Is It Better To Take A Real Lunch Break Than To Eat At Your Desk?
In trying times, when solid job openings instantly get dozens of applicants, it seems wise, even necessary, for the employed to do everything they can to hold on to their jobs. For some, that means working weekends or skipping vacations. For others, it could entail proposing a new innovative strategy, or paying more attention to the task at hand. But before you decide to start skipping lunch breaks and become one of the millions of Americans who eat at their desks (or if you're already among them), you should read Sue Shellenberger's article today in the Wall Street Journal.
To some extent, Shellenberger retreads familiar territory; she notes that taking a lunch break helps clear workers' minds and improves their afternoon productivity. This is the mantra of the much-publicized "Take Back Your Lunch" movement, which has cropped up in articles over the past couple years. The idea seems credible enough at this point. Taking time away from work frees up your unconscious mind to wander over the subjects you've worked on in the morning, and eating a nice meal helps recharge your brain from decision fatigue.
But Shellenberger's article is most persuasive on the social costs of eating at your desk. She interviews many office workers who get annoyed when colleagues eat smelly foods in the office for lunch: cabbage, microwaved popcorn and burritos, sandwiches made with tuna or sardines. These situations are unpleasant and awkward for all those affected, so they hurt overall office productivity.
Eating at Your Desk Creates a Vicious Cycle of Vermin, Disease, and Death
7 Tips for Eating While You Work
Having lunch at your desk - again? Here's how to make it healthier. By Heather Hatfield
Ellen Spencer admits it: She's a desk diner.
"I eat lunch at my desk three or four times a week," says Spencer, an executive assistant in Boston. "I'd like to eat away from my desk with my friends more often, or just get away from my desk for a while, but usually it's just too busy."
Sound like anyone you know? Some 70% of Americans eat at their desks several times a week, according to the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods Foundation.
The bad news is that this can lead not only to poor nutritional choices, but to food-safety problems as well.
"The desk was not designed to be an eating place," says Rick Hall, RD, MS, a faculty member at Arizona State University in Phoenix. "So spending your lunch hour in front of your computer brings with it a number of issues.""
So what are the hungry and overworked to do? Read on for some desk-dining tips from experts. But first, here are some reasons not to eat while you work.
Drawbacks of Desk Dining
One of the biggest drawbacks to eating at your desk is that you're not focused on your food. Instead, you're sending e-mail, answering the phone, shuffling paper -- the perfect recipe for overeating.
"Eating at your desk encourages mindless eating, and overeating," says Susan Moores, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "You're most likely multitasking and not paying attention to the amount of food you're eating."
Lunching at your desk also means that instead of sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day, you're doing it for nine.
"Eating at your desk also prevents you from getting up and out of your office," Moores tells WebMD. "You need to get the heart pumping and the blood flowing again, and lunch is an important time to do that. If you're sitting at your desk eating, you lose that opportunity."
As if that weren't bad enough, dining at your desk can create a field day for bacteria.
"If you get called away from your desk, and then you have to put off eating for an hour or two, and then you pick at your lunch over the day, you need to be concerned about the temperature of your food and food safety," says Moores.
In other words, your room-temperature chicken salad sandwich that's been sitting out for three hours can easily become a bacteria feeding ground. But wait, it gets worse. (You might want to put that sandwich down now.)
"The desk, in terms of bacteria, is 400 times more dirty than your toilet," says Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "People turn their desks into bacteria cafeterias because they eat at them, but they never clean them. The phone is the dirtiest, the desktop is next, and the mouse and the computer follow."
To give your desktop the dirt test, Gerba says, "turn your keyboard over and see how many crumbs fall out. The more of a snowstorm, the dirtier your desk."
Clearly, it's time to find a new place to dine, like a restaurant or the cafeteria. But for those of us who just can't break away from that ever-expanding pile of work, here are some tips for improving the desk-dining experience:
Watch what you eat. "Pay attention to what you're putting in your mouth when you eat at your desk," says Hall, who serves on the advisory board for the Arizona Governor's Council on Health, Physical Fitness, and Sports. "And don't overdo it by eating too much because you're too focused on email. For lunch, you want to pick a meal that's moderate in size but doesn't fill you up."
Bring your lunch. "Lunch is a good opportunity to eat healthy," says Hall. "Bring a salad with chicken, nuts, beans and veggies -- you'll get some great nutrients, including fiber and protein." Avoid takeout lunches, which tend to be expensive, oversized, heavy in fat and calories, and lacking in nutrients. To keep your lunch safe, the American Dietetic Association recommends using an insulated lunch bag with a freezer pack to keep your food cold until you can put in the office refrigerator. But don't let more than two hours pass before putting it back into a fridge.
Walk when you can. "We're genetically designed to move," says Hall. "So spending lunch at your desk when you have a long day as it is, isn't a good thing." If you have to eat at your desk, look for ways to move during the day. Walk to the water cooler, from the farthest spot in the parking lot, to the copy machine - anything you can do to move your muscles. Better yet, get some physical activity when you get up or at the end of the day to make up for your stagnant lifestyle.
Disinfect your desk. "Wiping your whole desk area with disinfecting wipes once a day is enough to get it clean," says Gerba. "Paper towels don't work. They just give the germs a free ride around the office." Be sure to get your phone, your keyboard, and your mouse as well, and avoid touching those surfaces while you're eating, says Moores: "Otherwise, you're just contaminating your food over and over again." And while it shouldn't replace good old-fashioned hand-washing, it's a good idea to keep some hand sanitizer in your desk drawer, too.
Use a placemat. Give yourself some extra protection after the wipe-down. "Placemats are good because they create a barrier between your food and the bacteria," says Moores.
Eat with a friend. "If you have to eat at your desk, invite an officemate over to eat with you," Moores suggests. "It's important from a productivity and creativity standpoint to get that break and interact with your colleagues."
Don't make it a habit. "Sometimes I don't even realize I'm doing it -- it just becomes habit," Spencer says of eating at her desk. "But anytime I can get away for lunch, I definitely take advantage of it. My ideal lunch is to just catch up with my friends at work, or relax and read a magazine in the cafeteria."
Is eating at your desk dooming your diet?
5 Reasons You Shouldn't Eat Lunch at Your Desk
by Kristen Hawley / October 11, 2010
Busy days, hectic schedules, and long hours at the office have us trying to fit in as much productivity during the workday as possible. Naturally, scarfing down lunch while you work is an easy solution, but it may not be the best idea for your sanity, productivity, or health. Below, five reasons it's a good idea to eat lunch anywhere but your desk.
Your desk isn't the cleanest place to eat. On average, your mouse carries 846 germs per square inch, while your keyboard contains 719. Ew.
You could use the time to take a walk. Americans walk less than people in most other countries. Walking carries a host of health benefits — but you have to take at least 5,000 steps each day to enjoy them!
You'll miss out on social time. Even if it's just sitting at a table in a different part of the office, take some time away from your computer screen and in front of co-workers. This face time will not only be a nice break from a monotonous day, it will also help you bond with co-workers.
You may end up eating more. Just like eating in front of the TV, eating at your computer can encourage mindless snacking or overeating.
Your brain could benefit from a mini-break. Taking just a 15 minute break during the course of your day can clear your mind — even just for a little while — and help you think clearly up your productivity for the rest of the day.
Tell me, where will you be eating your lunch today?