Three sprinkled donuts are plated next to a cup of coffee and a laptop.
The doughnut, a staple at many an office meeting, isn’t harmful once in a while. A daily doughnut, however, is apt to cause problems. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Snacking at work is one of the few times when subtraction leads to addition.

Took a doughnut from the holiday tray? A piece of chocolate cake at the office party?

Those so-called free foods come at a cost: They add empty calories to your diet and, over time, extra weight to your frame.

The numbers bear this out.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study concluded that 70 percent of the approximately 1,300 calories the average adult consumes at work each week comes from free food.

That works out to 900 calories a week from free food, or 180 calories a day for a five-day work week. Those 3,600 extra calories per month can lead to weight gain.

Aside from abstention, what can a worker do? Some careful approaches can help cut down on those calories, said Caren Dobreff, a Spectrum Health registered dietitian and nutritionist.

Dobreff offers some helpful tips to avoid overeating at work:

Start right

To feel full throughout the morning, eat a balanced breakfast containing protein, fiber and healthy fats. This can include items such as whole grain toast with smashed avocado or natural peanut butter, or Greek yogurt with chopped nuts and berries. Another great option is a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs cooked with salsa, wrapped in a whole wheat flour tortilla.

Buy healthy

This may sound simple, but few people actually do it: Buy healthier foods when you head out for a bite to eat at work—and also buy healthier snacks you can actually take to work. Items such as apples, pear slices and fresh fruit are ideal. Aim for natural snack bars that contain at least 5 to 8 grams of protein and fiber and less than 100 calories. Unsalted or low-sodium nuts are also good. Drink water or tea during the day, rather than soda or other sugary drinks.

Veggie party

Talk to coworkers and get them to agree, at least occasionally, to bring in a veggie tray instead of the traditional cakes and cookies for birthdays, new babies and other celebrations. You’d be surprised how many people actually appreciate the occasional tray of celery and carrots.

Out of sight, out of reach

Place snacks on break room tables during a designated time frame and then place them in the refrigerator or out of sight. It’s generally a good idea to keep snacks away from common gathering places, such as vending machines. Food that is visible and easily accessible is more likely to be eaten impulsively.

Standup act

People with sedentary jobs should take frequent breaks, get some exercise and be as active as possible at work. A computer desk that allows you to stand instead of sit can be helpful in controlling your weight, given that standing burns more calories than sitting.

Advanced planning can help reduce the risk of office-related weight gain, Dobreff said.

“Hunger and the need to satisfy hunger can be very powerful and can drive us to make unhealthy decisions unless we’re prepared,” she said.