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The hidden cost of eating at your work desk


Why reinstating a lunch break and chatting to your colleagues is good for your health and waistline.

With deadlines, meetings, and a steady stream of unread emails, making time to have a lunch break can seem like a luxury rather than a necessity. While munching at your desk as you get through your inbox may seem like the best way to manage your time, it can actually be doing you more harm than good.

“We are genetically designed to be active which can be difficult in a desk-bound job,” says Elizabeth Amarandos, a dietitian at Workplace Wellbeing Programs at NAQ Nutrition. “Your lunch break is a time where you can be more active but to make the most of it, it’s important to move away from your desk when you eat lunch.”

We all know that it isn’t always possible to get away from your desk at lunchtime, let along go outside to stretch your legs. If you’re guilty of this, there are some clever ways to combat the ‘desk lunch’ habit.

“Look for more ways to move during the day,” suggests Amarandos. “Try parking the car further away from the office, stand rather than sitting while taking telephone calls, make an effort to communicate with coworkers in person rather than via email,” she says.

This isn’t just about getting enough exercise though.

“Not making time for a proper break during the day can put you at greater risk of becoming stressed and experiencing burnout,” says Amarandos. “Taking your lunch outside or to a quiet spot in the office can provide the relaxation needed to boost productivity and focus later in the afternoon.”

A recent study by the Department of Psychology at Humboldt University in Germany found that those who had lunch with colleagues outside of the office environment demonstrated symptoms of being more relaxed afterward than those who ate alone at their desks. The social aspect of a lunch break can make a difference, and may actually help you connect better with your colleagues.

Another aspect that may suffer if you eat at your desk is nutrition, particularly if you order fast food or hit the vending machines.

“Use this as an opportunity to bring a packed lunch from home and store it safely in the office fridge. Bringing leftovers to work or packing a salad sandwich is often a much cheaper and healthier alternative to purchasing lunch,” says Amarandos.

Preparing your own meals and snacks for work allows you greater control over what you are eating, how that food is prepared, and the portion size that is appropriate for you. As you are not moving much during the day, then it will be important not to have excess kilojoules,” she says.

Exercise and nutrition aside, did you know that your office desk harbours up to 400 times more germs than the toilet? So if you do eat at your desk, be sure to use disinfectant wipes to clean your keyboard, mouse, and workspace to keep the germs at bay.