Healthy eating habits/Food For Thought: The downside of eating lunch at your desk & choosing for your health when dining out

Food for thought


It is common in today’s workplace to skip lunch breaks or consume lunch at your desk. This may be due to high workload, strict deadlines, convenience or comfort at your desk. However though many believe this increases work productivity it has been shown that having a lunch break away from your desk improves productivity, mood and energy levels[1]. With chronic diseases increasing in prevalence it is vital to combat sedentary work behaviours and improve health behaviours in the workplace.

The downside of eating at your desk/skipping lunch:
Skipping your lunch or consuming lunch at a desk is associated with:
  • Increase in activities requiring low physical activity and therefore an increase risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, cardiovascular disease and stroke[2].
  • Weight gain due to irregular meal times, skipping meals and increased consumption of convenient energy dense snacks[3]
  • Poorer mood and concentration[1]
  • Increased risk of illness due to high bacterial levels commonly found at desks.
The benefits of a lunch break:
Yarra River & City Skyline
  • Increases in physical activity throughout the day decrease risk of chronic illness (type 2 diabetes mellitus, stroke, obesity, cardiovascular disease). It may only be walking down to the local café for a bite but it all adds up![2]
  • By making time to eat your lunch you are less likely to experience indegestion or digestive discomfort.[4]
  • Slowing down your eating can increase chewing time leading to better digestion of food and therefore increased nutrient absorption and decreased risk of digestive discomfort.[3]
  • Taking time to enjoy your meal, known as Mindful Eating, can decrease desire to snack later in the day.
  • Social interaction which can occur during a lunch break can improve mood and therefore improve productivity.
  • Energy levels and concentration are also increased after consuming lunch and having a break away from your desk


Strategies to encourage & get the most out of your breaks:
  • Switch it off; it's so easy to get distracted on our smart phones or other devices and before you know it your break is almost over! So try to switch it off or put these devices away. Even if you can't get away from your desk at lunch, switch off the screen and try to focus on your meal.
  • Talk to a colleague; try to have lunch with a friend or colleague to improve social interaction. If you haven't met many people at work maybe try dining in common areas to increase your chance of getting to know colleagues.
  • Sit outside; if you’re at work all day you may not notice the sunshine or get a chance to enjoy some fresh air. Take a packed lunch outside, you might even get a boost of Vitamin D if you find a sunny spot!
  • Keep your food in the staff room or fridge. Yes, you may need to label it 47 times or put a lock on it, but that walk away from your desk is enough to refresh your mind and make you more aware of your food intake. It may also encourage you to dine in the common areas rather than returning to your desk.
  • Keep some nutritious snacks handy; by having some healthy snacks (for example unsalted nuts, fruit, low fat yoghurt) within reach it will make it easier to avoid energy dense convenience foods.

Choosing for your health when dining out


Eating out at restaurants and cafes is very popular in today's culture. Australians are spending more of their weekly budget on eating out than ever before[5]. Therefore it's vital to know what choices to make when choosing your meals to ensure you're getting optimal nutrition.

What to look for when choosing your meal:



Protein comes from a variety of sources including:

  • Lean meats and poultry; such as lamb, beef, chicken
  • Fish
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes; chickpeas, lentil, almonds, walnuts
  • Eggs

Protein helps you feel more satisfied with your meal and leaves you feeling fuller for longer. By doing so, you're less likely to snack later in the day.[3]

Carbohydrates & Fibre


Carbohydrates and fibre often go hand in hand. High-fibre carbohydrates include:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Wholegrain bread

Carbohydrates are vital source of energy and are great for brain function. Fibre can help satisfy you for longer as well as assist with digestion. Fibre acts like street sweeper through your digestive system, sweeping along your bowel and assisting in emptying it out leaving you feeling lighter and helping you stay regular.[3]

Vitamins & Minerals


Fruit and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals. It's great to aim for a few different colours of fruit or vegetables as each colour often represents a different group of vitamins and minerals[6]. To help in understanding why these are important you can think of vitamins and minerals as little keys that help to unlock all the goodness in the protein and carbohydrates. Though they seem little these are vital for your health. The Australian dietary guidelines recommends 5 serves of vegies (about ½ cup cooked is 1 serve) in a day for optimal health so by having one or two at lunch it makes it easier at dinnertime. [6]

  1. a b c Krajewski, J., Sauerland, M., Wieland, R. (2010. Relaxation-induced cortisol changes within lunchbreaks – an experimental longitudinal worksitefield study. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 84(2), 382–394
  2. a b The Department of Health (2014). Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. Retrieved from
  3. a b c d Whitney E., Rolfes, S.R., Crowe, T., Cameron-Smith, D. & Walsh, A. (2011). Understanding Nutrition: Australia and New Zealand Edition. South Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia.
  4. Gandy, J. (2014). Manual of Dietetic Practice 5th ed. West Sussex, United Kingdon: John Wiley & Sons
  5. The Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2006). Health Related Actions: Food and energy intake. Retrieved from!OpenDocument
  6. a b National Health and Medical Research Council. (2013). Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Retrieved from