What do you do when there’s cake at the office?

This is one of those questions that personal trainers love to think that there’s a simple answer too. “Just eat some celery instead” your trainer might tell you. If you work in an office (unlike a personal trainer), you’ll know the equation isn’t anything like that simple, especially if you’ve got a sweet tooth! In this article, you’ll get some real advice, that’s actually practical, on how to tackle this challenge.

You know the drill. It’s about 10.30, the morning is flying by in a flash of emails, catch ups, a phone call or two, and a few more things added to your to-do list. And then, it appears. First it starts as you catch a feint, distant mention, and you think you’ve misheard someone down the hall. Then, people walk past you talking about it, and you think that your hearing isn’t actually that bad after all, or that it’s specially tuned in to recognize specific triggers. And finally, someone comes to you, and excitedly shares the news – “Jamie’s birthday today – the cake looks amazing!”.

And you know, at that moment, that no matter how challenging your to do list, no matter how difficult the phone call, that you’ve just met the most difficult part of your day.

Whether you have a personal trainer or not, I’m sure you’ve heard the familiar old phrase ‘just rise above it’ or ‘just say no’ or the old favorite ‘nothing tastes as good as fit feels!’. While I appreciate that these sentiments are coming from a good place, I don’t think that they are practical advice. (Not to mention the last one is a form of brain-programming, that if taken to the extreme leaves you having difficulties with on the spot decision making).

So what to do? Give up and go forth with the most delicious of office treats?

Or do you sit in your office and wait it out, hoping no one will swing by with the half-eaten slice on a serviette to rub it in?

Failing an office-wide adoption of the Paleo movement, it’s likely that neither of these options will help you last through any more than one cake-event. And as we all know, there are plenty of cake events in a year of birthdays, arrivals, departures, and of course, holidays.

So you need some practical advice. Some real, actual, here’s-what-I-do type stuff.

And that’s what I’m going to give you. These are actually my tried and true techniques that help to create a year of weight loss, or weight maintenance. And they don’t send you crazy.

Option 1 – The Sliding Cheat Day

Some people love the Saturday routine. The cheat day morning coffee, the chocolate croissant a couple of hours later.

For me, it got stale like the day old, half eaten chocolate croissant that is all that remains of a four pack from the day before. I like variety in my life!

Enter the Sliding Cheat Day.

It’s a spectacular adaptation in recognition that sometimes you just can’t plan a good celebration. Sometimes, they plan you.

So, if you find yourself in one, you enjoy it! This means that if your in the office and the end of month financials come in, and the % increase looks like something that belongs on an interstate speed sign, there’s likely going to be some cake. And maybe some booze. That sounds like cheat day to me.

Alternatively, you’re at the office and Beverly is seeing out her 40th year at the company with some delicious chocolate cake. The kind that begs you to eat another piece, and another. You wouldn’t want to offend Beverly, would you? This sounds like a cheat day.

So, you do it. You have the cheat day and enjoy all the fun that comes with it. If you’ve triggered your cheat day around lunchtime, or afternoon, do it properly. There’s no mini-cheat day, or saving half of it. If you trigger it, you go full throttle into it. So that means lunch and dinner, and maybe a snack and dessert.

The caveat is that you need 5 days between cheat days, minimum, and 10 days maximum. That’s it! Simple rules.

This means that, yes, you’ve guessed it, if there’s two Beverlys, or two end of the months in one week, that you’re going to need a back-up plan.

In comes Option 2.

Option 2 – The Counterbalance the Laws of Physics Option

This one relies on there being large, heavy weights in your life. If you don’t do weight regularly, you might want to skip this one.

Simply put, if you can schedule a workout within 2 hours (ideally) of the end of month cake, then you’ll be limiting the damage substantially. This doesn’t give you carte blanche to eat cake if you workout however. There’s always a cost. But this is an option if, for example, you know there’s cake in the morning, you could workout in the early morning or at lunch time. Likewise, if there’s cake in the afternoon, and after-work workout could undo a lot of the damage, if you’re lifting weights at high intensity. Also, some interval sprints could do the job instead, but not as well.

If weights aren’t a big part of your world, we need a method that’s going to give you a backup.

Option 3 – The Secret Chocolate-bar-that-isn’t in your desk

This option is a tried and true one.

We all know the scene – everyone standing around eating cake, looking at each other, people waiting to see who will head back to their desk, no one wanting to be the one who breaks the extended coffee break.

Everyone is looking around. It’s obviously if you stand there empty handed.

Enter the Secret Chocolate-bar-that-isn’t.

This is what you stash in your desk, at the back, for events such as these, as long as they come round once or twice per month. You have pre-purchased, well ahead of time, a couple of protein bars that are low carb, that are covered in chocolate and filled with some kind of gooey chemicals. I’m not big on recommending ‘bars’ in general. But for this circumstance, one that packs 20-30g protein, 5-15g fat and 2-10g carb will see you through. The remainder will likely be alcohol sugars, and won’t do much harm. Just don’t eat more of these bars in a month than there are a’s in January.

The beauty of the Secret Chocolate-bar-that-isn’t is that you reduce your odds, substantially, of being asked why you’re not eating cake. And if you get asked, you can simply comment that you prefer chocolate, so you’re eating your chocolate bar instead. Everyone’s eating, everyone’s happy, and you’re not alienated from the cake-eaters. The other alternatives is to comment on the fact that you are sensitive to gluten, because it’s so common these days no one will question it, but gluten free cakes are hard to bake or expensive to buy, so it’s less than likely one will be offered.

What about just not eating it?

And so we come to the advice that your trainer might give you. Just don’t eat it, have strong goals, remember the reasons you want to slim down and tone up, and the list goes on. But it’s not that easy! And one reason for that is because willpower burns glucose, and glucose is what you’re going to get more of by eating the cake. So somewhere in your mind you might be thinking ‘if I eat the cake, I’ll have the glucose, and then have the willpower to not eat the cake’.

So ‘just avoiding the cake’ or telling people about how you’re on a health kick probably isn’t the solution that’s actually going to work for you. Try one, two or all three of the options above and see if they work better than trying to avoid Betty’s next birthday.

Do you have a special trick when it comes to office treats? Something you tell people, or a strategy for meals and food while you’re at work? Share them in the comments below!

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10 Responses to What do you do when there’s cake at the office?

  • Emily says:

    Being a nurse guarantees that you’ll deal with this all the time, because if its not a staff member’s birthday, its a patient’s, or a patients’ family gifting the staff with a yummy treat. Thank God the holidays are over and the cookies and candies have finally been eaten up. (Of course we thank you, grateful families, for thinking of us during that tough time of year! if only sugar wasn’t the easiest way to express ourselves)! For New Years Eve and Christmas Eve I brought in store bought veggie trays for my unit. They look festive, which is the main thing, even if its just veggies. And believe it or not, those veggies are gone by the next shift! As far as everything else, there is only one option – just say no.

    • Luke says:

      Hey Emily, sounds like a tricky challenge! I think you veggie tray is a great idea :) And I’m not surprised they’re all eaten.. if they’re available I think people enjoy eating healthy treats and snacks!
      All the best,

  • K says:

    If you don’t want to make it a cheat day there are two things….1) Don’t be hungry. It’s a lot easier to resist the goodies if I’m not starving, so I eat some almonds or another snack to make sure I’m not hungry. 2) Hold a drink in your hand (like a cup of water or coffee). AT my office we always have plastic cups available for sodas with the celebrations….I just fill mine with water. That way I have something in my hand, except it’s not a plate full of cake.

    • Luke says:

      Hey K, thanks for your comments!
      Definitely important not to be hungry, and your idea about the drink cups is a great one! At least that way you’re not empty handed!!


  • Abigail says:

    I actually just told my co-workers that I was following an eating plan – I have about 100 pounds to lose so my co-workers are sensitive to that and supportive, and it actually helps with willpower when there is cake around since I don’t want to mess up in front of them :) I am going to keep a protein bar on hand for emergencies though – great tip!

    • Luke says:

      Hey Abigail,

      That’s so great to hear your coworkers are on your side!! That’ll help you stick at it, and make sure you involve them so they are able to support you and celebrate your achievements as you go!

      You’re welcome for the tip! Only for emergencies ;) The comment about making sure you’re not hungry is an excellent one. This works very well!

      All the very best,

  • MasterBlaster says:

    I usually just hold the cake and pick at it while talking, moving it around with my fork. Then i squish my napkin into the top of it. People don’t even notice that you’re not really eating.

    • Luke Starbuck says:

      That’s a great trick!! I really like it – for anyone where explaining their choice would be uncomfortable or just not worth doing. It’s like taking the cake, then deciding you don’t like the flavor.

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