Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Google diet. No need to keep searching.

I've seen it first hand. And I'm certain that if you were to experience it first hand, that you'd be sold too. This is no testimonial for quick weight loss, nor for the latest cleanse. And I haven't lost my mind. And yes, I've already eaten my breakfast, and had my coffee--so my thinking is quite clear.

It's time to open our eyes to what Google already knows about being healthy and fit. And to apply those lesson plans to our schools--and to our selves. I'm talking about the Google diet: Google's approach to food and eating, to feeding it's many employees, that's super smart. It seems strikingly crafted, based on the research on keeping us healthy--and happy. I had no plans to blog on this, but after visiting a couple of Google offices I just had to share. Because we can all get some answers from Google.

So what's so impressive about the Google diet?

Snacking: from portions to placement

Google likes snacking. So yes, already I'm sold. There are snack stations at various sites throughout Google buildings, with several notable features: there are m & m's, and there are organic bars; there's dried fruit and fresh fruit (much of it local no doubt) and nuts and yogurts.  Take your pick. Yes, there are desirable snack options that encourage Googlers (employees) to snack. Because we all need to snack for energy, for clarity, for productivity. Or we get tired. And cranky. And impulsive when we finally get our hands on food. Or, we miss our opportunity to eat when hungry, and for some, interest in eating is lost.

There are very mini cups--the folded paper ones like what you get pills in at the hospital--and there are cereal size bowls, too. Need just a few peanut m & m's? Portion them into a mini cup and acknowledge you're eating them. And they'll look like much more, and appear more satisfying, than if served in a cereal bowl. (see Brian Wansink's work on this.) Googlers might even be encouraged to choose the more wholesome choices by placing them at eye level--just as supermarkets stock Fruit Loops at toddler height. 

And those snack areas? They are separate from work areas. We all need to have a time out for eating, separate from our other activities. And by keeping them separate, Googlers aren't prompted to eat them just because of the visual stimulus. Rather, they have to decide to go and get a snack because, I suspect, they're hungry. 

In contrast to Google,  our schools, specifically Middle and High schools, pretend that kids no longer need to eat between meals. They expect them to function well and not be irritable, in spite of drops in their blood sugar and falling energy levels. Yes, growing kids certainly need snacks between meals.

Yet teens are at the mercy of individual teachers to possibly break the rules to allow snacking in their classrooms; or, they must get permission when medically necessary to eat at the nurse's office. Sometimes kids need to sneak food in between classes--often the easiest option. Yup, nothing like encouraging our kids to start sneaking food.


In schools, the curriculum speaks of good versus bad foods--although admittedly in slightly more opaque terms (see my last post). Fruits, vegetables and low fat foods--they're the good stuff, while fats and sugars--they're viewed as bad. It reminds me of the unsuccessful DARE drug education program taught in US schools, the program which had my middle schooler at the time appalled that I would dare to drink a glass of Cabernet with dinner. 
Not a Google dessert, but it could have been.

At Google it's about moderation. At the cafeteria, foods are labeled using the traffic signal approach: best choices get a green light, to be eaten freely; yellow, more caution with frequency and amounts, and red lights urge awareness that these shouldn't be eaten too often. (Think creamy clam chowder or fatty meat dishes.) But note that red light items are still served, and balance is the take home message. I can't say how effective the traffic light system actually is, but I surely like that they're not encouraging fat free or low calorie foods, nor displaying calorie counts in their cafeteria. Our schools, in contrast direct our kids to calorie count hoping that that awareness will solve the 'obesity epidemic'. 

I almost forgot to tell you about the desserts! They're served every day--but the portions seem rather reasonable. And they weren't placed at the start of the lunch line where diners are sure to grab it first thing--that's where the salad was displayed. Rather, it was somewhere in the center if I remember correctly--I had to search for it actually. And knowing there's no shortage of desserts being served each week surely must prevent Googlers from hoarding their desserts. No doubt they trust that it'll be there. And they can eat just as much as they need, because tomorrow will bring another dessert. (see Halloween post about this)

It's gotta taste good 

Ok. I realize that Google employs Michelin star chefs to prepare delicious food for their employees. But can't we even serve more desirable fruits and fruit salads in our schools? Can't we stir fry some tasty veggies to be more appealing for kids to want to eat? Can't we serve mini cookies with lunch--to teach balance and moderation? And can't we allow ourselves to eat foods we truly enjoy?

Support movement

Biking or walking to work? You get rewarded! Yup, in Google's case, financially. Bike to school and you might be sent home. Seriously. It happened to a patient of mine in MA. And you'd be lucky if there were a place to store your bike! In US schools, the move has been to reduce physical education. At Google it has been to add spin classes and yoga. Something needs to change in our communities to support more movement.

Consider these Google diet lessons

  • We all need opportunities to snack, when we're hungry. 
  • Be strategic in your placement of food in your environment--we don't need it shouting to us, but it needs to be available for when we want it.
  • Food should taste good, and we all need permission to eat what we like--in portions appropriate for our individual need.
  • Dessert are not just for birthdays and holidays.
  • Incentives for movement encourage movement. 
  • Foods aren't simplistically good and bad nor are we good nor bad for eating them.
Thanks for reading! Comments welcome!


  1. Well done, nice food for thought (pun intended!).

  2. Great topic , makes wonderful sense.

    I live in Massachusetts and it bothers me that the time for lunch in the high schools is extremely short. So kids have to eat fast and make choices about what is quick to eat in order to get their lunch in. They learn to eat in a hurry and then to grab food whnever they can.

    I have a son who runs track - distance and xcountry. He loves it, lives for it and logs 50 - 60 miles a week. I pack him a very large lunch every day - 2 very large sandwiches, 1 various meats and cheese on a sub roll and 1 PB& J, fruit, nuts, multiple snacks ( chips, m&M's crackers - whatever ). He eats this between meals or during class and then also buys school lunch. The calorie restrictions on school lunches are tough on the athletes who need the fuel and for any of the kids who are growing. Thankfully teachers allow moderate snacking or my son would not be performing as well he does both in sports and school. Could you really concentrate on chemistry if you were hungry ?

    Even with the large amount of eating he does, he is extremely fit and healthy ( and one the top runners for his age group in Mass ) and is at an appropriate weight. I let him he whatever he wants and whenever he wants. Some days it endless eating, some day 3 or 4 large meals, other days little or nothing. I never want him to restrict or limit what he needs for fuel in any way.

    1. Such a smart parent! I'd love to see this post and the calorie counting one that preceded it shared with schools so maybe there'd be some change! Really, I thnk they simply don't get it.

    2. Restricting doesn't work. I was always a bigger girl - thanks to my german farmer girl heritage. And my parents started criticising me me and having me diet. I was always hungry in my teen year, I was very very active and I started bad habits that have haunted me all my life and I have struggled with my weight all my life. ( Looking back on pictures from that time I was in no way overweight - I was just broad and sturdy built ). I love your column, I don't diet anymore ( I will occasionally count up my calories and I stopped doing crazy gym stuff that was killing my joints and now do more enjoyable things at the gym ) I never want my kids to struggle like I have with weight and self esteem.