Eating your lunch with one eye on your email inbox has become commonplace for most of us, especially during this time of year. As time pressures and tight deadlines pile up ahead of the new year, we are all striving to finish our work before the holiday hits.

But in the whirlwind of daily office life, are we considering just how many future issues and expenses we’re setting ourselves and our organizations up for by working through lunch?

A recent study into workforce eating habits has shed light on just how harmful an “al desko” eating culture is. If you’re guilty of grabbing sandwiches over emails, read on to discover what you can do about it.

The Business of Eating

On-the-go eating is absolutely rife, with 51 percent of all workers surveyed saying they eat at their desks as often as — or more often than — they eat at the dining table. Forty percent also regularly eat dinner in the office due to the long hours expected of them at work. Thirty-four percent are too busy to stop for meals at all, grabbing nibbles in meetings or in transit, while 18 percent eat in their cars!

All of this is, perhaps unsurprisingly, playing havoc with our overall health.

“Eating alone or at your desk can increase negative feelings such as anxiety and sadness,” says Dr. Lucia Giombini, a clinical psychologist. “Eating in front of our laptops can also lead us to be disconnected from physical sensations such as hunger and fullness, which can in turn lead us to make less healthy food choices.”

The True Cost of Eating Al Desko

Mental health should be a serious concern in the workplace for 2019. In the US, one million workers are absent from work everyday due to stress, and that’s to say nothing of the affect other mental health challenges can have on absenteeism rates. Eating while hunched over a laptop every day can also cause physical problems, such as back pain, obesity, and heart issues, all of which lead to further sick days and lost productivity.

“Carving out dedicated time for your lunch break in which you pay attention to your emotions and to eating results in healthier food choices, better eating habits, and decreases negative emotions such as anxiety and stress,” says nutritionist Samantha Paget.

Reclaiming the Lunch Break

While it all makes sense in principle, the daily realities of the office don’t enable us to push the off switch as much as we might like. With this in mind, Paget and Giombini have put together some tips to help employees reclaim the workday as much as they can:

  1. Carve out some real time for eating by taking a lunch break, even if just a few days a week. Just half an hour away from your desk can make you more refreshed and readier to go when it’s time to get back to work.
  2. Develop a structured mealtime routine to make it a regular part of your day. Set the table, eat at the same time each day, and coordinate work and after-school schedules with family members so that you can all eat together. While you may be unable to leave work on time every day of the week, setting aside even 1-2 preplanned dinner dates a week can produce great mental and physical health benefits.
  3. Try to ban all tech from your mealtimes to prevent distraction while eating, and be sure to go by your own rules if you do. Don’t check your emails at every meal. When eating at work, try listening to a podcast or going for a walk instead. If you really have to work through lunch, use the time to catch up on your to-do list rather than fire-fighting everything that lands in your inbox. This will give you a higher sense of accomplishment and enable you to leave the office sooner.

Hannah Waters is a freelance writer from London.

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