If businesses installed CCTV to spy on us at work, it wouldn’t just be the invasion of our privacy that would horrify us. It would also be seeing ourselves indulging in our national pastime — the ‘al desko’ lunch. For many workers the day is so time-strapped that eating at our desks has become the norm. And it probably isn’t a pretty sight.
Perhaps for some the daily ritual of chomping on an industrial size BLT, washed down with cola and wolfed without us even dragging our eyes from the screen amounts to a balanced diet. Do we savour it? Do we even taste it? Not a chance. Often we’re on deadline, so at the same time as our bodies are trying to get to grips with digesting the sandwich, we’re battling a counter-offensive of a cocktail of stress hormones.
And it’s not good for us. Research shows that we eat more when we’re distracted or stressed, because stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which encourages us to eat more — probably related to a primal survival impulse (Harvard Health Publications, 2012). What’s more, multitasking can lead you to ignore hunger and fullness signals, making it easier to overeat.
Work is work and has to be done. But help is at hand — and there are ways to build healthy practice into our busy schedules including physical activity.
For starters, step away from the desk. There’s often talk about austerity promoting a culture where people feel too guilty to take a lunch break. But eyes down and nose to the grindstone is only sustainable for moderate chunks of time and the idea that you’ll get more done by sticking relentlessly to a task is not borne out by the evidence. Even short breaks from a task can improve your productivity. (Science Daily, 2011).
And sitting down is bad for us. Studies have shown that people who move around a lot during the day — by going to the water cooler, bustling with chores or even fidgeting — are less likely to pile on weight than those who just sit still (New York Times, 2007).
Then there’s what we eat. Many of us have little choice about sitting at a computer for most of the day — it’s the nature of modern working. But small adjustments to your diet, eating smaller portions and being food aware can make the difference. Eurest’s Know Your Food programme makes the latter very achievable by helping us make informed choices.
Other healthy eating tips:
- Eat breakfast. People who eat a morning meal actually consume fewer calories throughout the day. Extreme hunger at lunchtime can ruin the best of intentions
- Don’t overload with empty calories just because you’re fixating on your email — if snacking helps you concentrate, choose nutritious brain food such as seeds, nuts, berries and salad/raw vegetables
- Drink plenty of water
- Don’t wolf — chewing your food slowly aids digestion and helps you feel more full.
So if you work in an office and need some healthy quick wins, the simple message is: keep moving and don’t work harder — eat smarter.
Harvard Health Publications (2012) Why stress causes people to overeat http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2012/February/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat (accessed 1 February 2013)
Science Daily (2011), Brief Diversions Vastly Improve Focus, Researchers Find [online] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208131529.htm (accessed 1 February 2013)
New York Times (2011) Is sitting a lethal activity? [online] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17sitting-t.html?_r=1 (accessed 1 February 2013)