Do you ever feel like you're snacking too much during the workday? If so, you're not alone—many people find themselves mindlessly consuming excess calories at their jobs, and they may not even be hungry when they indulge.

“People primarily snack at work because it’s there in a snack/coffee/break room or a candy jar on someone’s desk,” explains Susan Canonico, RD, of Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, NJ. She adds that for many, the temptation can be especially difficult to resist between 3 and 4 pm—often because they’re feeling stressed, tired, or both.

If you find yourself munching away at work, Canonico offers a few simple strategies for curbing the habit, or at least make smarter choices in terms of what you select.

Beat the Workday Munchies and Take Control of Your Health

Here are nine tips to help you avoid mindless snacking (and the related ill effects) at work:

1. Choose wisely. If you're going to snack, pick something that offers nutrients instead of empty calories. Canonico suggests low-calorie foods like cut-up fruit or vegetables paired with a topping that offers nutritional value, like hummus, peanut butter, salsa, or plain Greek yogurt (check labels for the recommended serving sizes). Other good snack ideas include 1/4 cup of low-fat cottage cheese with 2 tablespoons of high-protein granola (homemade is best), a small piece of cheese, a hard-boiled egg, or a small can of tomato juice.

2. Measure. Measure out your portions at home and take them with you so you won’t be tempted to overindulge. Use snack-sized plastic bags and 2- to 4-ounce plastic containers to ensure you stick with small servings. This will prevent the kind of mindlessly snacking that lets you polish off a family-sized bag in one sitting.

3. Skip the pre-packaged 100-calorie packs. Yes, they are convenient, but the problem is that “people tend to overeat them—two or three a day—and they tend to be 100 calories of junk,” Canonico says. Processed foods like cookies and chips don’t bring any nutritional value, regardless of the calorie count. There is one exception to this rule, though. "Pre-portioned nuts can be a great pick."

4. Eat breakfast. “Absolutely the better the start, the better the blood sugar control and therefore less snacking/grazing throughout the day." Research conducted by scientists at the University of Missouri revealed that eating high-protein foods in the morning can help you avoid excessive snacking later in the day or evening. Therefore, the researchers recommend aiming for 35 grams of protein in the morning. Good sources include egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, nonfat Greek yogurt, and lean breakfast meats.

5. Practice moderation. “If you absolutely can’t say 'no thank you' to muffins/donuts/birthday cake, then take one bite and toss it,” Canonico says. Or better yet, skip the taste entirely. “Be honest—do you really need muffins or donuts?”

6. Track what you eat. Making yourself accountable for everything you eat is a great strategy for taking better control of your health and habits. Canonico suggests using apps or online tools such as MyFitnessPal, Lose It, or Fitbit to log what you eat throughout the day so you’ll be more aware of what you are eating and when—and hopefully make smarter choices. You can also use these tools to track exercise.

7. Move. When you're craving an unhealthy snack, Canonico suggests keeping busy by doing something good for yourself. Try some light stretching, keep an exercise band at your desk, take a walk, or find another way to move around. Exercise also helps manage stress, which is often a trigger for snacking.

8. Don’t give up! If you give in to a healthy snack, don't write the entire day off as a "bad" eating day. “One slip-up does not equal giving up,” she stresses. “Brush it off and get back on track!” Also give yourself realistic goals, since breaking old habits and building new ones will be a gradual process. “I try to get my clients to NOT give up in two weeks; nothing works that fast! So many little things can work with final big results.”

Susan Canonico, RD, Summit Medical Group, reviewed this article.


Canonico, Susan, RD, Summit Medical Group, Berkeley Heights, NJ. Email interview Sept. 1, 2015.

Leidy, Heather J.; Laura C. Ortinau; Steve M. Douglas; and Heather A. Hoertel. Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, ‘breakfast-skipping,’ late-adolescent girls.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97 (April 2013): 677-688. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.053116