Open Feedback Dialog

Ways to Avoid the Vending Machine at Work

By Susannah Castle, PsyD


It’s 2 pm on a Wednesday afternoon, and you worked through lunch. The bowl of cereal you had at 7 am feels like it was eaten a thousand years ago, and you suddenly realize that you feel exhausted, cranky, and starving. It’s a case of ‘hangry’ if there ever was one. It is at that point that the vending machine at work is the only thing that stands between you and hitting the send button on that totally inappropriate email to your boss. And it’s not like you are going to blow the quarters you scraped together out of the bottom of your desk on the apple, opting instead for a candy bar and soda.


This scenario is a familiar one to many readers. And let’s be honest, it’s not just the vending machine, but the donuts in the break room, and the Girl Scout cookies your co-worker brought in, and many of the other daily temptations that are scattered throughout the workplace. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the occasional donut or vending machine snack. However, for many of us, the easy accessibility of these foods in the context of a high stress environment like work (or boredom), can result in eating behavior that ends up making us feel poorly and may negatively impact our weight or health.


The primary solution to this scenario is straightforward, but also deceivingly simple. The easiest way to avoid impulsive food choices under stress is preparation. There’s a big difference between the person who walks out the door with a tuna sandwich, a small baggie of almonds, and a yogurt, versus the person who walks out with five bucks and a vague plan to get something on the go later. The most important difference is that the first person has dedicated some actual time and thought to their own self-care. Individuals who struggle with obesity often do not engage in sufficient self-care related to food because they have self-talk that says they don’t “deserve” to eat any more, or there may be shame associated with food preparation. This then can result in a spiral of inadequate planning and impulsive choices. The decision to overcome barriers to self-care and really commit to thoughtful preparation to take care of one’s needs is often accompanied by lots of anxiety or dread. It helps to simply call out the ways you may be disallowing yourself from being seen as worthy enough to be taken care of. 


Make a firm commitment to care for yourself the way you would a friend or a small child. Then pay attention: do you find yourself making excuses not to prepare for yourself? Would you make excuses not to care for a child you love? Impulsive eating is related to a lack of self-care. To avoid the vending machine means not avoiding something else: your own basic and fundamental needs as a worthy human being. Let the vending machine become a habit of the past. Plan ahead and make this a year to accomplish the positive habit of preplanning.