Eating at Your Desk: Is It Healthy?By Brittany Risher Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D. Science-Backed
If you’re a working professional with a seemingly never-ending to-do list, stepping away from your desk to enjoy a healthy lunch doesn’t always seem feasible. Perhaps eating at your desk is the only way to leave work in time to pick up the kids. Or maybe you're new to the office and are apprehensive about dining alone in the cafeteria. Whatever the case, you may want to reconsider your mid-day break: Eating away from your desk may benefit your waistline and your health. Read on to find out why eating at your desk may not be worth the “saved time” — and five ways taking a break during your lunch hour may benefit your health.
1. You may eat more mindfully
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Have you ever eaten lunch at your desk, then felt hungry an hour later? If so, you're not alone. In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,1 researchers served the same lunch to two groups of people. Half ate while playing solitaire on a computer and the other half ate without distraction. The gamers not only reported being less full immediately after lunch, they also ate almost twice as many cookies as the non-distracted group did 30 minutes post-lunch. The study authors believe that distraction may blur our memories of eating and our sense of fullness.
Stepping away from your desk may help you eat more mindfully, which also may help you consume less food, research indicates.2 Over time, your weight loss may also benefit. To practice mindful eating, try focusing on every sense of your meal: the colors on your plate, enticing aromas of the food, and the different flavors and textures in each bite. Find a place to enjoy your food where you won’t be easily distracted by digital devices. If it’s nice out, consider eating your lunch outside, or take your lunch to a peaceful lookout. Even eating in your office’s breakroom is a great way to give your eyes some rest from staring at your computer screen — plus, you can take the time to savor every bite of your meal!
2. You may be more productive and creative
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As hard as we try to do two (or three or five) things at once, research indicates we can’t efficiently do two tasks at the same time.3 In fact, one study found that only 2.5% of people can multitask effectively.4 Trying to focus on more than one project — like eating and working — may lead you to make three times as many errors as you would mono-tasking5 and may make you up to 40% less productive.6
But it's not only multitasking that may be making you less productive — forgoing a lunch break may reduce your output. In one study, University of Illinois researchers gave 84 people a 50-minute task. Those who took two brief breaks did not experience a drop in their performance over time, while those who didn't take a break saw a dramatic decline in their productivity. The lead researcher commented, "From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"7
What’s more, research suggests that scheduled breaks may boost your creativity.8 Simply using another part of your brain to chat with coworkers or immersing yourself in a nutritious meal could help you come back to your task with a fresh mind and new perspective — one that allows you to see solutions and make connections that your worn down, hungry brain could not. You may be able to get more done in less time and still get out the door in time to take your child to soccer practice.
3. Socializing is good for your health
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It's never a bad thing to spend some time away from your cubicle with your colleagues. Your work and health may benefit from the interaction — whether that be by the water cooler or a lunchtime walk. MIT researchers discovered that employees who frequently interacted face-to-face with their coworkers were more productive than less-social workers.9 Other studies show that “real-life” interactions and relationships (that is, not over social media or the phone) may help prevent depression10 and memory loss,11 and may reduce inflammation associated with certain diseases.12 So why not ask the new employee or intern to join you for lunch? They're sure to welcome the company.
4. Most of us can benefit from moving more
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You're likely aware that too much sitting can have an adverse effect on your health. But you may not realize just how: Research shows that people who spend more time being sedentary may be at a greater risk of metabolic syndrome,13 cardiovascular disease and diabetes.14 Do like you would with a workout: Schedule time in your calendar to take a lunch break and plan to meet a friend for a walk to keep yourself accountable. If it's available to you, consider walking to a nearby park to eat outside when the weather is nice for a little extra activity.
5. You may avoid getting sick
Even if you have your own office, eating at your desk in the workplace actually means eating with others — in the form of bacteria. Most of us are oblivious to the fact that, at the office, more germs hang out on our office desks and keyboards than on the toilets in the bathrooms, according to a University of Arizona survey.15 Instead, head to the cafeteria where you know the tables are cleaned properly every day. And keep washing your hands and wiping down your desk area with sanitizing wipes.
What’s your plan for lunch today? Hopefully, you won’t be eating lunch at your desk! We hope you use these tips and take the time to enjoy your meal away from your workspace — while savoring every bite!
Do you need help with meal prep during the week? Too tired or busy to grocery shop? Take one thing off your to-do list and let Jenny Craig do the work! Enjoy chef-crafted, healthy meals while staying on track with your health goals. Learn more about our personalized weight plans and start eating healthier meals today.
Brittany is a writer, editor, and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content. Her clients include Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, and Yoga Journal. Brittany earned her master's and bachelor's degrees from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. To stay sane from working too hard, she turns to yoga, strength training, and meditation.
Favorite healthy snack: smoothies
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig