonably friendly relationship with several of them, including the person who seems to "own" the thing.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:27 AM on March 7, 2018

Is there a healthy snack that - if you ate it, even regularly - you would be okay with? You could suggest/request that to whoever stocks the snack table (and even donate money toward buying it regularly, assuming these are being bought with employees money and not coming from some departmental budget). I think everyone understands control issues, but asking to add one more yummy thing to the snack table will probably be much more likely to work than asking them to change it. Fruit is harder because of cost and refrigeration issues, but anything shelf-stable and easily available should be doable.

If there's no snack that would work for you, you could work on visualizing that the whole table is crawling with maggots or that the person who stocks it does so right after using the bathroom without washing their hands, and see if that lets you gross yourself out enough to avoid it.
posted by Mchelly at 4:41 AM on March 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I buy almonds and put them on the work snack table. Great crunch, healthy, nobody else seems to eat them. Helps stave off the other snacks.
posted by bbqturtle at 4:43 AM on March 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

I made it a rule to never eat junk food, ever. The sugar cravings the first two weeks were intense but when I stopped regularly eating refined sugar they went away.
posted by tooloudinhere at 4:47 AM on March 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Ugh. In your heart, are you an abstainer or a moderator?

Abstainer: If it is easier for you to never have something then just have the rule that you DO NOT eat from the snack table EVER. No discussion or question or exceptions, ever. Plant that rule in your head and do not even consider the healthiest of options. You can expand on the rule however works best for your inner reality: examples might include "I don't eat between meals", "I don't eat junk during the day", I don't eat other department's food as I would be taking what is not mine", "I don't eat junk food at work because it makes me less effective at focusing on my work". Have a workaround for emergencies, keep one treat in your desk. If you are going to give in, then eat the snack from your desk instead. The Snack Table is NOT an option. On a daily basis, if necessary, keep approved snacks for yourself in your own desk: seaweed snacks, almonds, popcorn, beef jerky, sugar-free mints.

Moderator: Give yourself a plan that works for you, I will eat one healthy item per day (adding your own healthy items as needed) and one treat every Friday. Is today a Friday? Treat! If not, no treat. Maybe those treats don't even look the best, bring a bag of your favorite treats and put it on the table on Friday and eat one of those. Hmmm, you can probably tell I'm an abstainer. Maybe others have more moderator ideas.

A curse on all such snack tables.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:49 AM on March 7, 2018 [29 favorites]

If you don't mind eating a snack once in awhile you could make a rule that, if you want a snack, you have to go deliberately to the snack table for the purpose of selecting and eating a snack. Once you have decided you would like a snack, you can even make a rule that says you must wait one hour or until a specified time where you must confirm whether you still actually want a snack. Then, if you still want the snack, you can go get it. Also only 1 snack per week or whatever. No taking anything as you walk past the table.

If you never want to have a snack then re-frame the whole situation as the snacks being off limits--e.g. those snacks are not yours to take. They belong to someone else in another department and they aren't for you, therefore you couldn't take one even if you wanted to.

It's not reasonable to ask them to remove their snack table.
posted by Polychrome at 5:14 AM on March 7, 2018

Best answer: I have a rule that I can only eat something on the snack table if it's a special treat that I've not tried before, which is usually something someone has brought from a foreign travel... or if it's a cake made by Specific Colleague. I fall off the wagon occasionally and remind myself that it's best to have everything in moderation, including moderation, then reaffirm the plan to only eat special treats. Good luck!
posted by london explorer girl at 5:30 AM on March 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'd recommend watching Jamie Oliver's sugar rush documentary as well as Fed up. Might put a damper on how you feel re sugar.

Also, yes to almonds, home made trail mix, granola bars, smoothies...! and i think one goodie-day/week sounds like a pretty good plan. When you try to put something totally off-limits usually you feel like you're craving it more. I wouldn't use the snack table as a reward either, like for a good days worth of work - that's could turn out to be a pretty slippery slope. its a tough one tho. But keep a decent habit to stay outta the snacks and it'll get easier by default.
posted by speakeasy at 5:31 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not a particularly woo-woo type person, but have found saying a mantra helps me make smarter decisions like this. For example - we had a similar table at my previous job, and I visualized saying "those look lovely, but I'm okay thank you" to the table as I passed it as though it was a person offering it. It helped. I also found just formally acknowledging to myself that the treat may be great in the moment but treats like that do not serve my longer-term goals was useful.

If this doesn't work, does your work have a Health and Safety committee or oversight of the office of some kind? You may be part of a silent group of people who don't want to say anything because the overall sentiment seems quite nice but for whom this kind of table is destructive. Offer suggestions such as the "snack cupboard" provided above where the people using the table for this can still do so but it's less visible.
posted by notorious medium at 5:39 AM on March 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I work in an office with near-constant free food (we get breakfast & lunch catered and then people bring in tons of snacks as well) and the main thing that's worked for me is figuring out what my most high-value foods are and only eating outside of meals if it's an enormously high-value food (which, fortunately, don't get brought in very often). So I'll eat a Krispy Kreme on the rare day when someone brings them in, but I won't eat any other kind of donut because they're just not worth it. I do think this mostly works because I'm more into savoury food than sweet, though, so sweet food has to be super-high-value to be worth consuming.

The other thing that's worked is recalibrating my sense of disgust around various foods - a significant proportion of the snacks/cakes that get brought in are roughly gas station off-brand quality and that is just not ever going to be good cake. In fact, it's often bad enough cake that it's quite gross to actually consume (especially if I keep in mind the memory of an extremely high-value food in the same category as the thing being offered). I also have some weird (and definitely non-scientific) contamination anxiety and get easily grossed out by the idea of food that wasn't prepared either by me or in an industrial kitchen setting, which easily rules out a lot of home-baked food.

I've had a lot of success in the last year or so by trying to associate food that is mostly pure sugar with a disgust reaction - thinking about how bad I felt after my last really bad sugar hangover, thinking about how much I don't enjoy the gross aftertaste and tooth-coating you get after eating something really sweet (not to mention the tooth damage) etc. See if you can train yourself into associating these foods with feeling bad rather than with being rewarded.
posted by terretu at 5:45 AM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would think about everyone's dirty germy hands pawing all over those things, as well as the wondering if someone sneezed/coughed on any of it, and that would make me not want to eat any of it pretty quickly.
Lots of people don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom.
Lots of people pick their nose.
Lots of people cover their mouth with their hands when then cough/sneeze.
Lots of people don't cover their mouth when they cough/sneeze.
Lots of people are just gross.

And those people have probably touched that food.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:46 AM on March 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

This happens in my teacher's room all the time and I solved it by bringing in those little bags of popcorn that have 100 calories or less per bag. Then I don't look like a grump and everybody loves popcorn.

Once the person who owns the snack thing saw how quickly we ran out of it, she started buying cases, so it was a win for everyone (except people who hate the smell of popcorn but there's no pleasing some people).
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:52 AM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

What works for me is that I am only allowed to eat what I bring from home. No exceptions. So there is never this internal discussion about, "Can I eat it?" The answer is always NO. It also means there is no need to walk by and check to see what is on the table, in case there is something new and interesting. The answer is ALWAYS NO. I find this helpful when I am dieting. It cuts down on the internal angst and feeling of being deprived. When I am not dieting, I typically limit myself to one time per week. Is that thing really special enough to spend my one time per week on? Probably not. Maybe I will wait and see if _________ brings in those delicious cupcakes or _________ brings in donuts.
posted by eleslie at 6:07 AM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Depending on how you think this would go over...maybe buy a bread box and ask them to keep the food in it "to keep it fresher" or whatever? If it's covered, that will help you get past it.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:36 AM on March 7, 2018

Don't know if this would work for you but I deal by being a food snob. I make it a rule not to eat junk unless it's something extra special and fancy. That limits my consumption of most things people bring into the office, and makes each unhealthy snack I do have feel extra special. I've been doing this for a while and I no longer feel tempted by most snack table stuff.
posted by ferret branca at 7:07 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe others have more moderator ideas.

I'm a moderator, and moderators need hard-and-fast rules, too. But they're not "I will never eat junk food," but rather "I will only eat junk food at certain times / under certain conditions."

So what would work for me is, "I do not eat from the snack table, but if I really want that kind of junk food I can go to the store and buy it."
posted by BrashTech at 7:12 AM on March 7, 2018

Best answer: I'm an Abstainer. Moderation was far too difficult for me so now I. Just. Don't. End of discussion. No need to contemplate, rationalize, consider, or bargain. It's just not going to happen.

One of the things we know from operant conditioning variable reinforcement schedules (I was a rat runner as an undergrad psychology student decades ago) is that allowing yourself to have The Thing occasionally reinforces the desire for it more strongly than having The Thing regularly or not having it at all. Your brain is well aware that this time it nags at you, might just be the time you give in and then it will get the reward chemicals, so the nagging keeps getting worse and louder. For me, and other abstainers, the only way to extinguish the craving behaviour was to white-knuckle through a couple of weeks of abstinence. The internal nagging intensifies for a bit, and then gives up knowing that the answer will always be "no". For behaviours with high evolutionary value (and craving/eating calorie-dense food was what helped our species survive, so the trait is hard-wired in us) I've found that the nagging has never really stopped, but has certainly become ignorable in the nine months I've been eating this way.

I also drink copious amounts of tea.
posted by angiep at 7:19 AM on March 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

Hmm, if those people were in your department, you could tell them you can't eat that stuff and then you'd be publicly committed to not eating it. Sadly, it's probably not cool in this situation.

Finding a way to just keep it off the table, so to speak, seems like a good way to go. Can you put a jar of almonds or some dark chocolate at your desk and have a little every time you successfully avoid the snack table? (I would not put a jar of nuts at a public table where someone's going to inevitably stick their fingers in it.)

I've been doing invisalign braces for over a year now, and it's so wonderful in this regard. I told a co-worker I couldn't have any cake because I'd have to take the invisalign out, brush my teeth and put them back and it was just too much trouble. She said, "I'd do that! No, there's nothing wrong with my teeth; just to keep from snacking." I'm already trying to think of ways to duplicate this experience once my teeth are fixed; it's just so great not to even think for a moment that I can snack. I'll probably institute a strict brush after eating rule; I hate having to brush at work.
posted by BibiRose at 7:31 AM on March 7, 2018

Best answer: I don't ever contribute to the snack table at my work. Therefore I don't consider myself "entitled" to take from it. I tell myself I don't want to be seen as someone who is getting more than I give. I doubt anyone would really notice but this sense of being too embarrassed to take the food really helps me not to.
posted by hazyjane at 7:53 AM on March 7, 2018 [9 favorites]

I dealt with this issue constantly at the place where I worked for 9 years. What finally worked for me was convincing myself that if anyone ever wanted to poison a bunch of people, that'd be the way to do it. It's ridiculous but the idea that I could so easily become a victim of poisoning by eating the communal snacks worked, most of the time anyway. Are you good at talking yourself into a conspiracy theory? Then this might work for you too!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have this snack table at work, too.
A couple of things have helped me dramatically reduce my intake from The Table.
First, I saw my boss reach into a bag of snacks, eat, lick his fingers, and reach back in. Now I imagine that ALL the food is contaminated by him or others, which is actually probably true.
Second, I found I was susceptible to taking snacks when I was getting hungry. Typically I didn't bring extra food with me, just my lunch, so now I try to bring lots of snacks of my own. Mostly it's fruit - I'll feel guilty if the expensive fruit I bought spoils because I chose to eat someone else's shelf-stable snacks instead.
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2018

If you're a moderator, how about some sort of "golden ticket" for yourself? Like, each week you get two "golden tickets" which are your personal pass to an item from the snack table. You can even print them out and stick them to the side of your computer or something.

Then, when you're thinking about how you're thisclose to gnawing your arm off, you take a ticket down and take that trip to the snack table. having a limited amount of allowed trips could help rather than unlimited trips vs. none at all.

This is what we do at my house re: going out to eat. Herr Vortex and I used to go out to eat a ton and it was bankrupting us. So I painted a picture of a tree and taped 12 apples onto it, and I hung it up in our kitchen. Whenever we choose to go out to eat rather than eating at home, we take an apple off and set it on the ground below the tree. (we don't count meals out when we're traveling or out with friends for events, only when it's just us and we have the CHOICE). Anyway, last year it worked out super well for us. I am surprisingly motivated by keeping the apples on the tree. It helps me to look at it when I'm "I don't wanna" about cooking dinner, and say "do I really want to spend an apple tonight?" usually it's no, so I cook something boring.

Maybe having a Golden Ticket type thing will help you by having that extra "do I really want to spend a Golden Ticket right now?" step.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:39 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

My mental trick for avoiding sweets is to remember that refined sugar is closely related to deforestation... sugar producers cut down trees to clear land for sugar cane, and then they cut down more trees for firewood to boil the sap. I can convince myself to avoid sugar by convincing myself I am helping the planet.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:57 AM on March 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a very hard core abstainer. Moderation just does not work for me. I work at a place that has all the food and beverages all the friggen time. So much sugary, carby food. (Except for very recently, I've been eating strict keto). My rule is that it is simply off limits to me. Dead stop. If i still feel the "but i deserve a treat too dammit!" calling, I have my own stash of approved treats at my desk I allow myself to eat. Ya'll can have your donuts and beer. I have my Quest bars and flavoured almonds. For me what i eat is more important that how much... it's much better for me to gorge on a bazillion calories of almonds and pepperoni sticks than eat a single cookie. So really, i win because I just ate a giant snack that i (have learned to) love... and you just had a single mediocre cookie.
posted by cgg at 9:58 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I sit directly adjacent to my department's snack cubicle. I almost never snack from it. I bring my own snacks (apple or banana and a jar of peanut butter, small bags of popcorn, almonds, small portion packs of whatever floats your snacking boat) and if I am tempted, I eat one of them. I keep them in a drawer or cabinet where no one else will swipe them. I also bring in either infused or flavored sparkling water to keep me from drinking one of the diet sodas they pile up. We have generally healthy snacks - one person goes to Costco and gets stuff once a month and people can vote on yeah, that was good or no, that was awful, but the mix stays pretty fresh with some staples featured regularly. You might suggest this to your HR department if yours is mostly least try to encourage healthy habits.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:04 AM on March 7, 2018

Don’t eat those snacks! They are poisoned!
posted by bq at 10:13 AM on March 7, 2018

Best answer: A very very simple brain trick that works for me (roughly borrowed from the No S Diet) is that rather than tell myself I "shouldn't" eat x, y, or z, or that I'm "not allowed," I just tell myself that I "do not" eat it. It's not a rule I'm imposing on myself, or a punishment or a deprivation, it's a plain fact about the way things are. You do not eat the snacks.
posted by Ryon at 10:23 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The other thing that works for me most of the time is that if I'm going to eat crap, it's going to be GOOD crap or at least NOVEL crap.

I know what Krispy Kreme doughnuts taste like, I've had the grocery store bakery sugar cookies and the Costco sheet cake before. They're not really high-quality and is it really worth it? No, it's really not.

On the other hand, if someone brings in something homemade that looks amazing, or if some really high-end or imported snack shows up, yeah, I'm going to try that.

Most of the stuff is going to fall into the "not worth it" category if you raise your junk food standards.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:41 AM on March 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Things on the snack table are not food, they are not for eating.

You can look at them as offerings that demonstrate good working relationships. They are an anthropological survey of late-capitalist snack foods. They are air fresheners. They are sculpture. They are not food, your coworkers who eat them do so as part of some kind of odd ritual that doesn't affect you.

YMMV, but this + a jar of peanut butter in my desk for when I'm actually hungry works for me.
posted by momus_window at 3:18 PM on March 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: You guys are awesome. Thank you for the reassurance that I am not alone in facing The Work Snack Table, the lack of judgement of me for not having enough will power to just ignore the food, and all the great suggestions!
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:40 PM on March 7, 2018

Response by poster: (Marked as favorite those that seem most likely to work for me personally, but these are all great responses.)
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:44 PM on March 7, 2018

I have OCD and find it hard to eat food that other people have brought in to our very similar snack table. I have no idea how clean my co-workers' homes are, thus I don't know how "clean" their food is. Did they make those rice krispie treats in a kitchen with cat hair everywhere? Did they use milk that only smelled "kind of sour" to make the cake? Did they wash their hands before baking those cookies?

These thoughts keep me from eating from the communal snack table. So just go out and get yourself some OCD!
posted by tacodave at 4:07 PM on March 7, 2018

I would suggest some kind of reward for yourself for not eating or for eating in moderation. Something like you get a point for each time you go by the Snack Table without taking something, or five points if you have a conversation with someone next to it, without eating anything, and then when you reach a number of points you get a Thing - whether it's a massage, a new books, a ticket to the show in town, or whatever.

Or even just record when you have successful met your non-snack eating goal in a spreadsheet or some other way.
posted by dancing_angel at 11:06 AM on March 8, 2018

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