7 reasons why eating lunch at your desk is a bad idea
Engagement 6 minute read

7 reasons why eating lunch at your desk is a bad idea

Rise | September 25, 2018

There are many reasons why you should get up and move around during work hours. Lunchtime is a great time to step away from your desk, and eating lunch at your desk can actually have adverse physical and mental health effects. 

We all know that eating lunch at your desk isn’t good for you, but yet we still do it. Despite the increasing number of workplace wellness programs out there, most of us can’t resist staying at our desks to get a few extra emails out at lunch.

However, staying at your desk all day can decrease your productivity and increase stress levels. Furthermore, sitting for long periods of time can cause a whole host of health issues including back pain, leg disorders, and increased risk of heart disease.

In short, getting up every once in a while is important for both mental and physical health. Here’s a list of reasons to skip eating lunch at your desk to take an actual break.

1. Increased long-term health risks

Eating lunch at your desk means you’ll stay seated longer, and sitting for long periods of time can make you sick in more ways than one. As the Washington Post notes, sitting for hours on end can cause increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It can also shift your pancreas into overdrive – causing diabetes and other diseases since sedentary muscles don’t react well to insulin. In other words, if you don’t leave your desk to eat lunch, you could be taking a whole lot more time off from work in the long run.

2. Sore joints

Beyond longer-term health problems, you could be seeing more short-term pain if you decide to eat lunch at your desk. Staying seated longer while staring at your computer screen can lead to tension in your muscles and sore joints. Sitting for long periods of time also weakens your hip and core muscles, which can cause problems elsewhere in your body.

If you absolutely must stay at your desk, don’t forget to do a few stretches and exercises to help counteract the effects of sitting all day.

3. Stress

It’s no secret that work can be stressful, but eating lunch at your desk can make it even more so. If you don’t take the time to shut off, you never take the time to recover, leading to higher levels of burnout and fatigue.

Conversely, taking the time to relax can be a big help in terms of productivity, so pick up your sandwich and head outside for a short break.

4. Brain fog

When you’ve got a lot to do, it can certainly seem like a good idea to grab a quick sandwich and eat at your desk. However, that might just be your foggy brain talking – you need to move around in order to pump fresh blood and oxygen up top.

Beyond that, there’s only so much you can do in a day, and avoiding break time doesn’t change that fact, as John Trougakos, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour & HR Management at the University of Toronto tells Entrepreneur: “We really only have so much psychological energy that we can use on any given day…All efforts to control behaviour, to perform and to focus draw on that pool of psychological energy. Once that energy source is depleted, we become less effective at everything we do.” Essentially, Trougakos is saying that there are diminishing returns associated with not taking proper breaks.  

5. Reduced productivity

If multitasking is your game, think again. No matter how good you think you are at the artful dance of sipping a coffee, eating a salad, and continuing to read and type, multitasking still isn’t as effective as focusing on one thing at a time.

As Fast Company states, “even if we think we’re awesome at multitasking, we’re actually terrible at it. Because quality work is deep work, and deep work is free of distraction. Sandwiches included.”

6. Lack of balance

Fast Company notes that staying in work mode all the time (and not taking breaks) is a sure-fire shortcut to burnout.

To avoid burnout, choose milestones at certain points in your day that will allow you to take a break. Once you’ve reached one of your milestones (such as cleaning out your inbox or sending out two offer letters), go outside for a short walk or to grab a coffee. Doing so can help you refresh and refocus when you get back to work.

7. Missing out on inspiration

While eating lunch at your desk can cause extra stress and diminished productivity, the monotony can also lead to a lack of creativity and new ideas. Getting out every once in awhile can give you the time you need to work through tough problems that come up. Conversely, if you stay at your desk to eat, you’re more likely to continue staring at your screen in frustration.

Inc suggests eating lunch alone every once in awhile, just to help recharge one’s batteries. It’s also important to stay away from your phone, as an absence of external stimulation can spur creative thought.

Here are some more tips to avoid the dangers of eating lunch at your desk:

  • Make plans with friends – As Inc notes, eating lunch at your desk isn’t great, but substituting that for a business lunch isn’t much better. Try to schedule lunches with friends or alone instead so that you can recharge properly and be more productive back at work.
  • Stretch! – Even if you do leave the office for lunch, you’ll still be sitting most of the day if you’re at an office job. In addition to leaving your desk and moving around in the middle of the day, remember to do a few stretches and exercises to help prevent injury.
  • Create a break-taking culture - There’s no doubt that taking a break is good for you, but employees won’t do it if they feel pressured to eat lunch at their desk. An office environment that encourages people to take breaks will result in happier, more productive employees. Making sure your office has a proper break room is a great place for employers to start.

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