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You’re snacking more when working from home too, right?

October 6, 2021, 1:21 PM UTC

Welcome to Worksheet, a newsletter about working smarter. It’s Emily. Today I’m tackling something very personal and important to me: Snacks. Let’s go!!

Recently, I opened the top drawer of my desk looking for a pen, and instead saw five empty bags of Haribo Gummi bears. Evidence of my secret habit. Maybe I had a problem? In search of affirmation that I wasn’t the only one, I turned to Twitter: Do you have, like, office snacks on hand near your desk, I asked.

Replies were spectacular in their breadth and quirkiness. “I eat half an apple and then 100 Cool Ranch Doritos,” said author Taffy Brodesser-Akner. One woman eats Flaming Hot Cheetos with chopsticks to avoid getting her fingers dirty. A guy tweeted a picture of his office “micro-kitchen,” where he keeps dried mangoes, seaweed, the aforementioned hot Cheetos, garlic roasted peanuts, and more. Lots of folks are keeping Trader Joe’s in business. One woman said her family buys 40 ounce bags of chocolate chips — like the kind you put in cookies —  and snacks on them. (The Worksheet team has an affinity for fruits, including cherries.)

A handful of people are, like me, hiding their treats. “Salted almonds & a secret stash of dark chocolate peanut butter cups,” said Kathleen Romig. “Please don’t tell my family.” (Readers, we now all must keep the secret.)

Turns out, snacking is actually more prevalent now than in the “before times,” but those of us who work remotely are even more into it. In a survey by market researchers at the Freedonia Group conducted in August and September, 31% of Americans said they are eating more snacks and treats because of the pandemic, but 51% of those working remotely are eating more.

I take snacking seriously. So, I consulted five different experts to figure out what’s happening. Here’s why we snack more when working remotely:

Proximity: You work near your kitchen. “Access to snacks and proximity to the kitchen is one reason,” Jennifer Mapes-Christ, the food team leader at Freedonia, explained in an email. The more delicious stuff is even more tempting, emailed Ravi Dhar, a professor at Yale School of Management, “Most people can’t eat just half of a bag.” Dhar is known for his work on making Google’s famous in-office snacks healthier.

Hours: Remote workers are also working unconventional hours, said Mapes-Christ. That means you might miss meals and turn to snacks instead.

Size: Dhar, from Yale, points out that at home, a lot of people buy larger sizes. That made me remember Jeff Wilser. He tweeted about his “disastrous mistake,” buying a 20 gallon bag of assorted candy from Costco. “I’m torn between chucking the bag (wasteful) and keeping the bag (gluttonous), he wrote. “And of course I know which way I’ll go.”

Breaks: People like to do different things during the day, said Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of Friend & Foe. When you’re at the in-person office, you can get up and walk to a meeting or get a coffee. “We’re trained to take natural breaks,” he said. At home, snacking is the break.

Shane Ferro, a former colleague of mine, who used to have a newsletter about snacking, said she gets out of her apartment and walks to a local coffee shop sometimes for a snack. (A muffin.) “When working from home, the snack that gets you out of your house is a great snack,” she said.

Context: There’s a lot of research that shows when you’re at home you feel relaxed and able to let go —  that means, you eat more indulgently. “There’s probably food we wouldn’t eat in the office that we’d be comfortable snacking at home,” Galinsky said. Before the pandemic, everybody had their little treats at home, he said. Now, we’re just home with more access to those treats.

Fidgets: When people sit for long periods they fidget, Galinsky said. “Reaching and grabbing food serves that need.”

Comfort AND Celebration: When people are feeling stressed, they snack. When people are feeling lonely, they snack. When people are happy about something, guess what? They. Snack.

“Snacking is an equal opportunity solution,” Galinksy said. “When we’re feeling bad it makes us feel better. When we’re feeling good, we reward ourselves.”

There’s always an excuse to snack.

Emily Peck

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