Along with ghosting and online trolls, eating lunch ‘al desko’ has become a sadly common reality of modern life.
Many of us see it as a necessity – you feel like you’ve got so much work to do that you can’t step away for even a second. According to a survey commissioned by the National Charity Partnership, almost three in five UK employees eat lunch at their desk, giving reasons ranging from heavy workloads to the office culture.
Even though it might seem like a small portion of your day, what you decide to do with your lunch break can have a huge impact. Here are some of the potential mental and physical results of eating at your desk throughout the week.
“Desk dining generally means you’re not dedicating time to eat, which suggests you’re eating under undue stress and not eating in a mindful way,” says Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan.
‘Mindful eating’ might sound like a made up wellness trend, but trust us – it’s a very real and positive thing.
“Distractions at your work desk divert your attention so the brain is unable to accurately register the amount of food that you’ve consumed,” explains psychologist Dr Aria Campbell-Danesh. “If you’re not paying attention to the food that you’re eating, this information is less likely to be stored in your memory bank. Research shows that eating when distracted makes it more difficult for people to remember how much they’ve eaten. With fewer memories of what they’ve had that day, later when they sit down for their next meal, they’re likely to eat significantly more.”
If you pay a bit more attention to what you’re eating, it seems to also be more likely you won’t snack as much later in the day. A study by the University of Birmingham in 2014 found that eating “attentively” decreased later snack intake by 30% for the overweight women participating.
Furthermore, you’re far more likely to finish everything on your plate if you’re not concentrating on what you’re eating. We’re not encouraging food waste but it’s definitely better to stop when you’re full and save the leftovers for later – rather than the overfamiliar feeling of realising far too late that you’re stuffed.
Eating lunch at your desk is the absolute worst, no idea how ppl do this regularly— Brad Williams (@BradWilliams321) February 6, 2014
Mindful eating is also good for your digestion. When you’re not thinking about the food in front of you, you’re far more likely to hoover it up in the blink of an eye.
Needless to say, this isn’t good news for your body. “Eating in a rushed way or in the presence of stress is also more likely to encourage the symptoms of indigestion such as heartburn, bloating and excess wind,” Hobson explains.
Rushing your food can lead to painful indigestion, which could potentially make it harder for you to successfully do all your work – even though you worked through lunch. Chewing your food properly will encourage the enzymes that help digestion to switch on, and the slower you eat the less air will enter your stomach, reducing the risk of bloating.
I’ve been sticking to my pledge not to eat lunch at my desk and it’s been helpful. It’s too easy to get tied down there all day. And if you’re eating at your desk, is it really a lunch break?— Nay (@NayNayEsq) November 28, 2018
It’s called a lunch ‘break’ for a reason – it’s meant to be a time where you can take a pause from work to recharge your batteries, making you ready to attack the afternoon’s tasks. However, if you’re sat at your desk bashing away at emails all through lunch, you could very likely burn out before you even make it to 3pm.
“Don’t underestimate the effects of stress on the body. Stress has become a common side-effect of our modern way of living and the ripple effect on health has been shown to reach many areas of health,” Hobson says. “Stress not only impacts on mental health but encourages inflammation in the body, which is now understood to be a key risk factor for many diseases.
“Stress can also impact on digestion and is a key factor in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Try to take time to manage your stress if this is an issue. Breathing and other relaxation techniques are simple to do during the day and can help to sooth a busy mind.”
Eating at your desk suggests you’re not really taking a break from sitting down all day. This can have a huge impact on your posture – just think about the position of your spine as the day progresses. Are you sitting up straight until it’s time to go home, or are you slowly hunching further over? For most of us it’s the latter.
“A major concern is musculoskeletal issues, often developed as a result of prolonged sitting and desk work,” Andy Romero-Birkbeck, of digital wellbeing organisation Hero, says.
“In simple terms, the muscles of the body work in pairs, if one muscle becomes shorter and tighter as a result of sitting, the opposing muscle can become weaker and longer. Over time this will created muscular imbalances and promote poor posture and and potential spinal issues like disk bulges and sciatica.”
- Press Association