Why Eating At Your Desk Is Bad All Round

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If you’re anything like us, you spend a silly amount of time staring at shiny rectangles every day.

Every day, around 67% of office workers eat lunch at their desks.
Maybe you’re eating a sandwich or bowl of soup right now? You’re clearly not alone.

The impetus to work through your lunch break is clear: To your boss, eating in front of your computer shows commitment. To you, typing between mouthfuls of your sandwich is hopefully a quicker means to an end, the “end” being the end of the workday.

However, keyboard-munching is bad news for you AND your co-workers – especially if your office warmed tuna sandwich is stinking up the place – since it’s scientifically proven that our brains need breaks.

Just one in five of us actually take any lunch break at all, and research suggests all this desk time is hurting our health and lowering our productivity.

Here’s a fascinating breakdown from Mary Meeker (an Internet Analyst at Morgan Stanley) that shows exactly how much time people around the world spend looking at their TVs, computers, Smartphone’s, and tablets every day:

  • United States: 444 minutes (7 hours, 24 minutes of screen time every day)
  • United Kingdom: 411 minutes (6 hours, 51 minutes)
  • Canada: 376 minutes (6 hours, 16 minutes)
  • Australia: 396 minutes (6 hours, 36 minutes)
  • Germany: 379 minutes (6 hours, 19 minutes)

So, why is eating at your desk just, well, pretty bad all round?

1. You eat more
Ever started eating lunch and then, a few minutes later, realise you’re on your last bite? It’s known as “distracted eating” or “mindless eating,” and probably has a big part to play in the obesity epidemic currently spreading throughout the UK.

Eating whilst preoccupied with TV, Internet, or a spreadsheet, your body and brain fails to properly process the amount of food you’re consuming and, as a result, the hormone leptin is often late in signalling the brain that it’s time to stop eating. This ultimately means you take in more calories than you need to feel satisfied.

2. You make poorer food choices
A survey from Forza Supplements found that people who sit at their desk for lunch are more likely to snack on fattening foods throughout the day. That means less-healthy choices at lunch – KitKat and a packet of crisps, anyone? – and more trips to the vending machine later in the day. That’s hundreds of extra calories per day, all because you didn’t want to leave your chair and give your mind a break.

3. You sit for longer
Ever taken a long haul flight and been told to make sure you go for a walk occasionally to keep the blood flow in good order? Right, so why is it any different sitting at your desk for 8 hours? Correct, it isn’t!

Countless studies show time and time again that being physically inactive leads to a whole list of health problems that will kill you. The World Health Organisation reports that being physically inactive comes in fourth as a leading risk factor for death. Bottom line – sitting over eleven hours a day results in a 40 percent higher chance of dying from any cause at all. That’s a scary statistic.

Apart from the fact that sitting all day can actually increase your chances of dying before your time, sitting down for 8 hours can cause a whole array of issues to your health and to your productivity.

4. Your brain power, in short, decreases dramatically
Research from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education found that people who were tasked with thinking about creative uses for everyday objects while walking came up with more ideas than people who brainstormed while sitting.

Basically, the human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days. Our brains are vigilant all the time because they evolved to detect tons of different changes to ensure our very survival.  So focusing hard on one thing for a long time isn’t something we’re ever going to be great at (at least for a few centuries).

The good news is that the fix for this unfocused condition is simple—all we need is a brief interruption (aka a break) to get back on track.

University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras explains: “…Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” he said. “From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”

5. You miss out on socialising (and it’s not very polite!)
Eating away from your desk makes it more likely that you’ll socialise, something that is good for your happiness, your health, and your company’s bottom line. Research has found that some of the benefits of socialising are similar to that of exercise—you usually feel better after a good bout, have lower stress and blood pressure levels, and you may be less likely to suffer from depression. But one study from MIT found that office workers who socialise tend to be around 10% more productive than those who don’t. So if your boss gives you a hard time for taking a well-deserved break over the lunch hour, wow them with that fact.

It’s also quite impolite to sit at your desk crunching away. Who really wants to hear you chewing your food while they’re trying to work? Aside from that, it’s pretty unhygienic to have your lunch spilling into your keyboard.

6. Your sleep is affected
Staring at your devices can also be detrimental to your sleep. TVs, computers, Smartphone’s, and tablets all emit a lot of “blue” light, which prevents your body from releasing melatonin, a chemical in your body that helps you sleep. This holds especially true when you use your devices in the two to three hours before you go to bed.

So, there we have it, folks. A break away from the desk really can make all the difference to your day, and to your health.

Right, I’m off to make a brew.



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