How to Manage All That Free Food at the Office

It’s there after every meeting. And on Fridays. And birthdays. And every day that the office manager remembers to fill up her candy jar. The two most dangerous words to the subconscious of someone trying to lose weight: dree food.

But it’s never really free, is it? In the 1870s, saloons in New Orleans, New York and San Francisco started offering working-class men free lunches with the purchase of a single beer. The lunches seemed to be worth a lot more than the beer. Foods like corned beef sandwiches, all-you-can-eat salted peanuts, salami, pickles and pretzels were served. All of it was salty, so the men became thirsty and ordered more beer. And more beer. Until they had spent much more on beer than the food cost. Hence, “There’re no such thing as a free lunch.”

Free food gets digested in the gut the same way the food you pay for does, but “free” gets digested differently in the brain. Brian Wansink, PhD, studies mindless eating at the Cornell Food Lab, and he has actually tested free office food consumption. It turns out every time we see it — or get near it — we spend a little bit of our limited willpower resisting it.

And the 30th time you walk by that plate of donuts, you’re much more likely to say, “Screw it. I’m hungry!” It doesn’t even matter what the food is — in one experiment, Wansink left out trays of plain, 2-week-old popcorn and watched people reach for more as they walked by the tray again!

Tired of struggling with your willpower? Try these tips to avoid those free office snacks.

1. TAKE THE LONG WAY

Wansink placed candy jars of chocolate in people’s cubicles for a month, then moved them a mere 6 feet away. Simply having the candy closer meant people reached for five more treats a day. That adds up to 125 calories daily, or 12 pounds a year. We often snack because it’s convenient, so taking the long way to the copy machine could make you less likely to grab that candy.

2. REWARD YOUR RESISTANCE

Every time you walk by the break room and don’t stop for donut is a victory. Treat it that way: Do a little spin, tell yourself, “Good job!” or hum a happy tune. By rewarding yourself (non-calorically) whenever you are externally triggered and don’t give in, you are actually creating a small habit loop that will make further resistance easier.

3. BE MINDFUL INSTEAD OF MINDLESS

Instead of immediately popping that mini-Snickers into your mouth, carry it back to your desk and place it in an inconvenient drawer. At the end of the week, look at how much candy is there and think about eating all of it in one sitting without getting a tummy ache.

4. SPEND ALL OF YOUR WILLPOWER ON MEALS

The most effective habit I teach people who want to avoid snacking is very simple: eat three or four meals a day. (Keeping in mind that a “meal” is when you sit down and don’t do anything except eat.) Since most people have no idea how many calories they are sneaking in between meals, this habit eliminates all of them at once, and puts all the willpower you have into three or four decisions. Sometimes it really can be as easy as that.

What’s your strategy for walking by free food? Share in the comments below!

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Ways to Work Out for Free

MyFitnessPal and Ally have teamed up because they both recognize the connection between finances and physical fitness and the important roles they each have on personal well-being.

Under Armour and its affiliates and employees disclaim any responsibility for errors or any consequences arising from the use of this information. All medical information should be reviewed with a health-care provider. For more information, please review the Under Armour Terms and Conditions of Use – Physical Activities.

In theory, staying fit without having to shell out for a pricey gym membership is entirely possible. But actually finding free ways to work out can be a daunting task. To make getting your sweat on a little easier and a lot cheaper, we’ve rounded up the best ways to work out without spending a dime. Your wallet and well-toned butt will thank you.


At Ally, we don’t just care about your finances — we care about you. That’s why we’ve dug deeper into what it means to be financially fit. Just like physical fitness, there are different ways to be financially fit. Your training program depends on what you want to accomplish, and you should approach your financial routine the same way. Find out what kind of financially fit you are with our financial fitness quiz.


1. GET SOME FRESH AIR

The easiest way to get a gratis sweat session is by using your body’s natural ability to run or walk. Go for a jog around your neighborhood or hit your local track for an anywhere, anytime workout. If you’re not already a runner, download a free couch-to-5K plan, and let the training begin.

2. BECOME A STAIR MASTER

If pounding the pavement isn’t your thing, you can still get in some free cardio. Look for staircases in public parks or, if you live in a city, use the stairs in your apartment or office building to get in some Rocky-worthy training — running stairs for 30 minutes will torch over 400 calories.

3. HIT THE TRAILS

Once you get used to working out in the great outdoors, up the ante by checking out local hiking trails. Not only will you burn some serious calories, spending time in nature can also be beneficial to your overall health and wellness. Find all the best parks and insider spots in your area at AllTrails.com.

4. DIVE IN

In the sweltering summer months, take advantage of public pools and beaches — some municipal areas offer free access so you can cool off and tone up in the lap pool. A novice to swimming for exercise? Find a whole library of free swim workouts from Swimming World magazine to inspire your inner Michael Phelps.

5. TURN YOUR HOME INTO A GYM

Little-known fact: Everyday items make great gym equipment. So if you’re looking for free ways to strength train, look no further than your own home. Grab a couple of one-liter wine or water bottles to serve as a set of dumbbells, hold on to a kitchen chair to do tricep dips or squats and use the wall to do some quad-blasting wall sits.

6. GO DIGITAL

The internet is full of free workout content. Start with YouTube, which offers hundreds of channels of free fitness content including yoga, Pilates, HIIT and more. You can also find free fitness guides from celeb trainers, or get workout ideas from the MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun blogs. Consider the web your complimentary personal trainer.

7. GET APP-SAVVY

Just like the web, there are tons of mobile apps specifically geared toward free fitness routines. If you’re in search of a good cardio motivator, try Spotify Running to hit your stride. If Pilates is your thing, download Cassey Ho’s Blogilates. And if you’re constantly on the go, try Fitnet, which offers a variety of mini workouts you can do on the run.

8. MAKE THE MOST OF FREE TRIALS

If you prefer an in-person experience, become a gym sampler. Most gyms offer free trials for potential new members that range from a day pass to a week of free membership or class access. Shop around the gyms in your area, and you can rack up a solid calendar of free workout days — just make sure to cancel any free trials before the charges kick in.

Written by Macaela Mackenzie, a writer based in New York City with a passion for all things active. To see Macaela’s latest work, visit macaelamackenzie.com.

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