That ubiquitous office candy dish: Practically every office has one, filled with tempting sweet treats to snag as you pass. Chocolates or hard candy, it’s anybody’s guess what you might find… but what is certain is the damage it can do to your diet. The good news is, avoiding the lure of lollipops and the call of chocolates is as simple as keeping them “out of sight, out of mind.”
Clear versus Opaque Candy Dish
According to research headed up by Brian Wansink, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and mindful eating expert, a see-through candy dish with prominent placement can add up to seven pounds a year to the frames of those who indulge in the office stash. Surprising? You can’t argue with the facts: In a 2006 study, Wansink and colleagues found that office employees ate nearly eight pieces of candy each day when they were in plain sight, in clear containers on their desks, as opposed to having the treats in an opaque dish, which reduced candy consumption to just over four and a half pieces. What’s more, people ate about five and a half pieces of candy when they were in a clear container six feet away, and about three when the jars were the same distance away, but opaque. In other words, if the candy dish is within easy reach and is highly visible, you’re more likely to take more. As many people can attest, when you reach for the sweets, it’s not necessarily that you’re craving candy – it’s just that it’s there for the taking, so why not? And since it’s easy for most to rationalize deserving a treat – like the candy jar goods – people can always find a way to nosh a piece (or more) over the course of the day.
Need practical proof? Take, for example, one popular office candy dish fare – Reese’s miniature size Peanut Butter Cups. Snag just one and that’s about 40 discretionary calories you’ll have to expend. But three? That’s another story. Three tiny peanut butter cups dent your diet to the tune of 120 calories (plus 3 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat). To ditch those calories, a 125-pound person would need to spend half an hour walking at a 3.5 mile/hour pace. And since those calories from candies eaten in passing are often forgotten, it’s easy to see how those treats can sneakily add up; when you’re considering whether to treat yourself to a dessert later in the day, it’s easy to forget you’ve actually already treated yourself quite enough.
Obviously, the best plan is to avoid the candy jar, but that can be impossible to do – especially if you’re not the one providing the stash, and you pass it multiple times per day. But if the sweet provisions sit on your desk, it may be a good idea to reevaluate your auxiliary duties as office candy host. Otherwise, a simple change like proposing that the candy dish be relocated to a less prominent location, about six feet away, as the study mentioned, from where folks pass and congregate, is a healthy move. For more candy defense, try placing the sweets in a dish that’s not clear – or better yet, a forgotten drawer or file cabinet, say, in the supply room. At the very least, if a candy dish is de rigueur at your office, suggest stocking the dish with something healthful like pistachios in the shell.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let the candy dish sabotage your diet! Practice mindful eating, including moving the stash out of plain sight and into a less prominent location. That way, you can save your treats for when you can really savor them, as opposed to munching them mindlessly as you rush back from the copy machine.
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.