Exercising discretion at work

By guest blogger Dietitian Lynn Field

Are you one of the many people trying to lose weight by cutting carbs, reducing fat and saying no to sugar? You may be going about it the wrong way if you haven’t taken into account the amount of discretionary foods you are eating. The Australian Dietary Guidelines have recently been updated and now includes a list of discretionary foods (previously called ‘extra’ foods). These are foods that are generally high in energy, but low in nutrients and Australians are eating far too many of them. In fact, the most recent data shows that these foods make up 41% of the total daily energy intake of 2-18 year olds and more than 35% of the total daily energy intake for adults!  Listed below is what this might look like over a day for an adult who is within the healthy weight range.

  • 2-3 sweet biscuits
  • meat pie
  • 2 scoops of icecream
  • 200ml glass of wine

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that we eat a variety of nutritious foods from the five foods groups every day to meet our nutritional needs. However, the word variety refers to nutritious foods not discretionary foods. We have to face an uncomfortable truth – because of our sedentary lifestyles there is very little room to include discretionary foods in addition to the foods we require to maintain health, without putting on weight, because we simply don’t move enough. According to the Monash Obesity and Diabetes Institute if current trends continue nearly 80% of adults and a third of children in Australia will be overweight or obese by 2025.


Up to a third of our time can be spent at work, so this might be a good place to start if you are thinking you might need to cut back on the amount of discretionary foods you eat. Have a chat to your co-workers and see if anyone else is interested in improving the food environment at  your workplace. Some ideas include:

  • Replacing the biscuit tin with a staff fruit bowl
  • Ask caterers for healthy options
  • Switch from full fat milk to reduced fat milk
  • Investigate healthier options for vending machines
  • Explore non-food fund raising ideas
  • Install a filter tap to encourage people to drink plain water

A great way to inspire people to change their eating behaviours is to adopt a healthy eating policy for your workplace. So come on, take up the challenge and start a conversation with your workmates and see how your workplace can be a positive influence on your health now and in the future.

…and don’t forget the other side of the equation, move more.

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