Cakegate! Should Cake at Work be Banned?

Jan 26, 2023

Few people will have missed the recent furore over cake – with cakes brought into the office being blamed for obesity, at least by the media. Now called ‘Cakegate’ it raises some real issues about eating at work, and with many companies now using cake and drinks to entice people back to the office, what is the right thing to be doing?

 

Let’s start with an inescapable fact – eating cake to excess can cause weight gain. Poor energy balance is driving the steady rise in rates of overweight and obesity. The simplest explanation is that energy expenditure (the energy (calories) needed to live our daily lives) has fallen, but energy (calorie) intake has not. Any unused energy ends up stored as body fat. Getting the balance right is hard as the amount we eat is driven by many things including genetics (hunger and the urge to eat) and our environment (what’s easy, convenient, what we can afford, foods available in the shops we can access, and the temptations placed in front of us). Cakegate suggests that cakes (and other treats) eaten in the office are energy that we don’t need and could avoid.

 

In our fast-paced society, eating and drinking has become something that we just do, often rushed or done at the same time as something else. We watch TV over breakfast or dinner, eat at our work desks, or use eating as a chance to check social media posts holding fork in one hand and phone in the other. Ask yourself - how often do you stop and eat a meal either on your own, or as a family with no distractions? Sadly, this is becoming increasingly rare.

 

For many, eating has become a mindless act, often done too quickly. Something as simple as eating food quickly can increase risk of gaining weight, becoming overweight or obese and having raised levels of blood fats such as cholesterol or triglycerides,[i] in turn, increasing the risk of developing heart disease.[ii] Why is this? The brain takes around 20 minutes to register satiety (fullness) after you start eating. If eating quickly, the fullness signals arrive at the brain too late, after you have already eaten too much. As I grew up my mum was constantly naggin us to slow down and chew food properly (twenty times before swallowing was her favourite) and maybe she was right! Chewing each mouthful 35 times compared to 10 times has been shown to reduce energy intake by 12%.[iii] Enough to help stop unwanted weight gain and may be sufficient for weight loss.

 

I would argue that any decision to ban cake from the office should be based on how it is eaten. Is it a chance for employees to stop, congregate, chat and socialise, sharing positive interactions before getting back to work? Or is cake left on the side for people to grab a slice (or maybe two?) as they walk past to eat at their desk while working? The first scenario is a positive, uplifting and mindful experience where people take time to enjoy sharing food together. The second scenario encourages mindless eating, fitting the cakegate experience of something that adds little apart from calories to a working day.

 

Whether it’s cakes for birthdays, muffin Mondays, donut Thursdays or drinks on Fridays to try to entice people back to the office consider the experience that comes with it. If it brings a team together with an occasional shared experience – then yes go ahead and enjoy. But be mindful of those who don’t want to eat indulge, and why not consider alternatives too (e.g. an exotic fruit platter or exploring alternative cuisines).

 Nutrition4 offer a range of dietitian led workshops to support employee health. Why not discover more or get in touch for great company deals?

[i] Paz-Graniel I et al (2019) Association between Eating Speed and Classical Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients. 11: 83

[ii] Chen HJ et al (2016) Relationship between frequency of eating and cardiovascular disease mortality in U.S. adults: the NHANES III follow-up study. Ann Epidemiol. 26: 527-533.

[iii] Smit HJ et al (2011) Does prolonged chewing reduce food intake? Fletcherism Revisited. Appetite. 57: 295–298.

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