Maybe you don’t have the time to go out to lunch most weekdays, or you’ve just grown accustomed to eating at your desk because it’s quick and easy. But eating lunch somewhere other than your workspace can have a positive effect on your productivity levels and your appetite. The next time you need a reminder to leave your desk at lunch, keep these benefits in mind:
Most people who sit at their desks during lunch often eat while doing work, so they aren’t paying attention to the flavors and textures of their food, which can lead to overeating. “Eating in this way causes you to miss critical internal hunger and fullness cues,” says Amber Stevens, a Denver-based integrative nutrition health coach and mindful-based eating instructor. What’s more, “eating at your desk removes the pleasure of eating. Eating is wonderful for the senses but if you’re at your desk, it removes the pleasure of eating by making the experience just another ‘to do’ on your daily list.” Try taking your lunch to a proper table or outdoors, where you can get mood-boosting dose of nature.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found when people played a computer game while eating lunch, they felt less full afterward and ate more cookies during a post-lunch snack, compared to people who ate the same lunch without the computer-game distraction.
Whether you’re checking email, flipping through a magazine or playing games on your phone while eating, “if you don’t pay attention to your meal, you won’t realize that your appetite has been satisfied, you will likely snack later and make less nutritious choices,” says Shae Vian, a London-based behavioral psychologist. “It’s healthier to eat away from your desk just to help prevent this.”
Many people stash snacks in their desk drawers. While this can be a healthy strategy, if you’ve eaten lunch while distracted, you may be more likely to reach for them sooner. What was meant to be a late-afternoon snack could very well become part of your lunch when you would have felt full without it. “If you take a set amount of food with you to eat for lunch away from your desk, you will consume just that,” says Vian. “You can better monitor exactly how much you are eating.”
Humans weren’t designed to sit at desks for eight hours every day. If you get up and walk for part of your lunch break, then find a place to eat, you’ll get some physical activity, which can have a positive impact on your post-lunch workflow. “Your body and mind need to move,” says Stevens. “A change of scenery can move you out of robot mode and into creativity mode. By eating at your desk, you run the risk of less productivity as the brain fatigues and gets bored.”
If you don’t have the time for a long walk, even a short trip down the hall to the break room can help. “Any exercise is good, even if it is just to take a walk and eat your lunch elsewhere,” says Vian. “It’s not healthy to remain sedentary at your desk all the time, even to eat your lunch.” Just a 5-minute walk to eat lunch elsewhere can counter the negative effects caused by sitting.
Finding another place to eat your lunch besides your desk may help you recognize fullness cues, prevent mindless snacking and improve productivity. Try eating your lunch in a conference or break room, in common areas or at a nearby park or bench outside your building — maybe even ask a coworker to join you.
Regardless of where you choose to have lunch, keep your phone or other devices out of sight to avoid overeating. A new study from the journal Physiology & Behavior found people who looked at their smartphones while eating consumed 15% more calories than when they weren’t distracted by their devices.