A few days ago I stumbled across a trashy story about a woman in the States who gained forty pounds during her first year of working from home. If I’d bothered to delve deeper than the headline and look beyond the picture of a striking, slim woman who had no doubt since shifted the weight by having her jaw wired and installing a wheatgrass masticator in her now joyless kitchen, I might have learned something about how to eat more healthily when not in the office.
Instead, I turned my attention to social media and noticed I had a message from my friend, Zac. He’d sent me a picture of three greasy-looking hash browns with a simple caption: ‘Needed’. We’d been out for a couple of drinks the night before and were clearly operating on a similar plane. I was working from home, it was 10am and I’d just had a poppadom for breakfast.
It’s only during desperate moments like this that I remember why I don’t actually love working remotely. I get too easily distracted by the shelf that needs dusting, the books that could potentially benefit from being sorted into alphabetical order or the Smarties Easter egg that I’ve been hiding from my son since the spring of 2014.
The shared office, I find, presents a much better environment for competitive healthy eating and outright food-shaming than the solitary confines of the kitchen table desk.
‘Is that vegan?’ I’ll ask a colleague as she devours a double cheeseburger from Five Guys whilst I raise a spoonful of Planet Organic three bean salad to my smugly meat free mouth.
In a recent impromptu focus group that I ran at work, I was testing a hypothesis I’d formulated around eating habits in the home versus the workplace. Having noticed the sudden influx of quinoa and chia seeds on display on desks across the office at lunchtime, I’d started to question whether people are more inclined to be healthy – or maybe follow current healthy eating trends – when in public surroundings than they are in the privacy of their own homes.
‘Would you ever bring a jacket potato into work and have it for your lunch?’ I asked five or six female colleagues.
‘Oh God, no!’ one replied immediately, apparently horrified at the thought of actually being seen eating such a basic carbohydrate.
The others thought about it for a moment and then agreed with the first to respond. I changed the subject quickly to distract them from the question that would later follow.
‘So, picture the scene,’ I began some time later, ‘You’re at home alone, you’ve had a really busy day at work and you want something quick for dinner. What do you make?’
‘I’d probably just have a jacket potato,’ came the first answer.
‘Yeah, same. Jacket potatoes are probably the easiest thing to go for,’ came the second to nodding heads.
After indulging myself in an intense session of disbelief-induced eye-rolling, I was reminded of a study I once read that focused on how people buy chocolate in supermarkets. The qualitative research was simple but the results were really quite intriguing and absolutely hilarious.
Upon exiting the stores involved, shoppers were asked if they had bought any chocolate inside. If they had deliberately taken themselves to the confectionary aisle with an intention to buy chocolate then they would typically answer ‘yes’. If they had purchased on impulse at the checkout, however, then they mostly answered ‘no’. Turns out – attitudinally at least – it wasn’t their fault. Apparently treats bought at tills didn’t count because the shops made them do it.
Although both the jacket potato and chocolate stories sound ridiculous, they do raise an interesting question about who or what has the biggest influence over our eating habits.
At around 10am in the office, I’m most likely heading into a meeting with cup of green tea while thinking about what might be the healthiest option for lunch. At home I’m probably dialling into a conference call while scratching dried-up raspberry jam off my bleached-stained jogging bottoms and nibbling on a Kellogg’s Coco Pops bar that I’ve just found at the back of the cupboard behind an as yet unopened kilo bag of organic almonds.
Sitting at home unwashed and undernourished, I wonder whether I need the influence of others around me to keep me on track. Working from home is a certain benefit for some but I wonder whether it might be a potential health hazard for me.
At work I make a conscious effort to eat well, while at home I’m the supermarket shopper who eats junk because it’s there. In the office I try to make sure that I look and behave respectably, while at home I’m just a bloody spud.
I can’t help think that this coach potato could have his eye on a huge business opportunity, though. According to the Office for National Statistics, flexi-time increased by twelve per cent between 2012 and 2016, and last year the Trades Union Congress also found that the amount of people working remotely has increased by almost a quarter of a million over the last decade. That there’s an enormous market for hash browns and breakfast poppadoms.